Friday, April 29, 2011

Uncle Mo's Derby Outlook

With the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, I'm going to do the best I can to go back and look at some of this year's contenders prior races using trip handicapping. I've already examined Dialed In, having guest posted over at WirePlayers.

Disclaimer: This group has shown to be highly erratic (Mine That Bird would be formidable this year) and given the Derby's usual uncertainly, even with a formful prep season, we're in for quite a task to come up with a winner.

Here are Uncle Mo's PP's, as well as a link to the video of his debut race as a two year old last summer at Saratoga.

The Grade One Champagne stakes, a one turn mile at Belmont Park.

Uncle Mo (Post Position 3, John Velazquez) breaks well and has no problem making the lead with the other main speed, I'm Steppin' It Up to his outside. He duels with I'm Steppin' It up while retaining a head advantage as Velazquez keeps a strong hold of Mo. Despite Velazquez's efforts to ration Mo's speed, they set a brisk early pace of 22:2 and 45:4. Coming into the stretch he disposes of I'm Steppin' It Up and never lets the oncoming Mountain Town mount a serious bid, despite slightly lugging in a few times down the stretch as he strides out to a four and three quarter length win without much urging. 

A classy win here - running an an opening quarter of 22:4 and still having enough in the tank to finish his final two furlongs in nearly :24 flat in September of his two year old season off of just one career, six furlong, race. None of his competitors in this race have turned out to be much but that isn't enough to take away from this fabulous race from Uncle Mo. 

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The Grade One Breeders' Cup Juvenile, a mile and a sixteenth going two turns at Churchill Downs.

Uncle Mo (Post Position 7, John Velazquez) breaks from the gate perfectly and goes up to challenge Riveting Reason from the outside. Velazquez lets Riveting Reason go on with it once they hit the turn, traveling three wide, a length or two off of the longshot leader. Mo continues to travel comfortably, with Velazquez stealing a look back on the backstretch. Mo first puts a nose in front coming to the top of the stretch with minimal asking. Velazquez takes another look back at the competition and gets to work, kicking on clear to a four and a one quarter length win once he hedges up next to the inner rail.

This performance is what made Uncle Mo the clear cut winter favorite for the Kentucky Derby - to have crushed the leaders of his generation, including the then highly touted Boys At Tosconova, so easily was spectacular. What's most extraordinary about this performance, besides that he ran the final 3/16's in 30.48, was his ability to draw away in the blink of an eye when asked. 'Push-button' speed is not common by any means, especially not in stakes races, so for Uncle Mo to exercise such ability so early in his career was quite special.

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The Timely Writer 'stakes', a one turn mile at Gulfstream.

Uncle Mo (Post Position 1) breaks to his outside, bumping with Gallant Dreams right out of the gate but doesn't deter Mo from going up and getting the early lead. As they move onto the main train Uncle Mo has a length's advantage over Rattlesnake Bridge from the outside. Mo sets some sluggish fractions (25.53, 49.58) and isn't asked for much until Rattlesnake Bridge ranges up to his outside nearing the stretch. Velazquez doesn't readily assert himself they as they dispose of Rattlesnake Bridge at the top of the stretch and draw away. Mo wins in a hand ride with Velazquez having looked back for the competition in the stretch more than he faces forward.

Not much to this one here, as many correctly deemed this race a public workout for Mo. Having gone so slow early with minimal pressure, at a mile, he almost shouldn't get credit for finishing his final quarter in 22.87 - it's expected of him. The only thing I can take from this so called race is that he looked absolutely fine and there was no physical damage done to him over his winter layoff.

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The Grade One Wood Memorial, a mile and an eight going two turns at Aqueduct. 

Uncle Mo (Post Position 4, John Velazquez) 'grabs a quarter' right out of the gate (he also did in the Champagne but no excuses were needed that day) and is hesitantly sent to the lead and is flanked by Duca to his outside. Mo takes them through legitimate fractions for a mile and an eight at the big A (:23.49, 47.98) with Duca "alongside offering mild pressure" as Tom Durkin states. Uncle Mo then fends off Duca and Isn't He Perfect in the stretch to his outside but is unable to kick clear and folds in the final sixteenth of a mile.

This one was a head-scratcher; the pace wasn't so hot that you'd expect Mo to tire late - he actually even got a nice breather mid-race - furlongs four through eight were run in a tepid 49.28. He simply looked like a short horse with distance limitations. The news that he came out of the race with a gastrointestinal tract infection made sense since it is undeniable a healthy, fit, and cranked up Uncle Mo would have beaten this field with the trip he endured. 

Full Chart

Final thoughts - There's no question that Uncle Mo will be an underlay next Saturday. It would take a Big Brown-like performance to win the Kentucky Derby off of one authentic prep race, in which he came out of sick, and has not, reportedly, had the best of appetites since. Year in and out horses who thrive in the few weeks from their final prep to the Derby win or produce a career best effort, which doesn't bode well for Uncle Mo.

Any other Derby entrant who endured his three year old campaign while also coming out of his final prep with an illness, minor as it may be, would be an instant toss and the favorite to finish last. However, Uncle Mo has shown to posses immense talent, such talent that would likely dispel his distance limitations that his pedigree suggests he'll have, and far more than any of his competitors that it would not surprise me should he don the roses. He should also sit a perfect trip, maybe third or fourth early depending how much other pace there is - remember his best race to date came when he was able to stalk and pounce. That being said his campaign and slight illness make him a longer shot than his odds will reflect and while I'll be rooting for him he won't get a dime of my money.

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