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Apr 15, 2011

Uncle Mo runs like "Aunt" Mo in Wood Memorial

By: By Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Wow! Who would have expected Uncle Mo to run as poorly as he did in the $1 million Wood Memorial? Not only didn't he continue his unbeaten streak, but he failed to put up any sort of resistance inside the final 100 yards. Despite the poor effort, trainer Todd Pletcher announced on Sunday his intentions of running Uncle Mo in the Kentucky Derby. Still, don't be shocked if the two-year-old Eclipse Award winner fails to be one of the 20 Derby starters on the first Saturday in May.

Pletcher said Uncle Mo grabbed a quarter out of the starting gate, but that wasn't the reason he was beat at odds of 1-10. Two other factors were at play. First, Pletcher did not have him physically ready as the colt was extremely short through the stretch, showing a true lack of conditioning. Was that to be expected? Probably not, considering the other nine horses were a combined 0- for-6 in graded stakes races. However, if one considers Uncle Mo's race in the Timely Writer as a workout (which it primarily was), then the colt was trying to win a nine-furlong race off a five-month layoff - a most difficult task for any horse.

The other reason Uncle Mo lost is the one that could wind up being the pre- cursor to him not even participating in the Kentucky Derby - the 1 1/4-mile distance. In my previous column, I mentioned that his pedigree might be 10 furlong-challenged as his sire, Indian Charlie, has sent out just one horse to win a graded stakes race at the distance. Still, who would have thought he would have trouble negotiating nine furlongs? It also could be argued Uncle Mo was not even conditioned to handle a flat mile since jockey John Velazquez had to push the colt harder than he ever had in the past approaching the eighth- pole!

Those who still give Uncle Mo a chance to win the Kentucky Derby will argue the fact he needed the race and should be much stronger next time out. Additionally, even Secretariat ran third in the Wood Memorial before sweeping the Triple Crown. The first point is a valid one, but the second is pure hyperbole. Uncle Mo is nowhere near the class of Secretariat. It's debatable if he's even better than Toby's Corner!

Can he bounce back and win the Kentucky Derby? I would bet against it as his running style and pedigree are not suited to win at 10-furlongs, especially if he has to chase the likes of The Factor and then hold off the closers through the stretch.

As for Toby's Corner, it appears he is on his way to Kentucky after defeating Arthur's Tale by a neck at odds of 8-1. The chestnut colt has now won four of six starts, including two stakes races. He recorded a Beyer figure of 94 in the win, which is in line with Dialed In's 93 in the Florida Derby and Pants On Fire's 94 in the Louisiana Derby.

The son of 2005 Wood Memorial winner Bellamy Road closed exceptionally well, running his final three-eighths in a quick 36 2/5 seconds over a fast track at Aqueduct. The 1:49 4/5 matched Eskendereya's final time in last year's running although the 2010 winner received a 109 Beyer for his effort as the track was playing much slower a year ago. Still, with the lack of an overwhelming Kentucky Derby favorite, Toby's Corner has as good a chance as any to win the Run for the Roses, even though the last Wood Memorial winner to come back and win the Derby was Fusaichi Pegasus 11 years ago.

Arthur's Tale, the second-place finisher, needs some help in order to make it to Churchill as he gained $200,000 in graded earnings. He currently sits in a tie with Nehro for 21st place. If Comma to the Top and another horse do not run in the Derby, he may move up. However, with a few graded stakes races still to go, it's entirely possible that two or even three others will jump ahead of him on the list.

BAFFERT DOES IT AGAIN

With Jaycito resting for the Lexington Stakes in two weeks, Bob Baffert ran one of his lightly raced colts in the Santa Anita Derby, and Midnight Interlude did not let the silvery-haired trainer down with a head victory over Comma to the Top. It was Baffert's sixth win in the last 15 runnings, and three of the previous five either ran second or third in the Kentucky Derby. Overall, it's been 22 years since the Santa Anita Derby winner has won on the Run for the Roses.

The winner received a 95 Beyer in a race that was up for grabs after both Premier Pegasus and Jaycito came up lame. In fact, all the horses that were heavily bet came into the race with question marks. The favorite, Silver Medallion, had never won on conventional dirt; Mr. Commons, who wound up being the second choice, was making his stakes debut; Anthony's Cross had not run since mid-February; and Comma to the Top was a major question mark at the 1 1/8-mile distance.

Midnight Interlude was coming off a victory in a maiden race so it wasn't as if the son of War Front was easy pickings. Nevertheless, if one threw out all the favorites, the Baffert colt was the only other logical selection. His 1:10 3/5 six-furlong workout five days before the race was the signal that Baffert needed to justify his confidence that the recent maiden winner could move right into a grade one $1 million race and come out on top.

Midnight Interlude, who was never more than two lengths off the lead, needed every single stride to run down a game Comma to the Top, He completed the 1 1/8-miles in 1:48 3/5, which compares very favorably to First Dude's 1 1/16- mile race run in 1:42 2/5 an hour earlier. (If you remember, First Dude ran second in last year's Preakness Stakes and third in the Belmont Stakes.) Midnight Interlude also ran his final three-furlongs in 36 4/5 seconds, with Comma to the Top bearing into him throughout the entire final furlong. On the down side, he'll be going up against one of the last remaining Kentucky Derby trends, as no horse without a two-year-old start has won the Derby since Apollo back in 1882.

PLETCHER'S FIFTH-STRING WINS THE ILLINOIS DERBY

If a race comes up next to impossible to handicap, the best plan of attack is to bet the Todd Pletcher-trained horse, especially if not the favorite. That strategy worked as Joe Vann prevailed by 4 1/4-lengths to win the Illinois Derby at odds of 5-1. Zoebear, one of the four maidens in the field, closed strongly to get second, a half-length in front of The Fed Eased, who finished third.

Joe Vann would have to be a late supplemental nominee to run in the Kentucky Derby and even that might not get the winner of three straight races by a combined 13 3/4-lengths into the race. He's currently sitting 26th on the graded earnings list with $167,400. Furthermore, the final time for the 1 1/8- mile race was 1:51 4/5 - the slowest running in the last 25 years.

THE JEFF FRANK TOP 12

1) Dialed In - Assumes the No. 1 spot; 2) The Factor - The only three-year-old heading to the Derby with back-to-back 100+ Beyer's; 3) Jaycito - Latest injury a major concern, should run next in Lexington; 4) Midnight Interlude - A lot of history to overcome; 5) Soldat - Needs to improve off last; 6) Toby's Corner - Don't underestimate his Wood Memorial win; 7) Uncle Mo - More questions than answers after the Wood; 8) Santiva - Ran well in his 2011 debut, must build on it in the Blue Grass; 9) Sway Away - Will get one more start in the Arkansas Derby to show he is effective around two turns; 10) Mucho Macho Man - Had an excuse in Louisiana, put in a solid 58 1/5 work on Apr. 9; 11) Master of Hounds - With the lack of quality in the States, don't overlook a horse that's bred to get 10-furlongs; 12) Animal Kingdom - Spiral win was slow but visually impressive.



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