I was a little surprised to hear that Uncle Mo will be prepping for the Breeders’ Cup by running in Belmont Park’s Grade 2 Kelso Breeders’ Cup Handicap on October 1. I was expecting his connections to choose the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby the week before. There are several reasons why I felt this way, but maybe each could be easily explained away.
-The Pennsylvania Derby offers four times as much purse money as does the Kelso. To me that would matter, but I guess owner Mike Repole does not need the money.
-The Pennsylvania Derby is likely to offer less competition for Uncle Mo than the older horses will in the Kelso. If the ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup, as I am sure it is, and trainer Todd Pletcher has ultimate belief in his horse, then I guess the level of competition should not matter, even if it means taking on a tiger like Jackson Bend.
-Finally, and most importantly, I thought a two-turn race, like the Pennsylvania Derby was the way to have him properly prepared for the 10 furlongs of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which is the race they have said they want to see him in. It would also tell them if he was not ready to face the best horses in America at an extended distance. The only way I can easily explain the choice of the Kelso here is if the Classic is not in fact the goal. I believe by running in the Kelso, his connections are preparing us for the decision to run Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
I see it as simple as this … If they are leaning to the Dirt Mile, the Kelso would be the perfect prep. If they are still thinking Classic, the Kelso would seem a very odd choice.
One other factor that could come into play as far as where Mo lands in early November is the progression of his stablemate Stay Thirsty. If the son of Bernardini can keep his excellent form going with a big race in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, run on the same day as the Kelso, it may make the decision to run Uncle Mo in the Dirt Mile over the Classic a much easier one.
I may be proven wrong by the talent of an extraordinary horse, but in the end, I believe the Dirt Mile is the better option for last year’s juvenile champ. With only the 7 furlong King’s Bishop, and the one-turn mile of the Kelso under his belt, I suspect the Classic would be a little too much to ask of a horse who was so sick just a few months ago. If Uncle Mo can and does prove me wrong, I will happily be the first to congratulate Team Uncle Mo.