With just a furlong to go in this afternoon’s Grade 1, $250,000 King’s Bishop, it looked like the champ might do it.
Uncle Mo had taken over the lead, from his early stalking position, and was full of run on the inside. There would be only one more hurdle to overcome for the ballyhooed juvenile champion of 2010. A single horse was flying on the outside, and as the two pulled clear from the rest of the strong field, it was just a matter of how soon the finish line would come. Caleb’s Posse was gaining with each stride, but Uncle Mo, making his first start since April was resolute. As the two excellent horses hit the wire, the result was too close to call.
The photo revealed that Caleb’s Posse had indeed got there in time to win the most important sprint race for three-year-olds in the nation, by a nose. For the winner, it was his 5th stakes win and raised his lifetime record to 7 wins in 14 starts. It also represented further proof of his affinity for both Saratoga and sprinting, following his powerful win in the Amsterdam Stakes earlier in the meet. Final time over the fast track was a sharp 1:21.59 for the seven panels.
In defeat, Uncle Mo accounted himself like a champion. After more than four-and-a-half months off, and recuperation from a serious illness, he had every right to come up short today. It’s hard to call how the son of Indian Charlie ran today, coming up short though.
Victorious trainer, Donnie Von Hemel seemed to understand what he had just accomplished, and spoke in glowing terms of the horse his charge had just defeated, “[Uncle Mo] is certainly the class of the field as a 2-year-old champion and a great horse, by all accounts,” said winning trainer Donnie Von Hemel. “We’re just proud to be in the same race, and we’re just thrilled to death for [owners] Mr. [Don] McNeill and Mr. [Everett] Dobson.”
Meanwhile, Uncle Mo’s spirited owner, Mike Repole, found the silver lining in his colt’s narrow defeat, “Listen, I want to win. I think the horse ran great. He came off a liver disease and to lose like that, to come back from a five-month layoff and to beat the speed bias the way he did, by the way – he just came up short.”
The only jockey ever to ride Uncle Mo, John Velazquez, also saw a lot to be proud of in the loss, “He ran awesome. It was a tough task to ask him off the bench. I’m just glad to have him back. He was fighting the whole way around. That’s what I like about him.”
If Team Uncle Mo was a little down after the tough defeat in the King’s Bishop, it would not take them long to rebound, as Repole, and trainer, Todd Pletcher, would go on to win the Mid-Summer Derby in convincing fashion with Stay Thirsty. The same horse that has played a distant second fiddle to Uncle Mo for much of his career has now thrust himself into the #1 spot in the three-year-old division.
As for Uncle Mo, his performance may look even better when it was revealed that he lost a shoe during the running of the race. Any way you slice it, today’s race was a triumphant return to the races – even in defeat.
What’s next for Uncle Mo? A slightly conservative play would be the nine furlong Pennsylvania Derby. It would be a race in which he would be assuredly favored, and could serve to ease him back into distance racing. If his connections have complete belief that he is destined for a second run of superstardom, the Jockey Club Gold Cup would be a stern test in preparation for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I hesitate to suggest the third option; the hyper conservative option would be to retire the champion to stud.
The Pennsylvania Derby sounds just fine to me.