“He” is Uncle Mo, the 2010 Eclipse Award – Two-Year Old Champion, who dominated the two-year old field and finished undefeated in his three races last year.
What he’s back from is cholangiohepatitis, a disease that affects the bile passages and the liver. As a result, it kept him out of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes this year.
After recuperating at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky. since April 9, under the care of three of the country’s top veterinarians, Dr. Doug Byars, Dr. Bill Bernard and Dr. Tom Divers, Uncle Mo returned to Todd Pletcher’s stalls at Saratoga this past Monday, July 11. If all continues to go well, he now begins preparations for his first start since finishing third in the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) in April.
According to reports, his possible first start could be on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course in the King’s Bishop Stakes (G1).
If Uncle Mo, the son of Indian Charlie-Playa Maya, by Arch, can win that race and show he has returned to his 2010 form, then that blasts – wide open – this year’s three-year-old field as the sport heads into the second half of the season and tries to determine a three-year-old champion.
Without question, last year, Uncle Mo dominated the two-year old division, winning all three of his starts, which included his debut race in a maiden special weight at Saratoga on Aug. 28, which he won by 14-1/2 lengths; the Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont on Oct. 9; and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, which he won by more than four lengths.
He then opened his 2011 season with an uninspired win in the Timley Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park on March 12, then finished third in the Wood Memorial, which signaled something was wrong with the colt.
Uncle Mo then went to Churchill Downs and began preparation for the Kentucky Derby, but something seemed off. Then, the day before the Derby, Uncle Mo, the 9-2 morning line favorite, was scratched and sent to WinStar, where his illness was determined and his healing began.
Now, he is back and, seemingly, over his illness and ready to resume his racing career.
On his facebook page this week, Uncle Mo let his fans know he was home in Saratoga, feeling better and already out on the track galloping. According to his post, everyone at the stable was happy to see him, too.
“Hi friends,” he (his ghost writer) began. “I am so happy to be back! I got here Monday at about 3:30 and I was so happy to see everybody. (Awesome) Maria was the first one to greet me when I got off the van and cousin (Stay) Thirsty gave me a high hoof as soon s he saw me. Maria, Thirsty and the rest of the stable had a welcome back party for me Monday night. … I’ve galloped the last three days and Uncle Todd (Pletcher) is very happy with my energy and appetite and today he said I was very focused during my gallop. If things continue to go well, my first work could be as early as July 22. Thanks for all your support!”
So, assuming Uncle Mo can return to form, there is no question that he has the ability to not only win any race he enters, but, potentially, dominate the three-year-old field. That begs the question, what horses would be his top competition for the 2011 three-year-old title.
First, of course, Uncle Mo would have to win all of the races he enters the rest of the year, especially any Breeders’ Cup race that he might get to run, which at this time, according to reports, would either be the Classic or the Dirt Mile. If he wins everything, he has a tremendous chance of taking home the three-year old championship.
Having said that, there are still a few other horse that might have a say in who wins the title this year. Here are just a few…
Animal Kingdom is certainly still in the running, though his season is over after suffering an injury after the Belmont Stakes, which would make it difficult. Still, he won the Kentucky Derby convincingly, and finished a very strong second in the Preakness. If all of the other three-year olds falter the rest of the year, then he will still be in the discussion.
Then there’s Shackleford, who won the Preakness in very impressive style. He also led the Derby most of the way before falling to fourth, and led most of the Belmont before finishing fifth. Distance is a factor with this horse, but he can still win many races this year if he stays healthy and his connections run him at distances he is comfortable with running.
One possibly for Shackleford is the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth on July 31, where he just might meet up again with Ruler On Ice, winner of the Belmont Stakes. If he runs in that race and should win, that will give him an edge in the division. However, he will also still need to win, or do very well, in any Breeders’ Cup race he enters to be in the conversation as one of the top three-year olds at the end of the year.
As mentioned, Ruler on Ice won the Belmont Stakes, which also puts him in the discussion. But, he still has a lot to prove. The question is – was his Belmont win a fluke or is he a late developing horse that will make his mark in the coming months? Some might say yes, others might say no.
There has been talk that one possible upcoming race for Ruler On Ice is the Haskell Invitational. If he should run in that race, especially against Shackleford, and win, it will go a long way in helping his case in the three-year old field.
So, along with Uncle Mo, those are just three of the horses that might be the discussion for top three-year old.
Then there is Frankel, the one horse overseas that might make a few waves on this side of the Atlantic and muddle-up the three-year old field before all is said and done this year. But, make no mistake about it, Frankel is making a name for himself in the sport, putting on some great performances and gaining notice.
Undefeated in seven career starts, all in England, including five graded stakes, Frankel could be “the real deal” for sure. His fans think so, and he is definitely getting a lot of press in the United States as well.
If Frankel continues along his current career trajectory and then comes across the Atlantic to Churchill in November and wins the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), or another Breeders’ Cup race, then the voters will definitely have to give him a serious look in the three-year old category.
It seems kind of funny that there are people out there saying that the 2011 three-year old field is mediocre this year. Really? Just look at these few names – Uncle Mo, if he is healthy and can return to form, Animal Kingdom, Ruler on Ice, Shackleford, Frankel – these are great horses for sure.
So, sit back and enjoy. The second half of the 2011 race season is looking to be a great one.
(Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese)
Are there any other horses in the 2011 three-year-old division that you think will be under consideration at the end of the year? Please post your picks in the comments section. Thank you.