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Point/Counterpoint - The Fate of Uncle Mo

Is Uncle Mo still championship material?
Horse Racing Nation blogger Laura Pugh, the diva of Dead Heat Debates, and Managing Editor, Brian Zipse of Zipse At The Track, discuss whether Uncle Mo will become a champion again.

Dead Heat Debates

Laura Pugh:

Fickle is fame and even more fickle is the love of a horse racing fan. Wasn’t it just last year that Uncle Mo was America’s best Triple Crown hope in a long time? He wowed us with a 14 length maiden win, proved his mettle with a score in the Champagne Stakes, and then bedazzled the nation when he blitzed a deep and talented Breeders Cup Juvenile, running three seconds faster than his filly counterparts.

He made a winning three year old debut in the Timely Writer before baffling us when he was handed the only loss of his career, in the Wood Memorial. Uncle Mo was later diagnosed with a GI infection, then later a rare liver disease. With those findings, you would think the public would be willing to forgive the 2yr old champ, but there are still many who doubt him and will even go so far as to say he never even deserved his championship status.


Why is it that after one loss, which came at the hands of a disease, does Uncle Mo get thrown to the wolves? When healthy, Uncle Mo has proven to be of the most dominant horses that we have seen in recent years. How many other two year olds were able to display such brilliance? He earned a 102 BSF in his first start, nearly broke the stakes record in the Champagne, and crushed a brilliant field in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, while earning a 108 BSF. In only three starts he did more than most horses can achieve in a career. He was in every sense of the word a champion.


In 2011 his doubters howled to the moon when he finished third, beaten less than three lengths, in the Wood Memorial. They smugly said how right they were that he would fade at anything over a mile, calling him nothing more than an overhyped miler. Even now they still maintain that mindset even though the knowledge of his liver disease, makes his Wood Memorial look all the better. Special horses do special things and no ordinary horse would have come close to running in the money when plagued by a liver disease. It was only last year that Devil May Care was floundered in the stretch of the Alabama before she was found to have a similar disease. Uncle Mo hung tough, even when sick, again demonstrating the heart of a champion.


Before his Wood Memorial, Uncle Mo may have started in a nondescript overnight stakes, but the way he won was the way a champion should. He was given a dream trip, sailing along unchallenged on the lead. However, when new-comer Rattlesnake Bridge ranged up along his flank Uncle Mo simply quickened his stride and left his foe eating his dust. What was most impressive was his final quarter was run in 22 and change. I know his early fractions were soft, but even many grade one older horses can run a final quarter that fast with the aid of soft early fractions.


Uncle Mo showed he was a deserving champion as a juvenile, and even though he only has two races to his credit in 2011, he has still shown the traits of a champion. So when one asks me if Uncle Mo is still championship material, I say without a single doubt in my mind that he still is.

Brian Zipse:

Uncle Mo was amazing last year, but … the realist in me is worried, very worried. I must admit I have entered somewhat uncomfortable territory here by taking the negative side of this debate, for I am truly rooting to see a more mature version of last year’s dominating juvenile. The odds of seeing that horse, unfortunately, are stacked against us. If somehow we do, I will be one of his happy fans.


As much as I agree on the excellence of his juvenile season, you lose me when you start talking about 2011. Let’s face it, his three year-old season means very little at this point. He beat a decent horse in Rattlesnake Bridge in the Timely Writer, but it came in that horse’s second lifetime start, and furthermore, he had no pace to run at. After that, Uncle Mo lost the Wood to horses of questionable quality. To this point, Uncle Mo’s career after two, is nothing but a big question mark.


Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, Laura. I loved him at two. He was the best young horse I saw in years, but that is not what we are debating here. The question is if we will see him regain his championship form. If the sickness was the cause of his loss in the Wood, that would explain the loss, but how we can expect to see the same Uncle Mo in the races directly after recovering from the sickness? It’s a possibility, but far from a sure thing. Is it not also possible that he simply never progressed after his juvenile season?


Unfortunately I think it is natural for many people to jump off the bandwagon at the drop of a hat; however, assuming that he will come back better than he was in March can either be classified as either a guess, or more accurately, wishful thinking. Whether he would have or will ever handle a classic distance is yet to be determined, and likely never will be. His connections have chosen a tough spot for his return. With in-form tigers like Flashpoint and Caleb’s Posse ready to show him their sprinting prowess, Uncle Mo will have to be really good to win. What happens if he runs a good race similar to his first two races of the year, and runs 2nd or 3rd? I fear that may spell retirement in a heartbeat.


Like I said before, his races this year are neither overly impressive, nor overly unimpressive. In the Timely Writer he had the advantage over Rattlesnake Bridge, and he did what he was supposed to do, nothing more, and nothing less


I hope you are right, I really do, but questions abound … How good or how bad were his performances this year? Would he have won the Wood for fun if he was 100%? If his connections feared for his life just a few short months ago, as they said they did, how can we expect to see his best in his first race back? If we only see 80% or so of his potential, will that win the King’s Bishop? If it is not enough to win on Saturday, will he ever race again?



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Older Comments about Point/Counterpoint - The Fate of Uncle Mo...

For what it is worth to folks I was at the track couple weeks ago here in Saratoga and caught UM working on the training track. He is a picture of health and his work was very impressive. He is also dead fit for this, the training track has no bottom to it so it is a good five to seven lengths slower than the main, it really buts a foundation on a horse.
yuckichan, I agree with you and everyone wishing Mo the best. Go Mo !! Show us that heart of yours!
UM is in tough here for a horse thats been off so long. He is facing some real speed.
Difficult to tell how well Uncle Mo will run in the King's Bishop? He's been off the racetrack now for a fair amount time. It may ultimately end up taking Mo a couple of races to find his best stride again? Who knows? But you know from watching this horse decimate fields during his juvenile season in 2010 that Uncle Mo obviously has talent on conventional dirt. I don't question whether or not this horse can run? I question how far this horse can run? This is only my opinion, but I suspect that even if Todd Pletcher gets Uncle Mo back to somewhere what he looked like as a 2yr.old before this year's Breeders Cup? Uncle Mo is never going to dominate much beyond a mile. Maybe 8-1/2 or 9f at the very most. I just don't believe Mo's pedigree suggest that he'll ever be a dominate horse at the Classic distance of 10f? I just don't. But if I'm Todd Pletcher, I certainly wouldn't take that as a negative. Because the purse amount of the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile is still a very handsome $1 million dollars, and to me, the winner's share of $1 million dollars is whole lot better than no share of the Classic's $ 5 million dollars!! TJMO.
I am in Mo's corner--still a believer...He's certainly put on muscle and looks amazing. Go Mo!!!
UM doesn't have to be better than his 2010 form only as good to win this. Acknowling of coure the speed of some of these horses.
I don't see Mo hitting the board. Guarenteed underlay!
I like the distance for this race and think it suits well for Uncle Mo and his return. Seems his tummy troubles are over and never had any problems with his legs so I would think he's off to fresh start and will be a top contender in this race. GO MO!!!
I hope you are right, but shorter does not necessarily mean easier ... there are a lot faster horses in here at 7f than there were in the Wood.
Zipse I totally understand your reservations but remember this is not a route race, just 7 furlongs which he would have won if the wood memorial was that short. I think Todd Pletcher is an excellent trainer so I can't conceive this horse regressing by that much.
Uncle MO will dominate this race.
It certainly was not my intention to take anything away from Uncle Mo's fantastic juvenile season; however, I have my doubts if we will ever see that type of excellence from him again.
Even if he did peak at two, as some believe, his 2-year-old speed figures are still extremely high...high enough to win the vast majority of any sophomore race this year. He earned a 108 Beyer in the Juvenile, and Stay Thirsty got a 106 in the Jim Dandy. I'm personally inclined to think he will improve as the year goes on.
Even if Uncle Mo bombs, he is a champion. You can not simply take that status away from a horse. Rachel Alexandra did not return the same yet I don't know many who would say that just because of that she is not a champion. Her 09 season was awesome and that cannot be taken. The same goes for Mo, his juvenile season was brilliant to say the least. It cannot be taken away.
I have to go with Brian here. While I acknowledge the illness impacted his 3 yr old campaign to this point, I still feel he was yet another precocious juvenile who simply peaked as a 2 yr old. Sure this sport could use some stars, but I think this is one comet that has come and gone.
I can see him breezing by once and awhile on Youtube, and Mo is looking just fine.
He might end up like Cigar, and go on a terror, of winning 16 or more races in a row. Or he might not. But, we don’t know until he races in some races. And maybe the Kings Bishop will be his first win.
I still like the idea that Uncle Mo will make a good comeback from his illnesses. If he doesn't win the Kings bishop Handicap, then there's other races, that the owner and trainer could try him in. If none of the races he shows anything in, by the time the middle of his four year old season comes about, then it would best be time to retire the poor guy. But, at least give him about 5 or 6 races between now and the middle of his four year old season. He might just surprise us.
" Uncle Mo was America’s best Triple Crown hope in a long time?" At least since Eskendereya.

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