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Everybody knows Uncle Mo
For whatever reason, Uncle Mo seems to resonate with people. Maybe you watched him run away from the field in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year. Perhaps you have an Uncle Mo in your family or you know someone who does. People just seem to like this horse.
When “Mo” was sidelined between April 9 and August 27, my 5-year-old daughter asked me numerous times how Uncle Mo was doing and if he was feeling better yet. She even had her grandmother turn on New York’s cable racing channel 71 so she could watch him race in the Kelso last month. I promised to take her to the track the next time he races in New York. Hopefully he’ll race as a 4-year-old and she will get the chance.
I find it interesting that on Tuesday people were telling me how Uncle Mo didn’t put in a great workout. Two days later I’m listening to some experts chirp about how great he looks galloping. I guess those are the ups and downs of being in the public eye.
While I may be the resident harness guy on drf.com, I did spend an entire meet up at Saratoga one year and have a pretty good working knowledge when it comes to handicapping thoroughbreds. So, in honor of the Breeders’ Cup, I have a few of selections.
In the Sprint (Saturday, race 5), I really like JACKSON BEND. He was red hot winning two 7f races at Saratoga before running into Uncle Mo in the Kelso at Belmont Park. He made an impressive move in the Kelso and held his own in the late stages of the stretch against the Classic (race 11) favorite. I expect Jackson Bend to pounce on the early leaders with a big run in the lane.
JERSEY TOWN looks like an interesting horse in the Dirt Mile (Saturday, race 7). He also comes out of the Kelso. At the end of his 2010 campaign he raced well against millionaire Bribon and then shocked everyone in the Cigar Mile. After a long break, he returned on the last day of July (2011) with a credible second-place finish. Next up was another second against Jackson Bend, before finishing a well beaten third in the Kelso. Jersey Town has only missed the board once in a career that includes six graded races and two Grade I events. The 15-1 morning line makes looks enticing.
My Juvenile (Saturday, race 9) selection is the obvious UNION RAGS. Just in case my other selections blow up, I wanted to have a legitimate 3-5 shot that looks much the best on current form. I’m going with two trifectas in this race: Key 10 with 5,7,8,9,13; 5,9,13 with 10 with 5,7,8,9,13.
Switching gaits to Harness
My condolences go out to the family of Stan Bergstein, 87, who passed away at his home in Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday morning. I never knew the man (other than passing him a few times at some conferences), but looking back at my younger years, I recall watching him on TV in the early 80’s. He did it all in harness racing and will certainly be missed.
It was sad to see only six horses drop in the entry box for the rich Messenger stakes at Yonkers. You may remember that only six competed in the Art Rooney, the tracks other major event for 3-year-old pacers. If the track can only get six horses for $401,000 and $307,734 races, perhaps serious changes need to be considered. Combining the races with one big pot is an interesting idea; as is making the Rooney for older horses.
I received an interesting e-mail on handicapping that I wanted to share:
In regard to horses being bet down, I may be incorrect, but it seems that exacta prices appear to be lower than what I would have expected years ago. I don't know if that is true. And it seems to be more than just increased takeout, so an exacta I might have expected to pay $50 pays in the $30s. Are bettors getting smarter, or is it that sport is not attracting new bettors and the one still around are pretty good at it?
His question is a good one. Bettors are smarter now than they were 10 to 15 years ago. Not because brain function has increased, but due to the available resources. Going back in time, a handicapper who did not attend the races live was often left in the dark on the intricate details of each race. Horses which were “boxed” or had “traffic trouble” went unnoticed by the casual player. Nowadays any handicapper can go on the Web and watch replays of races, and in some cases even qualifying races. The general “public” simply doesn’t miss as much as they did in the past.
I have been away from harness racing for many years. On the subject of better information available today, I have seen tracks provide information on changes in equipment such as bridle changes and shoe changes. I don't have any experience in incorporating this into my handicapping. So, I don't know how much weight to give an equipment change. For example, in the thoroughbred world, DRF provides a win % and ROI for for 1st time blinkers and blinkers on. I don't know if that type of info is available for harness bettors for equipment changes. So the question is, what is the best way for a handicapper to get some objective information on how to weight equipment changes? [The equipment factor is a tricky issue. There really is no way of knowing whether a horse will improve or not by a minor adjustment. The most important change can be the addition of hobbles on a trotter. The hobbles will often steady the horse and allow them to keep their gait. A change in driving bit or head gear (hood, murphy blind, open bridle, etc) could make a horse more manageable or fire them up, depending on the change. I would not run to the windows solely because of an equipment change, but if a race came up weak and you think that the horse would be competitive if the change moved him up a bit, Jump aboard! - DG]
Refreshing to hear something positive about Uncle Mo. I have witnessed most of his races live, and he is one of the few thrilling horses in racing. You should have heard him braying at the fillies as they returned from the Frizette just before he romped in the Champagne. In fact, Mo's shouting that day is now my phone's ring tone - it always gets a chuckle. I was appalled to read a certain formerly respected writer claim that, if Mo finished up the track in the Classic, his 3YO campaign would be a failure. Failure? Really? What kind of hyperbolic statement is that? This "failure" of a horse that fights off a debilitating ailment, comes back in the most prestigious G1 sprint in the country for 3YO's to practically win while running on three shoes (were the same imbeciles who criticize Repole for taking a shot at glory in the Classic, also crying about Mo's first race back being a G1?), then runs a Kelso in the most spectacular time of practically any horse in years, earning a 118 speed figure pioneered by the aforementioned writer. Mo can finish anywhere in this race; the bottom line is that he is ultra-fit and ready, and there probably will be no better time to run him in this most prestigious race except until next year, when he is a bigger and even better 4YO. Sadly, any horse owner is lucky to have his/her horse run tomorrow, given the vicissitudes of this game and the breed. One more comment for the mindless cynics who confidently pronounce that Mo cannot get 10 furlongs. How about a little qualifier to make yourselves seem a little less foolish and egotistical (or is that word just reserved for Repole in their book?). Maybe Indian Charlie has produced just one classic distance offspring. Guess what? Mo was actually produced by a dam, too! - one from whom some stamina could be inherited. Focusing solely on the sire is myopic, and further, Mo is not a typical offspring, regardless of his parents. Moreover, some horses outrun their pedigree or its perceived limits from those who demand an A.P. Indy-like pedigree before they concede that the horse might not be just a sprinter. Win or lose, I will be rooting for the horse and for the owner, both whom we owe a debt of gratitude for bringing some excitement to this increasingly watered-down and dull sport i.e. 5 races per year for sound horses, no handicap weights above 126, "nothing left to prove" pathetic early retirement speeches. Let me conclude on a positive note: I grew up watching Racing from Roosevelt hosted by Stan Bergstein and Spencer Ross. He was always the coolest: a very knowledgeable advocate for the sport, the horsemen, and mostly, the horse. He is irreplaceable, of course, but perhaps he inspired future harness fans who will one day at least hold a candle to him.
Uncle Mo's the biggest lay of the entire 2 days of racing in my mind. I think because he's still so lightly raced that he's still got a lot of untapped potential. But I also believe that Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher completely pointed this horse toward the wrong Breeders Cup race this year. Mo could've, and likely would've dominated the BC Dirt Mile. But his Indian Charlie pedigree, coupled with having ran only 2 preps of 7f and a mile just doesn't make me believe that Mo can overcome his wide PP draw and stay a 1-1/4 on what is arguably one of the most taxing racetracks in the country to try and run 1-1/4 over in Churchill Downs. In all honesty, I would rate his stablemate, Stay Thirsty, as having a better chance of running into a place in the BC Classic than Uncle Mo has, and I think Stay Thirsty's chances are pretty slim as well. JMO.