04/10/2011 11:50AM

Uncle Mo and the Wood, Pt. 2; Other Saturday Thoughts

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After having a night to sleep on it, I still can’t see much that was positive about Uncle Mo’s performance in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in regard to his status for the Kentucky Derby.

I suppose the best thing one could say about it is that after a 3-year-old debut in the Timely Writer that everyone classified a paid public workout, Uncle Mo might have simply been a short horse Saturday, and that he will benefit, conditioning-wise, from the experience. But Uncle Mo was 1-10 against his Wood field, he had an eight length Beyer Figure advantage over his opponents on paper, and he wound up controlling what looked like a very comfortable pace. With advantages like that, Uncle Mo, even if he was merely short, could have won the Wood in workman-like fashion. But he still should have won, not finish a fading third.

Instead, Uncle Mo’s performance in the Wood, which was his first venture at as far as 1 1/8 miles, raises the obvious question about his effectiveness at a meaningful distance. It also raises the important issue of whether he has moved forward from 2, when he was clearly far ahead of his contemporaries, to 3. If he hasn’t, and that happens to a lot of horses, then this might be a simple case of other 3-year-olds catching up to and surpassing Uncle Mo.

One thing that does bother me a little is how some folks have drawn an analogy between Uncle Mo losing in the Wood at 1-10, and Secretariat losing in the Wood at 1-5 in 1973. While Uncle Mo was the divisional champion at 2, Secretariat was not only divisional champion at 2, he was the first ever to be Horse of the Year at 2. Before he lost the Wood, Secretariat turned in scintillating victories in the Bay Shore and Gotham, running a mile in the latter in 1:33 2/5. And really, the only way Uncle Mo’s loss in the Wood could ever be analogous to Secretariat’s is if Uncle Mo goes on to sweep the Triple Crown, beats a superstar field of older horses in an invitational race in the fall, and then closes his campaign with two awesome romps in major turf stakes going 12 and 13 furlongs. Otherwise, it’s fantasy.

Unfortunately, Uncle Mo’s shocking loss in the Wood overshadowed the determined victory by Toby’s Corner. Toby’s Corner showed a nice turn of late foot to get up and nail Arthur’s Tale. Although Toby’s Corner was 3 for 5 going into the Wood, this was his best effort to date, and it came with blinkers on. So Toby’s Corner, at the very least, is moving in the right direction, and that is a big plus is this year’s suddenly wide open Kentucky Derby picture.

Midnight Interlude, upset winner of Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, is also moving in the right direction. Although Midnight Interlude was put to a drive with three-eighths of a mile to go and needed the length of the stretch to nip Comma to the Top, who was not under consideration for the Kentucky Derby because the distance is too far, he still deserves some credit. Even if this Santa Anita Derby became a much easier race when first Premier Pegasus and then Jaycito had to be withdrawn, it still takes some substance to do what Midnight Interlude did, which is step up and win a race like this off of only a win over maidens.

But I do think Silver Medallion, who finished fourth as the favorite in the Santa Anita Derby in his first start since he won the El Camino Real Derby two months ago, is one to keep an eye on. Silver Medallion definitely ran like a short horse, yet was out well after the finish.

As I noted in my Saturday afternoon blog post, there doesn’t appear to be much to look for out of the Illinois Derby. The fact that Joe Vann, the extremely rare Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year old not nominated to the Triple Crown, and Zoebear, who went into Saturday still a maiden after five starts, ran one-two says it all.

I’m also wondering what, if any, meaning Lilacs and Lace’s 48-1 upset of Saturday’s Ashland at Keeneland has. My sense is this was another one of those wacky Polytrack results. However, I do think Kathmanblu’s third as the favorite in the Ashland confirmed a feeling I had about her beforehand, which is the races she’s been winning were weak. Kathmanblu must raise her game to levels she has not yet reached if she is to contend with R Heat Lightning in the Kentucky Oaks.

Finally, a word about Misremembered getting caught at 2-5 by Win Willy in Saturday’s Oaklawn Handicap. The way Misremembered won his comeback at Santa Anita last month, he looked like the best older male in the country. But in a handicap division that is a game of musical chairs if there ever was one, Misremembered couldn’t stand the prosperity and went down to defeat Saturday. In his defense, Misremembered was part of a strong early pace. But at this point, it really is a coin flip as to who should on top in the older male division in the Watchmaker Watch. I might even keep Misremembered on top for lack of a better alternative. I am, however, open to suggestion.