03/10/2011 10:14PM

Uncle Mo: Another Slew or Another War Pass?


The 3-year-old debut of a returning juvenile champion is always surrounded by high hopes and anticipation, but Uncle Mo's scheduled return at Gulfstream Saturday is even more exciting than usual. He was so exceptionally talented and dominant a 2-year-old champion that expectations are justifiably higher.

A lot of people begin their premature Derby handicapping by throwing out a 2-year-old champ. That wiseguy move worked for the 27 years between Spectacular Bid in 1979 and Street Sense in 2007. Before that, it wasn't such a good idea, since it would have led you to toss six of the 10 Derby winners of the 1970's including the last three Triple Crown winners. 

Uncle Mo's brief but emphatic 2-year-old campaign seems most reminiscent of two other undefeated juvenile champs -- Seattle Slew in 1977 and War Pass 30 years later.

Slew, like Mo, was 3 for 3 at 2, winning a maiden race, an allowance race and then the Champagne (this was seven years before the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile.) War Pass was 4 for 4, completing the same maiden-allowance-Champagne trifecta and then tacking on a runaway BC Juvenile to go 4 for 4. Uncle Mo skipped the allowance-race portion of the program, reeling off victories in a maiden race, the Champagne and the Juvenile.

Seattle Slew, of course, went on to win the Triple Crown while undefeated, return as a champion at 4, and is considered one of the greatest racehorses ever. War Pass won his 3-year-old debut, then lost his next two starts and never raced again.

These things can go either way, but there are a couple of reasons to think that Uncle Mo will prove to be more than another War Pass. His BC Juvenile came on a fast track at Churchill Downs, whereas Was Pass's score in that race came on a very sloppy track at Monmouth. War Pass ran an otherworldly Beyer Speed Figure of 113 in victory, and while it was legit -- he ran two full seconds faster than the champion filly Indian Blessing did -- his failure to approach a performance like that in his six other career starts suggests he particularly relished such footing.

Also, that sloppy Juvenile was Was Pass's only victory around two turns. His subsequent defeats in the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial suggest that he may well have been a miler who was carried to one route victory by a wet track. Uncle Mo's best race last year was his two-turn Juvenile. Good as he was in his sprint debut and around one turn in the Champagne, he looked even better in the Juvenile.

It's a long way from 8.5 to 10 furlongs and from here to Derby Dy, but I'm rooting for him. You can wait a very long time for a colt this promising to come around.

He's 3-to-5 on the morning line and likely to go off lower against the five victims who have been recruited to line up against him in the one-mile Timely Writer. He'll be trying to become the fifth straight juvenile champion to wrin his first start at 3, though before that run 11 of the previous 13 were beaten first time back. In all, 20 of the 37 juvenile champions starting with Secretariat in 1972 have won their 3-year-old debuts: