03/10/2011 10:14PM

Uncle Mo: Another Slew or Another War Pass?

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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:

 

 

 

Dennis More than 1 year ago
I am not afraid of uncle mo, let's hope he is not an uncle jo!!
Jon More than 1 year ago
Actually, Slew was foolishly wheeled back in three weeks after the Belmont. (His trainer had pulled his shoes off to give him a brief rest and then prepare him for the Travers, but the owners wanted him to run again in Hollywood no matter what.) During those three weeks he was tranqulized three times to make Xerox commercials and then again to fly across country. To say all that made him dull is a vast understatement. And to "manage" that horse in that manner was stupifyingly wrong, wrong, wrong. Thank God he recovered from a near fatal disease later that year-through the first part of the next, and then went on to perform magnificantly in the Fall Champioship series as a four-year old, beating Affirmed twice and the great Exceller in the Woodward...and to run maybe his best race ever in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while coming up a few inches short at the wire, but regaining the lead one jump past, still excites. The first three races of Mo and Slew's careers are comparable. The fourth one is not. Slew set a track record at Hialeah in his fourth race and then effortlessly glided away from the competition in the Flamingo before going on to win the Wood Memorial leading up to the Derby. Mo's fourth race was a paid workout. Nothing more. Now he's staying in Florida to run one more time before the Derby....in another audible. He will not have the foundation or the breeding for the Triple crown. IMO.
Dennis Ross More than 1 year ago
Good for you Jon. Your recount of Seattle Slew's career, and especially his brilliant last race defeat to Exceller (where I believe he ran 1:09 and change for the three-quarters in putting Affirmed away, is on the money.
Carm More than 1 year ago
Uncle Mo is a beautiful horse, with an effortless long stride. Even though he stumbled at the gate, he easily got back on stride in the race, which leads me to believe he will not be disturbed by the mob at the gate in the Derby. Discussing another good horse, I don't think there is a more honest, hard trying horse around than Tackleberry. he reminds me of Affirmed; he goes to the front and says come and get me, but he will not let any horse get by him. What a pleasure to watch him and bet on him. He gets tougher as the competition gets tougher.
george quinn More than 1 year ago
Hey Steve, It was not Uncle Mo's race in the Timely Writer that impressed. Nor was it his competition. Nor was it the telemtimer. It was the gallop out. He raced for another furlong. Watch the replay. He is still running more than halfway around the turn after the wire. These guys are not playing around despite the light schedule. I look for him to pick another light spot. He is something else, but seasoning will mean something, somewhere on the trail. But I am a food and Beverage Director second guessing Todd Pletcher. Pretty funny huh? George in Tampa
Henry B More than 1 year ago
In that Life at ten investigation. Does anyone think refunding the takeout on the favorite had anything to do with running the horse? [I don't -- and for th erecord, Life at Ten (3.80-1) was not the favorite, but the second choice to Blind Luck (1.50-1). -SC]
David Rose More than 1 year ago
It's crazy to think that Uncle Mo cannot run a mile and a quarter! Does everybody forget the race his daddy, Indian Charlie, ran in the Derby? He could get the distance, with no problem, as he ran a game 3rd. He was injured in that race and never ran again. Then you have Uncle Mo's grandsires on both sides of his pedigree. Both In Excess and Arch could go a mile and a quarter. With this being said, this should put anybody's concern of getting the distance to rest. The thing that's going to be tough on Mo will be the competitive crop of 3yr olds this year. You have horses like Dialed In, To Honor and Serve, Bretheren, Anthony's Cross (another Indian Charlie), etc., that are going to be really tough. I know a few of these horses were beaten in their most recent starts, but don't turn a blind eye to them, as they are for real, but had circumstances for their most recent defeats.
Belmont Bob More than 1 year ago
I feel better about Moe if Uncle Todd gave him more than one 2 turn prep going into the Kentucky Derby.
jw More than 1 year ago
Steve, do you believe that this horse can win the Derby off of one paid workout and then only one significant prep which will be the Wood ?
Stewart More than 1 year ago
Steve, thank you for the insightful article regarding the ongoing Life At Ten controversy. The decisions which any jockey must make in these situations is extremely difficult, particularly when he must weigh the horse's well-being against the public's financial investment against how it may negatively impact his future business relationship with the trainer/owner. You may recall a few years ago when Jerry Bailey, in a similar situation, caused Noble's Causeway to be scratched from the Jim Dandy when he felt a "bobble" in the horse's stride during the warm-up. In the week following the scratch, Nick Zito claimed nothing was wrong with the horse, and was extremely critical of Bailey for embarassing him and causing the horse to miss his Travers prep, and said he would never ride Bailey again. Zito then entered Noble's Causeway in an allowance race the next Saturday, where he went off at 4/5 and was pulled up (by the new jockey) in the 1st turn, clearly injured. The reality is that there are thousands of times each year, in cheap races at tracks around the country, that jockeys ride horses which shouldn't be on the track and say absolutely nothing about it because their financial lives depend upon it. Most will never have the cache or financial security of a Bailey or Velasquez, and should not be expected to make such decisions.
Jonni Mae More than 1 year ago
War Pass I'll say more like Decreetly Mine.