11/09/2010 4:49PM

Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve, and the 2011 Triple Crown


With the tenor of another polarizing Horse of the Year debate already starting to take a disappointing turn like it did last year, I thought it would be nice for a second to discuss something that should make everyone happy.

(But just so there is no misunderstanding, for the record, I believe combined victories in the Foster, Whitney, and Breeders' Cup Classic is greater than combined victories in the Santa Margarita, Apple Blossom, Vanity, Clement Hirsch, and Lady's Secret, and I wonder how anyone could legitimately argue otherwise. And yes, last year I thought victories by a filly over males in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward was ever-so-slightly greater than a victory by a mare over males in the BC Classic.)

WATCH REPLAY: 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile

Anyway, it sure looks like we might be in for a special Triple Crown season in 2011. Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo is a huge talent. One would be hard pressed to find a horse who began his career any more impressively than this colt has. As compelling as Uncle Mo's 14 1-4 length debut victory at Saratoga good for a 102 Beyer Figure and his 4 3-4 length domination of the Champagne were, his score on Saturday was something else.

As I noted during my live blog updates from Churchill during the Breeders' Cup, I was most impressed with the way Uncle Mo for the first time in his life conceded the early lead to another opponent while at the same time making his first start around two turns. That kind of willingness to adapt could be a huge asset for Uncle Mo down the road, for while he is out of an Arch mare, he is by Indian Charlie, and there aren't many of those who really want 1 1-4 miles.

Then again, Uncle Mo has truckloads of talent, and that can compensate for a lot. The 108 Beyer he earned in the Juvenile was the second highest since Beyers were first published for this race in 1991. The highest Beyer ever in the Juvenile was War Pass's 113 in 2007. But that Juvenile was run over a sloppy, sealed track, and we all know that conditions like that can often produce aberant, untrustworthy figures.

There was another highly talented 2-year-old who also won on Saturday, but he has unfortunately been lost in all the Breeders' Cup hullabaloo, and I think he deserves a mention. To Honor and Serve, who won Saturday's Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct, is an absolute running fool. He has only raced three times, and his only loss came in his debut at Saratoga when he was second after breaking slowly in a big field and then checking late when the winner came over on him. To Honor and Serve came back to get his maiden win in an off-the-turf route at Belmont by almost nine lengths with a 95 Beyer, and then he took the Nashua by four with a 97 Beyer. Yes, To Honor and Serve was a tick under 2-5 in the Nashua and he wasn't in with much, so he was supposed to win. But he was only asked to run for about a sixteenth of a mile in upper stretch. Even then, only the reins were shaken at him, and yet he still crushed.

Like Uncle Mo, who is trained by Todd Pletcher, To Honor and Serve is in top hands. He's trained by Bill Mott. And To Honor and Serve is by Bernardini (seriously, is there a Bernardini who can't run?) out of a Deputy Minister mare, so I can't wait to see what he does when he finally gets to do what he is meant to do: go two turns.

curlinfan More than 1 year ago
It is all a matter of opinion and even though Zenyatta should be Horse Of The Year, she probably won't get it. Just remember five years from now every one will remember Zenyatta but no one will remember Blame. Zenyatta was a horse of a life time and it is a shame some people did not appreciate her.
avvid2000 More than 1 year ago
Zenyatta --should be Horse of The Year based on what she has done for the Good Will of the sport this year, which is the same reason a Triple Crown winner is automatically given the title. 1978, Seattle Slew soundly whipped Affirmed the two times they met, yet Affirmed took HOTY. 1984, John Herny was the much more publicized horse and took HOTY from Slew of Gold even though Slew had a year for the ages and destroyed him when they met. Blame is a good horse but 5 years from now, noone will be talking about him. 2011 looks very exciting indeed. Uncle Mo and Boys of Toscanova are exceptional 2 year olds but at 1 1/4miles my money will be on To Honor and Serve, who is bred to run all day. Look for the rest of the Bernardini's to improve next year as well.
GunBow More than 1 year ago
If Blame wins HoY, so be it. I would not have a serious problem with it, just like I wouldn't have a serious problem with Zenyatta winning. Like last year, I feel both horses are worthy of the award. I understand why those that believe Blame should be HoY point to the Classic as the determining race; he beat the mare in that race, ergo he should be HoY. It's logical, and I really can't argue with it. But this logic hasn't always determined HoY. In 1998, Skip Away lost the Classic to an UNDEFEATED(for the year) older male that had also won the Foster and Whitney, Awesome Again. Yet, Skip Away easily won HoY. In 1996, Skip Away defeated Cigar in their only matchup, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, yet Cigar was HoY. In 1986, Precisionist finished ahead of Lady's Secret the two times they faced each other, yet Lady's Secret was named HoY. So, clearly head-to-head matchups are not always the definitive variable in deciding HoY. The 86' HoY vote touches on some key issues. The HoY is not necessarily about the horse that would win a mythical race or the horse that actually won the race of top contenders. Also important are a horse's dominance WITHIN his or her division, and the horse's relative accomplishments as a runner of a particularly age and sex. Thus, in 1986, the fact Lady's Secret was 1 for 4 against males, and 0 and 2 against Precisionist, was not particularly impressive if one uses the same standards as one would use for a top older male horses like Precisionist. However, when one takes into account that Lady's Secret was a female, then that 1 and 4 record, with a win in the gr.1 Whitney, looks a whole lot better. Losing by 5 to Precisionist in the Woodward but finishing 5 lengths clear of Personal Flag might not be a huge deal if we are talking about another male horse, but when we're talking about a female, it becomes a real big deal, a strong accomplishment. And when one combines Lady's Secret's relative accomplishments as a female with her dominance within her own division(9 for 11), then she becomes a fairly clear HoY. How about Favorite Trick in 1997? No one in his or her right mind believed Favorite Trick was anywhere close to as good as 3 year olds like Silver Charm, Touch Gold or Free House let alone older males like Skip Away, Gentlemen, Formal Gold, Will's Way, and Siphon. What made him HoY is that his dominance within his division, 2 year old males, was much stronger than the relative dominance of any 3 year old or older horse. Or, how about Azeri in 2002? Did her win as HoY reflect the belief of voters that she would have beaten Volponi in the Classic or won a mythical 10 furlong race against Left Bank, Street Cry, or Medalgia d' Oro? Probably not. However, Azeri's complete dominance within the female division, and the fact that as a female she wasn't that far behind the top males in terms of talent, made her a clear HoY. So, it is entirely within the historical parameters to come to the conclusion that just because Blame beat Zenyatta in the Classic, their only matchup, he should not necessarily be HoY. Look at it this way, is it more impressive for a 4 year old male horse to win 3 gr.1 races, including the Classic, or for a 6 year old mare to win all 5 of her gr.1 races against females(2 while carrying 129 and 127 lbs) and then run 2nd by a nose in the Classic? I think it's perfectly logical for someone to claim that Zenyatta's accomplishment, including running 2nd in the Classic, are more historically impressive, given the fact SHE IS A FEMALE. Remember, no female not named Zenyatta has ever run first or second in the Classic. When Lady's Secret and Azeri won HoY, they clinched their awards in the Distaff, while Zenyatta stepped to the plate to face the truly best horses in the Classic. Personally, my opinion is the same as last year- split the award and have co-HoY. Regardless of who does win the award, Zenyatta will be remembered as the horse of this generation. Blame is a solid horse and had an excellent 2010, but he is doubtful for the Hall of Fame. Rachel Alexandra and Curlin will both make the Hall, with Curlin arguably going down as the best male horse of the 2000s(definitely the most accomplished) while Rachel will forever be known as having one of the greatest seasons ever by a 3 year old filly in North America, if not the best. But Zenyatta has transcended them all. Just Zenyatta's efforts in the Breeder's Cup alone make her one of the greatest females ever. She won the Ladies Classic with ease in 2008, won the Classic over males in 2009 as a 5 year old on synthetic, and then as a 6 year old came within a head of winning the Classic on dirt in Kentucky. She is the only female to finish in the top 2 of a Classic, doing so twice, and did so even though one was on synthetic and the other on dirt. And then there is the streak! 19 wins to open a career, 13 in gr.1 races(a record for North American females), the record for money won by a female in North America, all while having displayed the ability to carry weight and to run on multiple surfaces. Add on her unique stature and personality, her charisma and popularity, and Zenyatta has entered a realm inhabited by only Ruffian among female thoroughbreds in North America.
C More than 1 year ago
The only thing this Classic has in common with the 1978 JCGC is that the runner-up was terrific in defeat. Some will point to Seattle Slew (not Exceller) winning the Eclipse for older male of the year as a precedent to justify Zenyatta beating Blame for this year's HoY. This reasoning, however, falls flat. First of all, Seattle Slew broke through the gate, rejected several challenges, and was forced into absolutely ridiculous fractions during the 1978 JCGC, which was 1 1/2 at that time. Zenyatta overcame a very slow break and that's about it. Both came up a little short, but there's no comparing the 2 situations beyond that. But the 1978 JCGC was not the first and only meeting between Seattle Slew and Exceller. Seattle Slew crushed him in the Woodward that year and also defeated triple-crown winner Affirmed in the Marlboro Cup before that. THAT'S why Seattle Slew, and not Exceller, was named champion older male... it wasn't a judgment call based strictly on a single meeting where the runner-up was every bit as good, if not better, than the winner. That, however, is what we're faced with this year. Had Zenyatta and Blame met before the Classic, the decision would likely be made much easier. But this was their only meeting and prior to the Classic, Blame unquestionably ran against and defeated much better competition than Zenyatta, who only raced against an undistinguished group of females. So this is not 1978 all over again. I understand the support for Zenyatta and would not cry foul if she wins HoY. It will, and should, be a very close vote, but I have to side with Blame.
Slew More than 1 year ago
I'm too tired to respond to the HOY debate again. Zen is the Queen and was magnificent in her only defeat. Blame dug in with true courage to hold on to the last bit of ground. Both made the Classic more memorable than any I have ever seen. As to Uncle Mo....he was exciting, exhilerating, and holds so much promise. However, I have to stop myself from getting my hopes too high on a two year old. In 2002, I thought I was looking at the re-incarnation of Seattle Slew, when Vindication won the BC juvenile. I knew then that he would be the next Triple Crown winner! He never made it to the Derby due to injury. I Want Revenge scratched the morning of the Derby. Buddy's Saint, a pinball in his first race back did not go on. Eskendereya..injured before the Derby. Most promising 3 year old last year (aside from LAL) was Take Control, that AP Indy/Azeri progeny who electrified in his debut, but is only recently back in training. "Once burned, twice shy" is a cautious statement that warns me off latching on to one singular horse. (Although I truly want Uncle Mo to go forward and continue to be the best).
Tony More than 1 year ago
Times mean nothing in horse racing ah? Nuff said Dennis T
Luisbe More than 1 year ago
By the way...Zenyatta carried 3 pounds less than Blame at the Classic. Have a great day
Luisbe More than 1 year ago
"...But it cannot be denied, that Queen Zenyatta has defeated more Graded Stakes winner this year then Blame. When you count the entire Breeders Cup Classic field Queen Zenyatta just dusted." At least, check the statistics. Zenyatta did not defeat any Grade 1 FEMALE this year. The only Group 1 males (or females) she defeated were those who stood 3rd to last in the Breeders Cup, but she did not win. Blame dusted one more Grade 1 that Zenyatta in the Breeder's since he beat her as well, unless you're referring to last year Breeders' Cup; That does not count to this Horse of the Year. People, be rational. Do not be fanatic.
Qev More than 1 year ago
When does a horse clearly lose a race yet, somehow, not lose? When it's Zenyatta getting beat by Blame. When does a horse clearly win a horse race but, somehow, has not really won. When it's Blame beating Zenyatta. And, they say that we're the ones who are "biased" here on the East Coast. Really? The only bias that I can detect is one of rationality.
Tony More than 1 year ago
@ Dennis T "And BTW, Rachel at her best, would have been destroyed in this years Classic" LOL Rachel is better than 2:02.56 at her best!!
Dennis T More than 1 year ago
TONY...Time means nothing in THOROUGHBRED HORSE RACING, especially at a mile and a 1/4...If time was everything, wouldnt the fastest horse win every race? Wouldnt the Beyer numbers pick the winner for you every race. speed figs are a joke. Rachels crowning achievemant was her final race of the year last year against the older males, and had Zenyatta been in that race she would have blown by RA like RA was a statue. And this is coming from a guy that was a Z hater until the BC CLassic last year. She made a believer out of me. God bless the Moss's for giving her us for another year. I hope another runner comes around soon to keep Z's momentum of popularizing our great sport.