04/27/2011 9:58PM

Uncle Mo, Uncle Martin and Aunt Isabel


When most people think Uncle Mo’s human team, they think of Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole (“Uncle Todd” and “Uncle Mike,” respectively, on Mo’s popular Facebook page). Yet there’s another couple even closer to the champion racehorse: Isabel Escobar and her husband Martin Estrada.

Martin is Uncle Mo’s groom and Isabel is the hotwalker. The duo – Martin and Isabel have been together eight years - has cared for a bevy of Pletcher’s best: Flower Alley, Bandini, Ashado, Speightstown, Rags to Riches, Quality Road….

Above:  Martin makes Super Saver look pretty, and Isabel gets a bath from Quality Road.  Saratoga 2010

Both are very serious about their jobs and you won’t find either yucking it up with the media. Martin’s attentiveness to his horses is second-to-none, and Isabel is the horse’s human mother. If Mo starts to misbehave, Isabel quietly scolds him – and he straightens right up. I swear, if he could talk, he’d say, “Awww, shucks, Mom…I'm sorry.”

Isabel, who's seen her share of horses, says that Mo is "smart, extremely smart."  

Isabel is a lovely Colombian woman with penetrating eyes and a gentle, confident manner.  But this week, she’s not quite her usual strong self. Allergies – pollen, specifically – cause her discomfort every time she visits the Bluegrass State, and this spring is no exception. But she still gets up at 3:45 each morning and heads to work. She’s been with Todd Pletcher since arriving in this country in 2003.

Martin, from Mexico, is so quiet you barely notice him working. But when he's with horses – bathing them, doing up the wraps, setting feed – you can see the lifetime horseman within. His horses always look great. Martin’s been with Todd for nearly 13 years now. He and Isabel met on the job.

So, the next time you think “Uncle Mo,” think of the unheralded human team who quietly make sure the champion’s every need is met: “Uncle Martin” and “Aunt Isabel.”

Above:  Isabel leads Uncle Mo into the Belmont barn as Todd Pletcher watches, April 2011

Above:  Isabel and Uncle Mo at Churchill Downs, April 2011.  Below:  Martin (right) with Uncle Mo, Aqueduct paddock before the Wood Memorial, April 2011.

Above:  Martin Estrada, Uncle Mo's groom.  Below:  Isabel Escobar, Uncle Mo's hotwalker, with Mo at Belmont Park 2011.


BELOW:  A variety pack of photos of our 2010 champion 2-year-old, and a leading Kentucky Derby contender, Uncle Mo.....because it's always fun to see Mo photos: 

Above and below:  When it all began.  Uncle Mo breaks his maiden at Saratoga August 28, 2010.

Above:  Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty work in company at Saratoga in early August 2010 - before either horse raced.  Below:  The duo was still at it at Breeders' Cup time 2010, at Churchill Downs...

...and in February 2011 at Palm Meadows (below).

Above:  Assistant Michael McCarthy with Uncle Mo, schooling before the 2010 Breeders' Cup.  Below (three photos):  With regular exercise rider Hector Ramos up, at Belmont Park 2011.

Above:  Uncle Mo and regular pilot John Velazquez, first time past in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.  

Above:  Mike Repole plants a smacker on Uncle Mo as Todd Pletcher saddles, Wood Memorial.  Below:  Mike points out to his buddy that the huge surrounding crowd is there for him.  

Above and below:  The cast and venue changes, but the pony remains the same.  Uncle Mo at Palm Meadows with John Velazquez and Whit Beckman (above), and Uncle Mo at Belmont Park with Hector Ramos up (not sure of gentleman's name on pony ?).  And I believe, although I wouldn't bet too much money on it, that the pony's name is Thunder Chicken.  Yes, Alysse, head of the Thunder Chicken Fan Club?

Above:  Uncle Mo says "Cheesssssseeee!"  Below:  Mo is an unusually kind, gentle horse - and always appreciative of a pat on the head.

Above:  'Uncle Mike' visits with Uncle Mo days after Mo broke his maiden at Saratoga, 2010. 

Above:  Mo fans at Aqueduct on Wood Memorial day, and below, Mo leads a colorful group homeward.

Above and below:  Uncle Mo (far left), Hector Ramos up; Whit Beckman on pony; Patti Krotenko on Stay Thirsty.  Palm Meadows, early February 2011.

Above:  Hector Ramos goes for a whirl on Uncle Mo at Palm Meadows, 2/11.  Below:  Uncle Mo wears Mike Repole's (and the Mets') colors beautifully.

Above and below:  Uncle Mo and Hector Ramos splash it up at Churchill Downs, April 2011.

Below:  It's workout time for Uncle Mo (John Velazquez up) and Calibrachoa (Hector Ramos up), April 26, 2011 at Churchill Downs.

Above and below:  Uncle Mo - pretty as a picture at Belmont Park, April 2011.

Brenda Flinn More than 1 year ago
Continuing my comment under your blog post "Uncle Mo, Uncle Martin and Aunt Isabel" with my comment containing keywords Uncle Mo's disease, Merek Veterinary Manual, salmonella, escherichia coli, poster, advertising, headshot, my comment is not to reflect on the fine folks who care for Uncle Mo. I am not requesting any photography or other services from you, Barbara Livingston, or Daily Racing Form. It would be helpful if Daily Racing Form would do more in-depth reporting on Uncle Mo's disease rather than letting readers seek information for themselves from the Merek Veterinary Manual. END COMMENT
Brenda Flinn More than 1 year ago
Daily Racing Form reported on Uncle Mo's disease, technically cholangiohepatitis which the Merck Veterinary Manual says "is a severe inflammation of the bile passages and adjacent liver which sporadically causes hepatic failure in horses." Merck Veterinary Manual lists several possible causes including infection due to deadly food bacteria salmonella or escherichia coli, the same bacteria harmful to humans. DRF has not provided information on the likely cause of Uncle Mo's disease, but if it is due to salmonella or escherichia coli, this is big news and a real wake-up call for our animals. Was this bacteria in the water, the grain, or maybe a raw egg slurry of extra protein? It's difficult enough to warn humans about proper food handling, and we seldom even consider food safety procedures with our animals. But times have changed! Farming techniques today emit higher risk of contamination. If Uncle Mo retires AND the cause is from a food-borne illness, this horse has a message to send about food safety. In effect, Uncle Mo could become the poster ambassador for raising public awareness toward better food handling practices at home, in restaurants, in grocery stores, and in the barn. His story would reach all ages from children to grandparents. The reason I am writing this note to you is because excellent head shot photos of Uncle Mo would be needed for an advertising poster campaign. You take the best horse shots I've ever seen. Of course, this is all speculation, and I hope Uncle Mo returns to racing, but if he doesn't, well he is a "high-profile figure."
Nancy Petrillo More than 1 year ago
Barbara - You lifted my spirits with the wonderful story and gorgeous pictures of Uncle Mo, Martin, Isabel and his backstretch team. I have been worried about him since reading about his elevated enzymes, as Devil May Care also had elevated enzymes. That outcome was lymphosarcoma and she was put down early in May. I have been scouring websites looking for news regarding his health, but there is no news. Do you know if they have found the correct diagnosis? Uncle Mo has no white markings, but he is remarkably beautiful. He has a beautifully sculpted head that contains very intelligent eyes. He is just an elegant bay. How lucky he is to have Martin and Isabel. I truly believe it is the backside people who love them the most. Thank you for all the beautiful pictures and Uncle Mo's story.
Sue Sedgwick More than 1 year ago
I loved the story about Uncle Mo and all of his connections on the backside! I do have something that has been bothering me since the Preakness Stakes TV show. They reported that more than one week prior to the public announcement of Uncle Mo's scratch from the Kentucky Derby, that Trainer Todd Pletcher contacted Animal Kingdoms trainer, Grahm Motion, to offer jockery J. Velasquez to him since he would not be riding Uncle Mo. Is it just me or isn't the betting public, which is the engine that helps runs this entire industry, entitled to this kind of news as fast as it becomes available? It was disturbing to me that this information was being passed around and yet withheld from the public until a later date. There is just something about it that left a strange feeling for me and I have been invovled in this industry for a long time. Everyone talks about universal testing and drugs and all sorts of topics when something as simple as knowing when a horse is going to scratch out of the Kentucky Derby is knocked around behind closed doors and the public was left in the dark for a week before they learned what others already knew. If it was actually a week or more when the jockey who was to ride Uncle Mo was offered to Animal Kingdom's connection, I fear there are many who will feel betrayed. Knowledge is power and information like this needs to be brought out of the shadows. IT IS NOT GOOD FOR OUR INDUSTRY.
Sue H More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story about the unsung heros of the back stretch! Nice.
Dogs Up More than 1 year ago
Superb. I have just 'discoverd' your work here ala Churchill Downs photo essay. Look forward to many future visits.
Linda More than 1 year ago
Nothing but love and attention in these photos. Yep, Mr. Mike does love his baby. And all the Uncles and Aunts who keep Mo going are an important cog in his ever spinning wheel of events and races. Thank you for the close ups Barbara and sharing some of Uncle Mo with us. Safe journey's to all and come back safe and sound every time you leave the gate.
judy and russ berube More than 1 year ago
Dear Barbara: Once again, heartwarming story and gorgeous photos. Do you have any plans to visit Zenyatta at Lane's End for a story and photo shoot? Here's hoping. Judy and Russ
Ralph miller More than 1 year ago
Great shots ! Thanks . Good luck & best wishes may7/11
Sue R-CT More than 1 year ago
Thank you for sharing Uncle Mo's family. What a loving family it is! Mo looks kind and smart. He seems so honest and gives his all for his family, friends and fans. His human "Mom" Isabel has taught him well. She must be very proud! As always, fantastic photos-you NEVER disappoint!