03/16/2011 4:01PM

Uncle Mo's Mile

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A ballyhooed, undefeated 2-year-old champion makes his first start as a 3-year-old and posts the lowest speed figure of his career on the same card where Grade 2 older horses run the same distance 7 or 8 lengths faster. Cause for concern?

I vote no in the case of Uncle Mo's 3 3/4-length victory last Saturday in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream.

His performance earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 89 in his first start since an undefeated juvenile campaign where he ran figs of 102 in his debut, 94 in the Champagne and 108 in the BC Juvenile. His final time of 1:36.56 was 1.33 seconds slower than Tackleberry's in the Gulfstream Park Handicap two races later, which earned a 103 and where the first four finishers were less than a length apart. But considering the extremely slow pace of the Timely Writer, Uncle Mo's moderate final time should probably be forgiven in favor of his extremely strong finish.

Here are the fractional and final times of the three one-mile races contested at Gulfstream last Saturday:

The final times dictated that the GP Handicap got a 14-point better BSF than the Timely Writer, but the full story is in the fractions.

Forget about the opening quarters, splits that have been highly questionable in one-mile races at Gulfstream. Even just using the half-mile, six-furlong and final times, it's clear that the Timely Writer unfolded at an almost bizarrely slow pace -- nearly two full seconds slower to the half than not only the GP Handicap but also the filly-and-mare allowance race earlier on the card.  Tackleberry ran the first six furlongs in the GPH in 1:11.19 as opposed to Uncle Mo's 1:13.69 -- exactly 2.5 seconds, or 15 lengths (via 6 lengths=1 second) faster.

How much faster a final quarter than a crackling 22.87 was Uncle Mo supposed to run?

Due to his brilliance and all those 1's in his running lines, a lot of people probably think of Uncle Mo as a speed horse -- but if you transpose his Timely Writer onto the GP Handicap, he'd have been 15 lengths back with a quarter-mile to go and made up half the deficit down the stretch.

Just for fun, here's a comparison of Uncle Mo's one-mile efforts in the Champagne last fall and the Timely Writer last Saturday. The Belmont track was clearly faster by nearly two seconds at a mile, but the first-half/second-half differences are still obvious. It's rare to see a horse produce two such radically different performances in a pair of one-turn, one-mile races:

 I think it's fair to debate whether two scheduled preps, and just one at two turns, will prove to be sufficient seasoning by Derby Day, but I don't think the Timely Writer indicated any stalling or regression in Uncle Mo's ability. If anything, it broadened his dimensions as a colt who can relax early and finish strongly, never a bad thing in a classic candidate.