02/22/2017 3:10PM

Derby Watch: Mo Town proving a bargain buy

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Barbara D. Livingston
Mo Town, here winning the Remsen at Aqueduct last fall, was bought for $200,000 - just before prices on the offspring of his sire, Uncle Mo, exploded.

In the summer of 2015, trainer Tony Dutrow had a handful of 2-year-olds from the first crop of Uncle Mo. He liked the promise they had shown and wanted to get more. So, at the Keeneland yearling sale that September, getting an Uncle Mo colt was paramount to Dutrow.

The one he picked out cost $200,000. This was a little less than two months before the Uncle Mo colt Nyquist would win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and be named champion 2-year-old male and more than seven months before Nyquist would win the Kentucky Derby. With the budget Dutrow and his Team D partners had, they got in just before the market took off.

“I never could have bought him this past year for $200,000,” Dutrow said. “He’s an Uncle Mo, and he’s athletic. They cost $400,000 or $500,000. They’re talented, strong, and sound. There’s a lot of good stuff going on.”

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More than anything, they can run. And Dutrow is hoping that his Uncle Mo colt, now named Mo Town, continues paying dividends when he makes his first start as a 3-year-old on Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

“He’s got a lot to prove,” Dutrow said. “I’m not taking anything for granted. He’s not wound tight, but he is ready to run.”

The Risen Star will be the fourth race Mo Town has run, each at a different track. His prior starts all were in New York, where Dutrow is based, but Dutrow is wintering at the Payson Park training center, and that is where Mo Town has trained in recent weeks.

That adaptability to various surroundings could prove invaluable over the next few months as Mo Town tries to make it to the Kentucky Derby on May 6. He won the Remsen Stakes last fall, worth 10 qualifying points, and will try to add to that total Saturday. The Risen Star is worth 85 points overall, including 50 to the winner, under the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the Derby.

“I’m very impressed and happy with how he’s done at Payson Park,” Dutrow said. “He’s in great physical shape. He was a good 2-year-old. Now he has to be a good 3-year-old.”

In his debut, Mo Town finished second at Saratoga in a maiden race that opened the Travers card.

“We felt strongly he’d run a good race,” Dutrow said. “He didn’t break great, then came from well back. He overcame a lot of stuff.”

In his second start, four weeks later at Belmont Park, Mo Town romped by seven lengths in a one-turn mile. He became a hot commodity.

“We were looking to take some chips off the table,” said Dutrow, who found an ideal partner in the Coolmore team of Susan Magnier, Derrick Smith, and Michael Tabor. They agreed to purchase 75 percent of Mo Town and to leave the colt with Dutrow.

“There were other offers from people who had other plans,” Dutrow said. “I must have told 50 people, ‘No, he’s not leaving us.’

“This was the right deal – as good as it could be. They’re intelligent, obviously very well connected, and when he goes to stud, they’ll help his stud career a lot more than I could.”

In his first start for his current partnership, Mo Town won the 1 1/8-mile Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 26. It was an important step, said Dutrow.

“We wanted to get him that two-turn experience at 2,” he said. “We all felt like he wanted distance.”

Mo Town is cutting back to 1 1/16 miles for the Risen Star, but after that looms a final Derby prep at 1 1/8 miles, then the Derby at 1 1/4 miles. Getting to the Derby always involves a fair amount of luck, but Dutrow and his partners have certainly planned well for this opportunity, starting at that sale 17 months ago.

El Areeb to run in Gotham

El Areeb has done so well since his victory in the Withers this month that trainer Cathal Lynch on Wednesday said there’s no reason to wait for the Wood Memorial on April 8, and so El Areeb will compete on March 4 in the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

“Sitting on him for another six weeks would be difficult,” Lynch said. “He came out of his last work good. He’ll work back this weekend, and we’ll go from there.”

After the Withers, Lynch had said El Areeb could come back in the Gotham or simply await the Wood Memorial. Like the Risen Star, the Gotham is worth 85 points overall, including 50 to the winner.

El Areeb, by Exchange Rate, lost his first two starts but has won four straight since. Prior to the Withers, he won the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Both the Jerome and Withers are Grade 3 races.