03/27/2011 11:23AM

Kentucky Derby contenders Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty, and Soldat work in Florida

Barbara D. Livingston
Uncle Mo worked a half-mile in 49.45 seconds on Sunday at Palm Meadows as he prepares for a start in the Wood Memorial.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Three of the top contenders for this year’s Kentucky Derby worked at the Palm Meadows training center Sunday morning, including division leader Uncle Mo who had his first breeze since launching his 3-year-old campaign with an easy victory in Gulfstream Park’s Timely Writer Stakes 15 days earlier. He was joined on the work tab by stablemate Stay Thirsty and Fountain of Youth winner Soldat as they put in their final preps for next Sunday’s Grade 1 Florida Derby.

Trainer Todd Pletcher opted to have Uncle Mo work in company and take some dirt Sunday, breaking the Eclipse Award winner at the half-mile pole approximately three lengths behind stablemates Praetero and Rule. Uncle Mo angled outside his targets into the stretch and then gradually overtook and edged about a half-length past the others at the wire before galloping out willingly into the turn. Uncle Mo’s official final time for a half-mile was 49.45 seconds.

“This was the second time I’ve had him take some dirt in the morning,” Pletcher said. “We also did it before the Champagne. He was a little strong the first part, but I thought he worked very well and ran through the dirt nicely. He doesn’t shy away or climb from it. He’s been in cruise control and pretty much in the clear in his races so far, even the Breeders’ Cup, but if we do encounter a situation where he’s got to run into some dirt, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it.”

Uncle Mo is scheduled to have his final Kentucky Derby prep on April 9 at Aqueduct in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.

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Stay Thirsty, who like Uncle Mo is owned by Mike Repole, did not handle adversity quite as well as his more highly regarded stablemate earlier Sunday. Breaking off two lengths in front of his older, stakes-caliber partner Colizeo, Stay Thirsty had to be put to pressure to keep up with his workmate nearing the wire, ultimately finishing about a half-length behind after completing five furlongs in 1:02.01. The work had Pletcher thinking about putting blinkers on the Gotham winner for the Florida Derby.

“He looked to be a little intimidated down inside the other horse, so I might throw some blinkers on him when he gallops this week and see how he goes,” Pletcher said. “Coming off a win, if we do decide to put blinkers on him for the Florida Derby we’ll have to get permission from the stewards, but I don’t think that should be any problem.”

Soldat looked extremely sharp working five furlongs from the half-mile pole out around the turn in 1:01.01 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, shading 24 seconds from the quarter pole to the wire while under just the mildest of urging near the finish line before striding out powerfully into the bend.

“That was perfect,” a delighted McLaughlin shouted out as Soldat continued to gallop out willingly into the backstretch.

“He worked great and galloped out strong,” McLaughlin said several minutes later. “It was an excellent work. He took a lot of dirt and worked great last week, too. He’s doing very well. We’re ready to go.”

Other workers of note at Palm Meadows on Sunday included a trio of Pletcher’s top females, Life At Ten, Awesome Maria, and R Heat Lightning, along with Godolphin’s Regal Ransom.

Life At Ten, who breezed in the dark and a light fog before dawn, went six furlongs in 1:16.70 over a track that was fairly cuppy at the time. Pletcher said the multiple Grade 1 winner could make her 2011 debut in the Apple Blossom.

Awesome Maria went several minutes later and breezed a very solid half-mile in 49.66 over the slow surface, completing her final quarter in 24 and change while well in hand. She’ll be one of the favorites in Saturday’s Grade 2 Rampart.

R Heat Lightning followed almost immediately behind Uncle Mo and also looked extremely sharp, zipping a half-mile in 47.96 and galloping out five-eighths in 1:00.20 in preparation for her role as the likely favorite in Saturday’s Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks.

Regal Ransom gave every indication that he’s ready to launch his campaign after responding to some moderate late pressure to work five-eighths of a mile in 59.85 and gallop out six furlongs in 1:12.81 under the supervision of Godolphin assistant trainer Rick Mettee.