04/26/2011 4:19PM

Kentucky Derby: Defections, Uncle Mo work brings more clarity to field

Barbara D. Livingston
The Factor exercises Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs. He and J P’s Gusto are out of the Derby, opening the door for Shackleford and Twinspired to run.

The likely starting field for the May 7 Kentucky Derby came into sharper focus Tuesday when Uncle Mo, the heavy Derby favorite until his loss in the Wood Memorial, had an encouraging workout at Churchill Downs, and the connections of both J P’s Gusto and The Factor finally made official what had long been expected, that neither would participate.

All three developments had a domino effect with other jockeys and horses.

The defections of J P’s Gusto and The Factor moved both Shackleford and Twinspired into the Derby field, since both are now in the top 20 in terms of graded stakes earnings. If more than the maximum 20 horses enter the race next Wednesday, May 4, graded stakes earnings determine the field. Next on the bubble are Silver Medallion and Anthony’s Cross, in that order.

Uncle Mo was ridden in his workout by John Velazquez, who has ridden Uncle Mo in his five prior races and will remain on him for the Derby. Uncle Mo’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, and owner, Mike Repole, also have Stay Thirsty in the Derby. Had Uncle Mo not been making progress since his loss in the Wood Memorial and the subsequent announcement that he had a gastrointestinal infection, Velazquez might have ended up with Stay Thirsty. But with Uncle Mo showing progress, the mount on Stay Thirsty was given Tuesday to Ramon Dominguez, Repole said.

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Within days of Uncle Mo losing the Wood, Repole put out a press release saying Uncle Mo had been impacted by a gastrointestinal infection and blamed that for the loss. But Repole has drawn the line at that level of medical disclosure. Repole was on a telephone conference call Tuesday and refused to answer directly a question regarding medical treatment that may have been done to Uncle Mo last fall, following his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Asked if Uncle Mo had been pin-fired, Repole gave a roundabout answer that never included the words “yes” or “no,” and instead said he would only welcome full disclosure for his Derby horses if “the other 18 owners all do the same thing.”

Repole also said he felt Uncle Mo was “50-50” to make the race, but the quote must be put in context, for he said that applies to every horse in the race.

“Look what happened to I Want Revenge and Eskendereya,” he said, referring to Derby favorites withdrawn, respectively, on the day of and a week before the last two Derbies.

“I feel much better than I did a week ago,” Repole said.

Whatever issues Uncle Mo has had in recent weeks or last fall, he apparently looked well Tuesday. Working in company with the older stakes-winning sprinter Calibrachoa, Uncle Mo went five furlongs at Churchill Downs in 1:01.69 on a track rated sloppy. The work took place before 6 a.m., owing to concern by Pletcher as to what the condition of the track might have become later in the morning because of rain.

Pletcher said he got an e-mail from Repole at 1:30 am Eastern time Tuesday morning expressing concern over approaching rain.

“I was glad we went early,” Pletcher said. “I was more pleased with the racetrack at 6 a.m. than after the break.”

As for the workout, “I was pleased,” Pletcher said.

“He handled the surface real well, and the final time was what we were looking for. Everything went according to plan. The work was an indication that he is in good form. I was particularly pleased with the way he finished the work. He was under no pressure at all.

“The last 96 hours we’re seeing signs around the barn that he’s back to his old self. His appetite has returned. Each day he seems to be getting a little better. I’m optimistic he is again the Uncle Mo we saw in the Timely Writer and the Breeders’ Cup.”

Another indication that things are moving forward with Uncle Mo is that his price dropped in British future pools in the 24 hours preceding Tuesday’s drill.

By contrast, the price on The Factor floated up in the 24 hours preceding the announcement by co-owner George Bolton on Tuesday that he would not run, which was not unexpected, owing to recent throat surgery and concerns over his ability to handle the Derby’s 1 1/4 miles.

Baffert has one Derby starter, Midnight Interlude, who worked six furlongs in 1:13.51 at Churchill on Tuesday. The only other Derby horse who worked at Churchill on Tuesday was Santiva, who went a half-mile in 49.22 seconds.

J P’s Gusto on Tuesday was officially ruled out by his owner, John Waken, who said J P’s Gusto would be heading to New York to be trained by Mike Hushion.

Hushion will be the third trainer for J P’s Gusto, who began his career last year in California with David Hofmans before being placed with Joe Petalino for three races at Oaklawn Park this spring.

◗ Blue Grass runner-up Twinspired will be ridden in the Kentucky Derby by Mike Smith, trainer Mike Maker confirmed Tuesday. Maker said Smith’s riding accomplishments made him a logical choice.

“Obviously, he doesn’t need to show his résumé out there,” he said.

Smith, a Hall of Famer, won the 2005 Derby aboard 50-1 shot Giacomo.

– additional reporting by Byron King and Mike Welsch

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