04/11/2011 2:32PM

Kentucky Derby: Uncle Mo's loss leaves no clear-cut favorite

Barbara D. Livingston
Uncle Mo, leaving the gate in Saturday’s Wood Memorial, is scheduled to leave for Churchill Downs on Monday.

For months, Uncle Mo was the acknowledged favorite for the Kentucky Derby on May 7, but his stunning loss Saturday in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, part of an unpredictable day of Derby preps, has left the Derby picture quite unsettled less than four weeks out.

In addition to Uncle Mo’s loss in the Wood on Saturday, the 13-1 shot Midnight Interlude scored an upset in the Santa Anita Derby, and Joe Vann, a horse so lightly regarded by his connections that he was not nominated to the Triple Crown, won the Illinois Derby.

Uncle Mo did emerge from the Wood – which was won by Toby’s Corner – in good physical condition, trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday, but Pletcher said blood work was going to be done on Uncle Mo on Tuesday to see if anything more can be learned about why he suffered the first loss of his career after four victories.

Pletcher said Uncle Mo is still scheduled to run in the Derby. Based now at Belmont Park, Uncle Mo is scheduled to leave New York next week and has two workouts scheduled at Churchill Downs, the surface over which he won last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

“We’re going to do some blood work and see if that reveals anything,” said Pletcher, who said he expected to get the results of the blood work sometime Wednesday. “We’ll take him back to the racetrack and go from there.

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“I think we’re looking for a reason why he didn’t perform up to our expectations,” Pletcher added. “Preliminarily, it looks like soundness-wise he came out of it really well, which is the most important thing. We scoped him after the race. That didn’t reveal anything.”

Pletcher said he did not think Uncle Mo was a short horse in terms of his fitness. The Wood was his second start of the year.

“I do not believe he was a short horse the other day. Maybe I’m wrong,” said Pletcher, who said he would not get more aggressive with Uncle Mo’s training. “Sometimes, making up for if you felt like you didn’t have him fit enough and going the other way would be a mistake.”

Pletcher said the minor laceration Uncle Mo suffered to the back of his left front foot was not a factor.

“He grabbed it the same in the Champagne,” Pletcher said. “I don’t think it bothered him any. Obviously, it didn’t get him away from the gate perfectly, but he obviously recovered well by the first turn.”

Toby’s Corner got a Beyer Speed Figure of 94 for his victory. His trainer, Graham Motion, said Toby’s Corner would remain at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland until the week of the Derby.

“He’s done well doing that all winter, and I don’t know why I’d change now,” said Motion, who said he was “shell-shocked” that Toby’s Corner won.

Motion said he went into the Wood hoping Toby’s Corner would “get a piece of it, and now there’s a chance he’s going to be one of the main contenders.”

Arthur’s Tale, the Wood runner-up, will be pointed to the Derby, but his participation may rest on whether he has enough graded stakes earnings to make what seems certain to be a maximum, 20-horse field.

“If we do get excluded, then I think we’ll stick to the original plan, which would have been Peter Pan-Belmont,” said Tom Albertrani, who trains Arthur’s Tale. “Everything could change. The Preakness may be in the picture as well, but I guess everything will be decided after next weekend.”

Both the Arkansas Derby, worth $1 million, and the Blue Grass, worth $750,000, are this Saturday.

At Santa Anita, Midnight Interlude won a Santa Anita Derby that was impacted by the defections of Premier Pegasus and Jaycito, who were the top two choices on the track’s original morning line. Bob Baffert, trainer of Midnight Interlude, said his horse was “not tired at all” after the race, in which he earned a Beyer of 95.

“He might be the real deal,” Baffert said Monday.

Midnight Interlude did not make his first start until Jan. 29. If he wins the Derby, he would be the first horse not to have a start at 2 since Apollo in 1882.

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Midnight Interlude is likely to travel to Kentucky next week, Baffert said. Baffert is planning on taking Jaycito to Kentucky for the Grade 3, $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 23, so it would make sense for both to travel together.

Jaycito, who missed the Santa Anita Derby with a sore foot, went back to the track to train Monday at Santa Anita.

Baffert was at Keeneland on Monday for the 2-year-old in training sale but said reports from assistant Jim Barnes at Santa Anita were that Jaycito “looked good.”

“We got the soreness out of the foot,” Baffert said.

Comma to the Top, second in the Santa Anita Derby after leading until the final strides, is back under consideration for the Derby after being ruled out of the race last week by trainer Peter Miller. His status significantly impacts the prospective field, owing to his high ranking on the graded stakes earnings list.

“The way he ran and after Uncle Mo’s loss and everything else, I think we may need to re-evaluate and keep our options open,” Miller said Sunday.

At Hawthorne, Joe Vann got a Beyer of 93 for his Illinois Derby victory. He is trained by Pletcher and owned by Ahmed Zayat, who owns Jaycito. But because Joe Vann had performed so poorly until recently, he was not nominated to the Triple Crown, not at the early deadline in January, nor the late deadline just weeks ago. Joe Vann was winless in five starts, beaten a combined margin of more than 90 lengths, before defeating maidens at Laurel on Feb. 17.

“He’s a tough horse to get a real competent line on,” Pletcher said. “He really trained well as a 2-year-old, but he disappointed us on several different occasions. We were frustrated by his lack of success prior to going to Laurel. It was a little hard to evaluate the Laurel performances; they weren’t real stellar fields. I can’t tell you I’m completely shocked, because in June of last year he was training like one of our best 2-year-olds.”

Pletcher said the Grade 3, $100,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 4 is possible for Joe Vann.

“He could be a nice off-the-main-strip kind of Derby horse,” Pletcher said.

Watch Me Go, sixth as the favorite in the Illinois Derby following his upset victory in the Tampa Bay Derby, has not been ruled out of Kentucky Derby consideration, according to trainer Kathleen O’Connell.

“I hate making excuses, but he really didn’t like that racetrack,” O’Connell said Monday. “He can’t stand up on a wet track. It rained all day there Thursday and again on Friday, and even though the track might have been officially listed as fast, he couldn’t handle it at all.”

– additional reporting by Steve Andersen, David Grening, and Mike Welsch

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