08/25/2011 2:38PM

Saratoga: King's Bishop no easy assignment for Uncle Mo

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Saratoga’s Grade 1 King’s Bishop is special in its own right and one of the premier 3-year-old sprint races of the season. But Saturday’s 28th running will be a little more special than usual, featuring the return of reigning 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, who makes his first start since suffering the only defeat of his career in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial nearly five months ago.

Uncle Mo, sidelined by a rare liver disease that forced him to be scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby, will face seven rivals in the $250,000 King’s Bishop. The opposition is led by Flashpoint, who enters the seven-furlong King’s Bishop undefeated and untested at distances of seven furlongs or less, and Caleb’s Posse, last-to-first winner of the Grade 2 Amsterdam here earlier in the meet.

The remainder of the King’s Bishop field consists of Runflatout, Dominus, Poseidon’s Warrior, Justin Phillip, and Cool Blue Red Hot.

Post time for the King’s Bishop, which will be shown live on NBC, is 5:12 p.m. Eastern.

Uncle Mo was dominant at 2 for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher, winning his three starts by an average of nearly eight lengths, including the Grade 1 Champagne and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He opened his 3-year-old campaign by cruising to another easy win in Gulfstream Park’s one-mile Timely Writer before suffering a shocking setback when finishing third at odds of 1-9 in the Wood. Uncle Mo ultimately shipped to Churchill Downs, where he was entered for but scratched from the Derby shortly after which he was diagnosed with cholaniohepatitis, a rare disease affecting the liver.

Uncle Mo recuperated on WinStar Farm in Kentucky before returning to Pletcher on July 11. Uncle Mo has had six recorded works at Saratoga prior to the King’s Bishop, culminating with a five-furlong drill in 59.95 seconds on Sunday.

“He hasn’t missed a single day of training since he returned,” said Pletcher. “With a horse like this, with his ability level, we’re not going in Saturday looking to give him a race. We’ve gotten a good foundation in him and I have a lot of confidence based on the horses he’s been working with and from what I’ve seen that we have him tight going into this race. It’s still going to be a tall order but as a rule our horses run well off a layoff. He’s right on target for what we’ve prepared him for.”

Flashpoint has won 3 of 5 starts, his victories coming at distance ranging from six to seven furlongs, including one-sided wins in the Grade 2 Hutcheson and Grade 3 Jersey Shore. His lone losses came around two turns in the Florida Derby and Preakness.

“Based on his one-turn races alone, he’d probably be the favorite on Saturday even with Uncle Mo in the race,” said Wesley Ward, who has trained Flashpoint since the Florida Derby. “But having the 2-year-old champion in the field does make this race a little more special than just being a Grade 1.”

With Flashpoint, who breaks from the rail, and Uncle Mo in the field the pace in the King’s Bishop figures to be legitimate and an early battle would enhance the chances of the late-running Caleb’s Posse, who rallied to a four-length victory in the Amsterdam. Caleb’s Posse, winner of the Grade 3 Ohio Derby around two turns during the spring, earned a career -best 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort in the Amsterdam.

Trainer Steve Asmussen will counter Uncle Mo and Flashpoint with Dominus and Justin Phillip. Dominus prompted the pace before finishing a tiring third behind Stay Thirsty going nine furlongs in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy four weeks ago.

“A fast pace will help us. If we can catch them,” quipped Asmussen. “But the last three Grade 1’s run here were the Test which went in 1:24, the slowest Whitney since 1959, and the Ruffian, which was run in 2:03 so under the circumstances, this is the right thing to do with him.”

Justin Phillip was an easy winner of the Grade 2 Woody Stephens over a muddy track on June 11.

“It doesn’t look like it will hurt either of our horse’s chances if it should rain on Saturday,” said Asmussen.

 

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