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Sparkman: Uncle Mo represents revival for sire line
During the 1960s and 1970s, it appeared certain that Nasrullah’s talented but mulish son Grey Sovereign had established an enduring male line. Fast enough to win the Richmond Stakes (now Group 2) at 2 and place in England’s best sprints thereafter, he quickly developed a reputation as dangerous and erratic on the racecourse for lashing out at other horses behind the gate and refusing to start.
Though markedly back at the knee, Grey Sovereign was a much better sire than his 2000 Guineas- and Epsom Derby-winning three-quarter brother, Nimbus (by Nasrullah’s sire, Nearco), climbing to second on the English sire list in 1960 and siring a string of brilliant sprinters and milers, headed by champions Young Emperor, La Tendresse, and Matatina and French Guineas winners Don II and Zeddaan. Grey Sovereign’s son Sovereign Path also ranked as high as second on the English sire list and sired the 1976 leading sire, Wolver Hollow, but the lines through Zeddaan and Grey Sovereign’s Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp winner, Fortino, bred on best.
Zeddaan sired the Aga Khan’s great but short-lived sire Kalamoun, whose male line remains represented, however sparsely, by sons of the underappreciated Verglas (by Highest Honor, by Kenmare, by Kalamoun). Fortino was exported to Japan before the merits of his champion son Caro became apparent, but it is Caro who ranks as the best sire from the Grey Sovereign male line. The winner of the French 2000 Guineas equivalent and the Group 1 Prix Ganay, Caro led the French sire list in 1977, the year he was imported into the U.S.
Caro was just as successful in America, siring Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and leading sire Cozzene, and Canadian Horse of the Year With Approval, but his line has endured through his 1984 French 2000 Guineas-winning son, Siberian Express, whose only important son was 1991 Metropolitan Handicap winner In Excess. A multiple leading California-based sire, In Excess sired 1998 Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie, a highly successful sire whose best son, Uncle Mo, is a shoo-in for leading freshman sire this year after the victory of daughter Gomo in the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes on Oct. 2.
Bred in Kentucky by veterinarian D. Michael Cavey, Uncle Mo was the third foal out of Playa Maya, by Arch, a good, consistent racemare who placed in stakes on both dirt and turf in a brief racing career. Never out of the first three and a winner of three of her six starts, Playa Maya was the only foal out of dam Dixie Slippers, by Dixieland Band, a winning half-sister to Grade 3 winner Woods of Windsor, by Woodman, and two stakes-placed runners from a family that spent several generations running mostly in Maryland.
That made for a pretty light-looking catalog page when Uncle Mo was offered as a weanling at the 2008 Keeneland November breeding-stock sale, where he was listed as sold for $160,000 to Moon Bloodstock. By the time he reappeared in the Keeneland auction ring the following September, the big, leggy, powerfully made colt caught the eye of J.J. Crupi, and his client, Mike Repole, paid $220,000 for him despite the light catalog page.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had Uncle Mo ready to run by the following August, and he caused a sensation at the Saratoga meet, winning his maiden race by 14 1/4 lengths while running six furlongs in a startling 1:09.21. Six weeks later, Uncle Mo showed that performance was no fluke by leading all the way again in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, beating Mountain Town by 4 3/4 lengths while running the mile in 1:34.51, a time comparable to Triple Crown winners Count Fleet and Seattle Slew.
The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile looked like a foregone conclusion after that, and Uncle Mo did not disappoint, rating off the pace set by Riveting Reason before drawing away to an easy 4 1/4-length victory. That made Uncle Mo the champion 2-year-old male and the winter favorite for the 2011 Kentucky Derby.
Uncle Mo began his second season with another easy victory in an overnight stakes at Gulfstream Park but then ran a puzzling race in the Wood Memorial, failing to respond when challenged by the second-raters Toby’s Corner and Arthur’s Tale. Uncle Mo was sent to Churchill Downs for the Derby, but it soon became clear something was bothering him, and he was scratched.
After extensive veterinary tests, it was determined that Uncle Mo’s lethargy was caused by cholangiohepatitis, an inflammation of the bile ducts and liver that can be caused by multiple factors. Uncle Mo responded to treatment well enough to reappear in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop near the end of the Saratoga meet, and he ran a great race under the circumstances, rallying from just off a fast pace to make the lead but just failing to hold off the closing charge of Caleb’s Posse, who won by a nose.
Uncle Mo looked like his old self in the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap a few weeks later, leading all the way to win by three lengths over Grade 1 winners Jackson Bend and Jersey Town while running the mile in a brilliant 1:33.82. Uncle Mo stalked the pace of Game On Dude in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but faded badly in the stretch, finishing 10th in what proved to be his final start.
Uncle Mo came out of the BC Classic with an elevated GGT enzyme count, an indicator of a possible recurrence of liver disease, and he was retired to Ashford Stud for the 2012 season. Despite his troubled 3-year-old season, it was obvious that he was a brilliantly talented runner, and breeders flocked to his court, resulting in 165 Northern Hemisphere foals of 2013 by Uncle Mo.
That number certainly gives Uncle Mo an advantage on the freshman sire list, but his first runners are high on quality as well as quantity. Uncle Vinny (out of Arealhotlover, by Untuttable) got the ball rolling with a victory in the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga, though that was courtesy of the stewards’ disqualification of Magna Light. Nyquist (Seeking Gabrielle, by Forestry) removed any bad taste from that first stakes win by capturing the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar a few days later and followed up with Grade 1 wins in the Del Mar Futurity and FrontRunner Stakes, while Uncle Brennie (Moon Music, by Malibu Moon) added a listed stakes victory at Louisiana Downs.
Gomo’s win in the Alcibiades provided Uncle Mo with his second Grade 1 winner, a strong sign that his early success is not a flash in the pan. Bred in Kentucky by John Liviakis, Gomo is the fourth foal out of Gentle Audrey, by Elusive Quality, a mare who won two of only five starts but ran fourth, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths, in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes.
Gomo’s catalog page looked even lighter than Uncle Mo’s when she appeared in the 2015 OBS March sale of select 2-year-olds in training. Her second dam, Fatat Alarab, by Capote, was a winner who produced no black-type horses, and her third dam, Quinpool, by Alydar, ran third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks but also failed to produce a black-type horse, although she is grandam of Grade 3 winner Mrs Kipling, by Exceed And Excel.
Gomo’s fourth dam, Squan Song, by Exceller, was a multiple Grade 3 winner from the great Phipps family, tracing to foundation mare Grey Flight, but that was too far back to convince anyone that Gomo was worth more than the $75,000 that trainer Doug O’Neill’s brother, Dennis, paid for her, despite a solid one-furlong breeze in 10.2 seconds.
The Alcibiades was Gomo’s second victory from five starts for Reddam Racing, and she is likely to join the same stable’s Nyquist at the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. It is too early to tell whether Uncle Mo’s early success will lead to a revival of the Grey Sovereign male line, but he clearly represents the best chance of survival for a once-proud stirp of the Nasrullah male line.