10/07/2010 4:25PM

Tough act to follow for Uncle Mo in Champagne

Barbara D. Livingston
Early Derby favorite Uncle Mo and owner Mike Repole.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Todd Pletcher knows it would be unrealistic to expect Uncle Mo to run better in Saturday’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park than he did winning his debut six weeks ago at Saratoga.

Pletcher also knows that Uncle Mo shouldn’t have to run better in order to win.

“It’s not very often you have one stepping up from a maiden to a Grade 1 that you’re hoping to run as well as he did in a maiden race,” Pletcher said. “But if he does, it should be good enough.”

More than good enough, probably.

After winning his debut by 14 1/4 lengths at Saratoga on Aug. 28, Uncle Mo makes his highly anticipated second start in the $300,000 Champagne, a race that awards the winner an automatic berth into the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.

The Champagne, run as a one-turn mile, is one of three Grade 1 stakes on a 10-race Saturday card that begins at 1 p.m. The Frizette, for juvenile fillies, and the Jamaica, for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf, are the others.

Uncle Mo was one of seven horses entered in the Champagne. One of them, stablemate Stay Thirsty, is unlikely to run unless there are a bevy of other scratches, Pletcher said. I’m Steppin’ It Up is cross-entered in Saturday’s $75,000 Dover at Delaware Park.

Uncle Mo, a son of Indian Charlie, lived up to his 4-5 status in a 10-horse field at Saratoga, taking control soon after the start and widening his advantage at each call. He ran six furlongs in 1:09.21 and earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.

Pletcher would be the first to admit that the Saratoga main track favored speed that day, but it’s still hard not to be impressed with what Uncle Mo did.

“It’s hard not to be excited about it,” said Pletcher, who trains Uncle Mo for Mike Repole. “If you want to play devil’s advocate, the track was clearly speed-favoring that day, he was on the right part of the racetrack and took advantage of that scenario. He had the talent to do it as well; he seemed to do it the right way.”

In the six weeks since the race, Pletcher said Uncle Mo is "maybe a little more focused, a little more forward in his training.”

Uncle Mo will break from post 3 under John Velazquez.

Settle for Medal was beaten 14 lengths when third to Boys At Tosconova in a maiden race here July 2. After winning a six-furlong maiden race at Saratoga, Settle for Medal finished last of four to Boys At Tosconova in the Grade 1 Hopeful.

“Hopefully, we’ll get more of an honest pace this time,” said trainer Mark Hennig, who noted the early fractions of the Grade 1 Spinaway for fillies were faster than the Hopeful. “I’d like to see him ridden a little more patiently. Obviously, we know we’re in tough with Uncle Mo, but I think it’s pretty wide open on paper after him.”

Nick Zito, who has won the Champagne five times since 1998, sends out Meridian Magic, who won a two-turn maiden race at Delaware on Sept. 18.

Mountain Town, who won for Zito first out but was claimed by Richard Dutrow Jr, and Brother in Arms, a maiden winner at Monmouth, complete the field.