10/06/2010 3:16PM

Uncle Mo can step up in Champagne

Barbara D. Livingston
Uncle Mo, shown with owner Mike Repole, will make his second start in Saturday's Champagne.

While Hopeful Stakes winner Boys At Tosconova would have to be considered the early favorite for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at this point, he could be usurped this weekend when Uncle Mo makes his highly anticipated second start in the Grade  1, $300,000 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Champagne is one of four stakes being held this weekend that should help shape the Juvenile to be held Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. The Champagne and Saturday’s $400,000 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland are both Win and You’re In races, with the winner of both earning an automatic bid into the Juvenile. Also Saturday, Delaware Park runs the $75,000 Dover Stakes, at 1 1/16 miles around two turns on dirt. On Sunday, Woodbine hosts the Grey Stakes, featuring mostly Canadian-based 2-year-olds.

Despite being the only graded stakes race on dirt for juveniles, the Champagne drew a field of only seven, with one – Uncle Mo’s stablemate Stay Thirsty – expected to scratch. Uncle Mo, a son of Indian Charlie, turned in the most impressive performance by a 2-year-old first-time starter at Saratoga when he romped to a 14 1/4-length victory, running six furlongs in 1:09.21. That was a faster time by .45 of a second than Rapport, a 3-year-old filly, ran winning the Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes later on the card.

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“I can’t remember having one at a meet like Saratoga win that impressively by that margin in that fast a time on a day when there were a lot of good graded stakes to compare the time to,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Uncle Mo for owner Mike Repole. “It was a pretty impressive performance.”

Five other maiden winners – Brother in Arms, I’m Steppin’ It Up, Meridian Magic, Mountain Town, and Settle for Medal – complete the field.

Trainer Steve Asmussen on Monday shipped his pair of one time Champagne prospects, Justin Phillip and Wine Police, from Saratoga to Churchill. Neither is being considered for the Juvenile.

Asmussen did say that Astrology, a good-looking debut winner at Saratoga and the third-place finisher in the Garden State Stakes at Monmouth is being considered for the Juvenile. His stock rose somewhat when To Honor and Serve, who Astrology beat at Saratoga, came back to win an off-the-turf maiden race by 8  3/4 lengths at Belmont Park on Saturday, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.

A field of 11 was entered for Saturday’s Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. With that race being run on synthetic, it could just as easily be a stepping-stone to the Juvenile Turf as it could be the Juvenile. Top contenders include Major Gain, the Arlington-Washington Futurity winner, Bear’s Future, the Swynford winner, and Maybesomaybenot, the Sanford winner.

Trainer Wesley Ward said Wednesday that Madman Diaries, who was being considered for the Breeders’ Futurity and the Grey, would be trained up to the Juvenile. Ward believes the colt needs some time “to get his mind settled.”