11/01/2011 9:37AM

Uncle Mo gets a day off, Stay Thirsty gallops for Breeders' Cup Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Stay Thirsty (left) and Uncle Mo get a bath at Churchill Downs on Sunday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Uncle Mo did not go to the track to train Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs, a decision that trainer Todd Pletcher said was close to the norm but was in stark contrast to the way he has handled Stay Thirsty, his other runner in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday.

Uncle Mo had a leisurely workout Sunday under a bright, cerulean sky, then returned to the track Monday for a light jog, including a visit to the starting gate. On Tuesday, when Pletcher’s first set of horses went out to the track, a group that usually includes Uncle Mo, Uncle Mo instead was grazing on the grass in an area near Longfield Avenue, alone in the dark.

As the most compelling horse in training in North America, everything Uncle Mo does is put under a microscope. Uncle Mo was one of several Breeders’ Cup runners trained by Pletcher who got the morning off, but since he is the morning-line favorite in the Classic, his absence was the most noticed.

“He’s perfect,” Pletcher said. “Usually, I give him a day off after a work, then go back to the track. This time, we just reversed it.”

Stay Thirsty, in contrast to Uncle Mo, was given a stiffer work Sunday in company with the older horse Rule and has not been given a day off since. Stay Thirsty went back to the track Monday and returned Tuesday in the first set for a gallop.

“That horse is doing really, really well,” Pletcher said.

Uncle Mo, last year’s champion 2-year-old male, has never competed at the Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, and he failed in his lone try at 1 1/8 miles, in the Wood Memorial. He was an easy winner at Churchill Downs going 1 1/16 miles last year in the BC Juvenile.

Uncle Mo has made a stunning comeback this fall after being so ill earlier this year that he was forced to miss the Kentucky Derby, a race for which he was the consensus favorite until his loss in the Wood.

“In the spring, he wasn’t himself,” Pletcher said. “He wasn’t eating well. His coat wasn’t good. I don’t think there’s a horse on the grounds who looks better. He’s done a 180 since May.”

Since coming back to the races, Uncle Mo has turned in two huge efforts. He lost a heartbreaker in the King’s Bishop, then, on the Jockey Club Gold Cup undercard, earned a career-best 118 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kelso, a figure 10 points above his previous lifetime best. He had two works at Belmont Park following that race before heading here.

“We’re coming at this race a little differently than you’d normally come at the Classic,” said Pletcher, who is seeking his first win in the Classic following nine losses. “But given the cards we were dealt in the spring, we had to come up with a game plan to get here, and the King’s Bishop was a good starting point. The Kelso was kind of the best prep for us, not wanting to run in the Jockey Club (Gold Cup) with only one race under his belt. Hopefully, we’ll build off that.

“He’s very special,” Pletcher said. “It’s not very often that you have a horse with his natural ability. It’s been a real roller coaster ride. Hopefully, it ends the right way.”