10/09/2010 7:11PM

Uncle Mo shows he's something special in Champagne

Tom Keyser
Uncle Mo, winning last fall's Champagne, began preparing for his 3-year-old debut in the Tampa Bay Derby with an easy three-furlong breeze in 39.80 seconds Sunday at Palm Meadows.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The opening half-mile of Saturday’s Grade 1 Champagne Stakes went in 45.92 seconds and the heavy favorite, Uncle Mo, had 22-1 longshot I’m Steppin It Up lapped on him.

For an ordinary 2-year-old making just his second career start, this might have taken something out of him. In the next half-mile it became evidently clear that Uncle Mo is no ordinary 2-year-old.

After putting I’m Steppin’ It Up away after running six furlongs in 1:10.47, Uncle Mo ($2.40) proceeded to run a final quarter-mile in 24.04 seconds in winning the Grade 1 Champagne by 4 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park. Mountain Town rallied for second, 9 3/4 lengths ahead of I’m Steppin’ It Up.

The victory not only puts Uncle Mo into the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, it may send him off the favorite.

Uncle Mo’s final time of 1:34.51 equals the second-fastest clocking of the Champagne in 64 runnings at that distance. Only Devil’s Bag (1:34.20) in 1983 ran faster. When translated to fifths, Uncle Mo’s final time of 1:34-and-two equals Seattle Slew’s time in 1976. In his only other start, Uncle Mo won a six-furlong maiden race at Saratoga by 14 1/4 lengths, running six furlongs in 1:09.31.

“He’s running fast times but they’re fast in the last quarter especially,” winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. “That’s twice now he’s really kicked home and finished up like a star. It’d be hard to imagine being any more impressive in two starts than he’s been.”

John Velazquez, who rode Uncle Mo, said he knew the horse was going very fast, but he felt the horse was doing it well within himself.

“Even though they were going pretty fast he was doing it comfortably,” Velazquez said. “On the other hand I didn’t want to be on his mouth the whole time and then choke him down.”

Velazquez expressed some surprise about how well Uncle Mo responded when he asked him to run approaching the quarter pole.

“He did surprise me how quick he picked it up,” Velazquez said. “He’s quick and he galloped out really good. How good can he be? I don’t know. We got to test him. I wish he would allow me to get him back a little bit. We schooled him behind horses; we know he can do it.”

The victory was one of three on the day for owner Mike Repole, who won his first graded stakes race. He had been 0 for 27 in graded races before the Champagne.

“If you win a graded stakes your first or second time out I don’t know you show an appreciation,” said Repole, who has owned horses for six years. “It’s like John Elway lost 15 years and four Super Bowls before he won his last two. I think there’s a special feeling about perseverance and succeeding.”