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Uncle Mo's return effort will play big role in Wood Memorial lineup
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Along with everybody else, the New York Racing Association’s racing department will be paying close attention to what Uncle Mo does this weekend, wherever he makes his 3-year-old debut.
The connections of Uncle Mo – last year’s undefeated champion 2-year-old colt – have long stated their desire to use the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9 as the colt’s final prep before the May 7 Kentucky Derby. What Uncle Mo does and how he looks this Saturday – in either the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream or the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs – could determine how difficult a chore it will be to draw others to the Wood, despite its Grade 1 status and $750,000 purse.
Usually, the Gotham Stakes produces a starter or two for the Wood. But Saturday’s Gotham winner, Stay Thirsty, has the same connections as Uncle Mo – owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher – and there is no way the two would run against each other. Stay Thirsty, who earned an 89 Beyer Speed Figure for his 3 1/4-length victory in the Gotham, was scheduled to return to the Palm Meadows training center in south Florida this week, where he will likely be pointed to the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 3. If Pletcher feels the horse needs more time to recover from the Gotham, the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16 is another alternative.
KENTUCKY DERBY NEWS: Track all the 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail
On Sunday, assistant trainer Jonathan Thomas noted that Stay Thirsty had a good energy level and appeared to come out of the Gotham in good shape.
The connections of Gotham second- and third-place finishers Norman Asbjornson and Toby’s Corner indicated Sunday they would probably not run in the Wood – especially if Uncle Mo shows up. Trainer Chris Grove said his main objective with Norman Asbjornson is the Preakness anyway, and he would likely look at the Illinois Derby on April 9 for his colt’s next start.
Graham Motion, the trainer of Toby’s Corner, also mentioned the Illinois Derby as a possibility, after being a little disappointed with his colt’s third-place finish in the Gotham.
“I can’t see coming up there running in the Wood if it’s going to be a tougher race,” Motion said. “The Illinois Derby probably makes sense. I don’t want to completely get off his bandwagon off one race.”
Trainer Kelly Breen didn’t rule out the Wood as a possibility for Gotham fourth-place finisher Nacho Saint, who had a troubled start and then seemed a bit intimidated racing along the inside around the far turn.
“He didn’t have the best of trips the other day,” Breen said. “Possibly, he’s getting better. There’s a small chance of” the Wood.
The degree of difficulty facing NYRA’s racing office for filling the Wood Memorial will be determined this Saturday. But barring a bad performance Saturday by Uncle Mo or a change of heart from his connections after this weekend, it figures to be pretty high.
Calibrachoa and friend target Carter
Away from the glamorous 3-year-old division, Repole and Pletcher appear to have a budding sprint star on their hands in Calibrachoa, who was a sharp 4 1/2-length winner of Saturday’s Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap. It was his third consecutive stakes win since being claimed for $40,000 last November, and fourth consecutive win overall.
Calibrachoa earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure for his Tom Fool victory in which he benefitted from stablemate Have You Ever serving as a rabbit to soften up the speedy Deputy Daney. Since it worked out so well in the Tom Fool, Have You Ever will be part of an entry along with Calibrachoa in the Grade 1 Carter on April 9.
“Calibrachoa’s next start will be the Carter and Have You Ever’s next start will be the Carter, that I can guarantee you,” said Repole, who owns both sprinters. “If it’s not broke, why fix it?”
The Carter, at seven furlongs, is run on the Wood undercard.
Sensational Slam eyeing Bay Shore
Stay Thirsty was accompanied on his van ride from south Florida last week by stablemate Sensational Slam, who won Saturday’s Fred “Cappy” Capossela Stakes by three-quarters of a length in his dirt debut and first start in six months.
However, while Stay Thirsty will return to Florida, Sensational Slam will remain in New York to prepare for the Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore Stakes here April 9.
“I would think the Bay Shore makes sense,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “He’s here, he seemed to like Aqueduct, so we’ll see if he likes the main track.”
Sensational Slam, owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, ran six furlongs in 1:10.61 and earned a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure for the Capossela effort.
Meese Rocks will get break
Though Meese Rocks equaled her highest Beyer (94) with her 1 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s Broadway Stakes, her connections will stick with their original plan of giving her a break until mid to late summer.
Last year, Meese Rocks got a break after the Broadway, in which she finished fifth, and came back to run first or second in nine of 10 starts since. She has won three stakes in that span. Her only off-the-board finish was a fourth in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie.
“She ran the race Saturday I thought she was going to run at Laurel,” trainer Ed Barker said. “She just didn’t get a hold of that track.”
Barker said Meese Rocks would walk for 60 days before going into light training sometime in May. She should be ready to run by the end of Belmont or the beginning of Saratoga. Last year, Meese Rocks won the Union Avenue Stakes at the Spa after getting beat a head in the Fleet Indian.
Badgett returns after 75-day ban
Trainer Bill Badgett is back after serving a 75-day suspension for a horse of his having an excess level of carbon dioxide last spring and will have two runners on Wednesday’s program. The horse in question, Stargleam, had finished last in the Excelsior.
Badgett, whose last starters were Nov. 24, will send out Awesome Bull in the third, an open-company first-level allowance race going a mile. Awesome Bull, who ran for Rick Violette while Badgett was suspended, won a first-level allowance race for New York-breds by eight lengths on Jan. 26.
In the ninth, Badgett will send out Montessori in a $12,500 maiden-claiming race.