04/07/2011 2:35PM

Wood Memorial: Uncle Mo an overwhelming favorite at Aqueduct


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Jonathan Thomas, Todd Pletcher’s New York-based assistant trainer, hadn’t seen Uncle Mo up close since the colt left Belmont Park last fall for the Breeders’ Cup in Kentucky. As he watched the champion 2-year-old colt of 2010 gallop over the Belmont Park training track Thursday morning in preparation for Saturday’s $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Thomas was reminded of what he missed.

“I almost forgot how impressive he is,” Thomas said. “I haven’t seen a horse train like that since he left.”

Though Uncle Mo’s looks don’t distinguish him, when he breaks into that ground-gobbling gallop of his, he certainly stands out.

“He’s got tremendous stride length,” Pletcher said. “When he’s moving like he was this morning or pretty much all the time, he just gallops up alongside another horse and you can appreciate how big of a stride he has and how much ground he covers, how effortlessly he does it.”

WOOD MEMORIAL DAY: Watch video of Uncle Mo and get Dave Litfin's analysis

On Saturday, the crowd at Aqueduct will likely get to appreciate the effortless manner in which Uncle Mo does things when he will be heavily favored to demolish his nine opponents in the Grade 1 Wood, this circuit’s major stepping-stone to the May 7 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. A victory in the Wood, run at 1 1/8 miles over the main track, would make Uncle Mo 5 for 5 and send him to Louisville as the prohibitive favorite for the 137th Run for the Roses.

Uncle Mo is owned by Queens native Mike Repole, who said he plans on having at least 100 family and friends at the races Saturday.

In a conference call earlier this week, Pletcher acknowledged that Uncle Mo has yet to be challenged in his four previous victories – which include the Champagne, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the March 12 Timely Writer Stakes. There doesn’t appear to be anyone in the Wood that will be able to challenge Uncle Mo either. Uncle Mo, the 1-5 morning-line favorite, will break from post 5 under John Velazquez.

If the opportunity presents itself, Pletcher would not mind seeing Uncle Mo follow another horse in the Wood. Duca, who won a two-turn maiden race at Oaklawn in front-running fashion, and possibly Son of Posse, who pressed the pace in the Grade 3 Spiral at Turfway, and/or Norman Asbjornson, the Gotham runner-up, could show early speed.

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“I see potential for a horse or two, depending on what kind of style they employ, that we could be following somebody,” said Pletcher, who trains Uncle Mo, a son of Indian Charlie. “But at the same time, I don’t see a real fast pace either. You can’t overthink it too much. Ultimately, Johnny’s going to have to play it by ear when the gate opens.”

Pletcher said he doesn’t want to get too caught up in tactics and lose sight of the goal, which is, duh, winning.

“Like I said with the Timely Writer, you don’t want to assume anything’s going to happen, you don’t want to get too cute,” Pletcher said. “You just want to go out there and try to win the race, focus on that.”

Two of Uncle Mo’s would-be challengers are trying to get more focused by having blinkers added to their equipment for the Wood. Toby’s Corner, listed as the 8-1 second choice on the morning line, is getting blinkers after racing a tad greenly in the stretch winning the Whirlaway in February and running third in the Grade 3 Gotham last month.

WATCHMAKER: Uncle Mo's Beyer Figure edge in the Wood Memorial

“When he always gets to the last horse, his head comes up, he gets to looking around,” said Graham Motion, trainer of Toby’s Corner. “I’m hoping that might straighten him out. He never does it in the mornings.”

Still, even if the blinkers straighten out Toby’s Corner, Motion isn’t going into the Wood with visions of pulling off an upset, even though Toby’s Corner’s father, Bellamy Road, won this race by 17 1/4 lengths in 2005.

“Realistically, I’d love to be second,” Motion said. “I think it’s unlikely we’re good enough to beat [Uncle Mo], unless he has a bad day. If he could hit the board in a Grade 1, if he’s good enough to be second, then you have a chance to get into the Derby, which is something I’ve never discussed” with owner/breeder Dianne Cotter.

Trainer Gary Contessa felt Preachintothedevil, a New York-bred stakes-winning son of Pulpit, was not focused when he was in Kentucky for the Spiral, where he finished sixth.

“I’m hoping he’s a little less preoccupied what’s going on around him and lot more focused on what’s going on in front of him,” Contessa said.

Norman Asbjornson, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet, is coming off a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Gotham. His trainer, Chris Grove, is looking forward to running his colt nine furlongs.

“We want to be prepared to win, if the favorite would stub his toe,” Grove said. “This horse, the further that he goes the better he seems to me. Until proven otherwise, we’re looking forward to adding extra ground.”

Isn’t He Perfect, a son of Pleasantly Perfect who won a starter allowance last out, and Arthur’s Tale, winner of a first-level allowance race just two weeks ago, are others that could work their way into the exacta or trifecta.

The Wood is the 10th race on an 11-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Carter Handicap for older sprinters, the Grade 3 Bay Shore for 3-year-old sprinters, and the Grade 3 Comely for 3-year-old fillies. Those four races comprise a late pick-four wager with a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

According to Weather.com, Saturday’s forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 56 degrees and just a 20 percent chance of rain.

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