Last year at this time, Uncle Mo was the buzz horse around Churchill Downs, and the morning line favorite, leading into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, a race he won by more than four lengths. Once again, Uncle Mo is the topic of much talk around Churchill Downs, and the morning line favorite, leading into the Breeders’ Cup. He will attempt the $5,000,000 1 ¼ mile Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday.
After Uncle Mo’s impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, it would seem a no-brainer that he would return to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby in the spring and then the Breeders’ Cup in the fall. However, a mysterious illness forced a detour in Uncle Mo’s road back to Churchill Downs.
Almost a month after Uncle Mo was scratched from the Kentucky Derby as the morning line favorite with an unknown illness, he was diagnosed with Cholangiohepatitis, a rare disease affecting the liver. The disease took its toll on the two-year-old Eclipse Champion, causing a loss in appetite, a lack of energy, and gave him an overall visually dull appearance. Uncle Mo stayed at WinStar Farm where he received treatments in the hyperbaric chamber and twice-weekly blood work. He soon started gaining weight, running around his one-acre paddock, and sporting a dappled coat. By late July, trainer Todd Pletcher had him back on the work tab.
In late August, Uncle Mo made his long-awaited return to the racetrack where he started in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga. He lost the seven furlong race by a mere nose, but earned a BRIS speed figure of 111 for his second-place performance.
A month later, Uncle Mo attempted the one mile Grade 2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park. This time, he won. Under a vigorous hand ride, he finished three lengths in front of his nearest competitor and earned a whopping 117 BRIS speed figure.
Owner Mike Repole, who also owns Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic contender, Stay Thirsty, said on a national conference call last week, “This is the Uncle Mo we thought we'd see the whole three-year-old season. Unfortunately, the liver disease got to him, but for him to make this amazing comeback in just four months from being diagnosed. The Kings' Bishop to the Kelso, to now, the Breeders' Cup Classic, is amazing and, for Stay Thirsty to come in as the backup quarterback and win the Jim Dandy and Travers is not too bad either, by the way.”
The Uncle Mo the world fell in love with last year appears to be back, but whether he can win the Breeders’ Cup Classic is still a huge unknown. Unlike his rivals, Uncle Mo is coming into this race off a one mile race. The longest distance he has ever attempted is the 1 1/8 mile Wood Memorial in which he finished third. That was his last start before his illness.
When asked whether he thought he might be asking too much of Uncle Mo to take on the 1 1/4 mile Classic, coming off a seven furlong prep and a one mile prep race, Repole said, “I can't disagree with you, but I also can't - you know, a horse that loses 200 pounds and regains 200 pounds in 120 days, and runs a 106 Beyer and loses a shoe, shouldn't be second by a nose in the Kings' Bishop. That horse should not come back in the Kelso five weeks later and run a 118-speed Beyer Figure and a zero on the rags. This is no ordinary horse, I mean, this is a pretty special horse. And if any horse in the history of racing can accomplish, you know, 7 furlongs to a mile, never has run further than a mile and 1/16 in his career, and come back in five weeks and win this Classic, it's Uncle Mo. And, you know, I mean, if he ran in the mile [Breeders’ Cup Mile] he'd be 2:5, and, you know, in this race he might be 7:2, but, you know, I think the fans want it, I think the media wants it, I think ESPN wants it, I think the Breeders' Cup wants it.”
Uncle Mo has been given a morning line of 5-2 and will break from post 12 with jockey John Velazquez aboard. In the field of 13 runners, stablemate Stay Thirsty will break from post 9 and has been set at a morning line of 12-1. Jockey Javier Castellano will ride.
The field for the Classic is deep and well-accomplished. If Uncle Mo can come back and win this race, he deserves all the accolades that can be given. Repole deserves credit for opting to run Uncle Mo in the Classic instead of the Mile where he may have an easier chance of winning. Uncle Mo definitely adds another angle to this already intriguing race.
Photo: Jessie Oswald