Thank God for Dialed In. Without his dogged flight down the stretch to nip 68-1 longshot Shackleford at the wire, the outlook for this year’s Kentucky Derby was going to be all the more grim. Had the Mineshaft colt not gotten there in time, the purse of the Florida Derby would’ve catapulted another no-name horse into America’s most hallowed race, and given us another reason to bemoan the consistency of this 3-year-old crop. Of the five favorites that went into the Florida Derby with such promise, only one walked away with his honor intact. Where once was so much potential now lays a minefield of half-shaped hopes and broken dreams. The winner of the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby will now make his way to Kentucky as one of the only legitimate contenders worthy of wearing the famous garland of roses, and one of the only challengers who looks to stand a chance against the champion juvenile male, Uncle Mo.
This Saturday marks the 86th running of the Grade I Wood Memorial, and the headliner is that very colt which race fans are already banking their Triple Crown hopes on. Uncle Mo will be taking on a field of nine butter-soft challengers to mark his 2011 graded stakes debut. Don’t let the number of horses in the gate reflect Uncle Mo’s reputation; the boost of the Wood’s purse to $1 million after the racino was installed at Aqueduct is a big part of why so many wannabes are daring to show up. Any horse worth his salt and seriously wanting earnings has decided to shoot elsewhere—which is why Jaycito decided to stay home in California for the Santa Anita Derby—and it’s a good thing, too, because the favorite for that race, Premier Pegasus, has been scratched and is now off the Triple Crown trail thanks to a hairline fracture.
So it’s the Mo Show in New York, and NYRA is expecting an audience to come out in droves. There will be a bracelet giveaway in the colors of Uncle Mo’s silks, and owner Mike Repole claimed he’s invited some 300 of his friends and family to come over and cheer his champion home. It’s a lot of fanfare for a horse who has only started once this year, against a field of donkeys; but there is so little hope to cling to on this road to Kentucky, and frankly, Mo stands alone in consistency. He is still undefeated, and is riding the laurels of his juvenile season without having done really much of anything this year. While his last start, the Timely Writer, showed that he is still dominant and knows how to find his way to the winner’s circle, the race was barely more than an afternoon jog for the son of Indian Charlie. The fact still stands that Uncle Mo has never been in trouble in a race, has never overcome adversity, and doesn’t know what it means to look another horse in the eyeballs and out-gut him. Not that this opportunity will raise its head in the Wood Memorial, but stranger things have happened. The most famous loser of the Wood is the immortal Secretariat, a horse who, like Mo, entered as a juvenile champion (Big Red was the reigning Horse of the Year, no less), and ended up third after a mouth abscess kept him from running at 1/10th of the horse he really was.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not doubting Uncle Mo. I will be flying my Mo flag come this Saturday from the sad affair that is the Illinois Derby. It’s just that this 3-year-old crop has been such a disappointment, I can’t help but expect more disappointment. There is Jaycito to look forward to in the Santa Anita Derby, now that PrePeg has been removed from the picture, but he hasn’t won since the Norfolk Stakes last October.
I sort of need for Uncle Mo to win this Saturday. I need a horse to believe in. I realize this is dangerous territory, what with Eskendereya remaining undefeated in the Wood last year, only to scratch a week prior to the Kentucky Derby—but Mo feels like destiny to me. If there’s going to be a remote chance of a Triple Crown winner, it will most likely happen during an abysmal crop like this, where only one stands above the rest. Mo may not have the genes that scream Belmont distance, but if he’s that much better than the rest of the horses, who’s to say some type of miracle won’t happen? This is horse racing, and as horses like Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Upset, and Mine That Bird have taught us, absolutely anything can happen in this game of chance and, I believe, absolute destiny.
Will Uncle Mo imitate the great Seattle Slew and win the Wood Memorial, entering the Kentucky Derby undefeated? Or will we be disappointed once again on this rocky road to Louisville? The betting windows will echo the sentiments of the people’s hope, and I, for one, will happily remain atop the bandwagon.
UPDATE: Jaycito may be out of the Santa Anita Derby with a foot bruise. Please keep checking out DRF.com for more updates. (No, this is not a late April Fool’s joke.)
The Grade I Wood Memorial will be broadcast live this Saturday from Aqueduct on TVG and HRTV. Post time is approximately 5:48pm ET.
The Grade III Illinois Derby will be broadcast live this Saturday from Hawthorne Racecourse on TVG. Post time is approximately 5:37pm ET.
The Grade I Santa Anita Derby will be broadcast live this Saturday on HRTV. Post time is approximately 7:37pm ET.