Last we saw Uncle Mo, he was a 2-year-old on another plane. Nobody could touch him, and the way he effortlessly glided away from his opponents left little in doubt he was operating with better equipment than his peers. Unbeaten in three starts, the Todd Pletcher-trainee is the reigning juvenile champ, winner of the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Grade I Champagne Stakes. Each of his performances have downright embarrassed his rivals, as he galloped away by daylight without breaking a sweat. For the first time since that spectacular performance in the Breeders’ Cup, he will be entering the starting gate to begin his date with destiny.
This Saturday, Uncle Mo will face five competitors in an overnight stakes race at Gulfstream Park, the Timely Writer Stakes. This ungraded test was chosen by Team Mo because their initial plan, to start his 3-year-old campaign in the Tampa Bay Derby, was thought to be a bit more challenging at the longer distance; the Timely Writer is 1-mile. Only one of his foes have won more than their maiden, Madman Diaries, and he hasn’t won since the Grade III Sapling Stakes, a 6 furlong race last September at Monmouth.
Uncle Mo is the last superstar left on the Kentucky Derby trail; maybe even in all of the sport. He already has all the graded earnings he needs to get into the Derby, and so what’s on the line in his comeback race is simply his integrity. Nobody knows if Uncle Mo will be the same dominant horse he was last year. Often, youngsters who show brilliance at age 2 level out when they reach 3, when the rest of their crop catches up to them; the tricky part is to get them to peak on the first Saturday in May. On paper, Mo should have no trouble handling this field in the Timely Writer, which he is using as a prep for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct; but the same was said for many Derby hopefuls before him who faltered due to the nature of the game.
Todd Pletcher himself has recently dealt with some tough blows on the road to the roses; in 2009, his Florida Derby-blitzing colt Quality Road developed quarter cracks and was sidelined during the entire Triple Crown; in 2010, his undefeated, brilliant colt Eskendereya was injured after the Wood Memorial and was retired before he ever got to see the twin spires of Churchill Downs. Though Pletcher finally tasted his first Derby victory last year with Super Saver, that horse wasn’t in the same league as Eskendereya, and never won again. It only makes sense the trainer would be handling Uncle Mo with kid gloves in these long weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher’s other formidable 3-year-old is Super Saver’s half-brother, Brethren. Like Uncle Mo, Brethren is undefeated in three starts, though he has not yet won a Grade I race, and his performances haven’t deserved the same hype as his stablemate. But this is comparing a superstar to a rising star; Brethren will be entering the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby as the heavy favorite, and deservedly so. The colt showed what he was made of in his last start, the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, when he sailed away to win by an easy four lengths. Brethren is now sitting in the realm of the top five Kentucky Derby contenders; should he pass this test with flying colors, Pletcher will surely be holding the top two best 3-year-olds in the country. Brethren drew the outside post in the Tampa Bay Derby, and will face eight rivals.
On the other side of the spectrum, any of the starters entered in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita this Saturday could realistically win, and that includes the maiden winners who are going up against a couple of Grade I winners. Two things to note in this 10-horse field is that for the first time, two of these horses are running with blinkers off: Jaycito and Premier Pegasus. Both of these colts look like they could improve with the added distance, and this race should set up nicely for a closer like Jaycito, who is also running under the guidance of Bob Baffert for the first time. Highly-touted maiden winners Albergatti and Runflatout will try to prove the buzz surrounding them was founded, while Bench Points will attempt to win his first graded stakes test and make his record 5-for-5.
Horse racing really could use a hero right now, in the absence of the great older horses of the past few years. It’s too early to start speculating on whether or not Uncle Mo could be The One, that Triple Crown savior we’ve all been hoping for, but it’s not a stretch to hope he could at least ride his wave of brilliance unfettered to Kentucky and give us a show in Louisville. But first, there are the stepping stones that will foreshadow things to come, and the clues on who might try to spring the upset for our champion along the way. Could Uncle Mo’s biggest threat be lurking right in his own barn? No doubt about it; this will be an interesting weekend.
The Timely Writer Stakes is Race 8 on the Gulfstream program, and will post at approximately 4:25pm ET this Saturday on HRTV. For other post times and corresponding TV stations, please check the stakes schedule on NTRA.com.