Horse racing: Uncle Mo has fans’ backing for Derby

Uncle Mo has almost 4,000 followers on Facebook.

He has his own website.

And the New


Uncle Mo has almost 4,000 followers on Facebook.

He has his own website.

And the New York Racing Assoc­iation and owner Michael Repole are sparing no effort to promote the biggest star in New York racing, holding a “Get to Know Mo” fan contest this week and offering free Mo bracelets in the colors of Repole’s silks — and his beloved New York Mets — to fans attending the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct today.

It may seem like a little much for a horse with only four lifetime starts, but such is the fervor in New York for the leading Kentucky Derby contender.

And such is his standing in the 3-year-old division, and the rel­atively undistinguished nature of the field for the Wood, that he’s 1-5 on the morning line in a $1 million Grade I race that marks his final stop before heading to Churchill Downs.

Despite being relatively lightly raced, compared to many of his counterparts, Uncle Mo, a son of Ind­ian Charlie, has been nothing less than spectacular in all four starts, won by a combined 27 lengths, beginning with his maiden debut by 141⁄4 lengths on Travers Day at Sar­atoga Race Course less than eighth months ago.

“We just want to see more of what we’ve seen every start of his life, and that’s brilliance,” trainer Todd Pletcher said during a nat­ional teleconference on Tuesday. “It’s what we’ve come to expect from him.”

This will be Uncle Mo’s third Grade I start in five races, including his romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill to wrap up the 2-year-old championship.

He got what amounted to a public workout in the $100,000 Timey Writer at Gulfstream Park on March 12, and everything has been going without a hitch, other than some bad weather that postponed his flight from Florida from Tuesday to Wednesday this week.

Two lingering questions about Uncle Mo are his ability to win at longer distances and how he’ll react if he has to run from behind in traffic.

He’s pretty much had it his own way at the front in all of his races, and with that in mind, Pletcher has been working Uncle Mo in com­pany, sometimes with Starlight Partners’ top 3-year-old, Praet­ereo, in an attempt to approximate certain race conditions.

He said that he doesn’t want jockey John Velazquez to monkey around tactically today just to give Uncle Mo some experience getting dirt kicked in his face.

“I’m not going to look to dirt-school in the Wood,” Pletcher said. “We did it two times in the morning. He seems to be very, very professional, he didn’t throw his head about like you see sometimes. We did that before the Champagne and before the Breeders’ Cup. Ultimately, it’ll be up to Johnny to make the decision where the best position is to win the race. If that means following a horse, that’s fine, and if it means being on the lead, that’s OK, too.”

Uncle Mo drew the No. 5 post in a field of 10 that includes four who finished behind Stay Thirsty in the Gotham at Aqueduct — Norman Asbjornson, Toby’s Corner, Isn’t He Perfect and Starship Caesar.

There isn’t a graded-stakes winner besides Uncle Mo, and, at 8-1, Whirlaway winner Toby’s Corner is the only other horse with odds below 10-1.

Repole, a Queens native, said he will have a group of about 100 friends and family at Aqueduct for the Wood.

One of the items on a list of “Fun Facts” about the Wood runners released by NYRA is that Uncle Mo has a preference for Pirate’s Booty snacks, which, not uncoincident­ally, is the company of which Repole is the chairman of the board.

In less than seven years, he has quickly risen as a star among thoroughbred owners.

After going 0-for-36 at Saratoga in 2009, Repole Stable led all owners at the 2010 meet.

After going 0-for-26 in graded- stakes attempts, Repole finally got his first when Uncle Mo won the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park in October.

“Pleasant Colony was the first horse I remember who won the Wood, and I was there when I was a teenager for Broad Brush [1986], Gulch [1987] and Easy Goer [1989],” Repole told NYRA. “To me, Aqueduct was the racetrack, and from being a 13-year-old kid who took the bus there to having the favorite for the Wood is like coming full circle. If I had a choice of what race I wanted to win in New York, other than the Belmont Stakes, it would be the Wood Memorial.”

Pletcher and Repole have to take into consideration a possible run at a Triple Crown, which would conclude with the Belmont on June 11, but for now, they just want to get to the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

Pletcher won his first Derby last year with WinStar Farm’s Super Saver.

The field for the Wood may not be stellar, but the race works for Uncle Mo on several levels, not the least of which is the nine-furlong distance, as well as the fact that it’s being run in Repole’s hometown.

“I hate to get ahead of myself and assume anything, but it’s always been in our mind that two preps going into the Kentucky Derby is the best way to prepare,” Pletcher said. “It’s enough foundation without overdoing it. You want to peak on May 7. That seemed to work out well for Super Saver last year.

“I guess you’re always concerned about the preps and whether they’ll be exactly right on Derby Day. The only thing I can say is, so far, in his maiden race, no one challenged him; in the Grade I Champagne, no one could challenge him; in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, no one could challenge him. So I’m not sure where you would go to find someone to push him. We made our schedule, and all you can do is hope that we do with him on a daily basis is good enough.”

Repole’s other Derby hopeful, Stay Thirsty. is still on track for the race, Pletcher said, despite a disappointing seventh of eight in the Florida Derby last weekend. He had added blinkers for that race.

“For some reason, he didn’t fire on the day,” Pletcher said. “We haven’t lost confidence in him. It seemed like a number of them didn’t run well on Florida Derby Day. We’ll just regroup and move forward to Louisville. Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted, and it didn’t look like the blinkers did anything to help him be more focused.”

Post time for the Wood Mem­orial is scheduled for 5:48 p.m. The website will offer free live video streaming via a webcast hosted by Randy Moss, beginning at 5:30.

Other Derbies

Also on tap for the Derby hopefuls is the Santa Anita and Illinois derbies at Santa Anita Park and Hawthorne, respectively.

What started as a deep and talented field for the Santa Anita Derby was damaged when morning-line favorite Premier Pegasus suffered a hairline fracture in his leg this week, and likely will be further softened by the scratch of second choice Jaycito.

In a text message to the Assoc­iated Press upon learning of Premier Pegasus’ injury, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert offered con­dolences to Premier Pegasus’ breeder/owner/trainer Myung Kwon Cho, a 68-year-old South Korean native with a small stable.

“Very sad for Mr. Cho . . .” Baffert wrote. “Never like to hear news like that. You never know when it can happen to you. That’s why my hair is white. We’re all on pins and needles this time of year.”

Baffert’s words were all too prophetic, as he subsequently found out that his horse, Jaycito, had a bruised foot and probably will wait for the Lexington, Baffert told the Daily Racing Form.

Premier Pegasus, who beat Jaycito by a stakes-record 73⁄4 lengths in the San Felipe, was scheduled for surgery on Friday, and is expected to be out of training for at least two months.

Watch Me Go, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby at 43-1, is the

7-2 favorite for the Illinois Derby.

Life At Ten returns

Life At Ten will make her first start since her disastrous and controversial appearance in the BC Ladies’ Classic when she heads a seven-horse allowance field in the fifth race at Gulfstream Park on Sunday.

This week, her regular rider, Velazquez, was cleared of related charges by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and was fined $10,000, half of which went to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Life At Ten, the betting favorite in BC Ladies’ Classic, was eased by Velazquez early in that race and was declared a non-finisher, although she made it past the wire.

Velazquez and Pletcher had observed that Life At Ten was leth­argic in the paddock, but did not notify track officials or veterinarians.

During the post parade, Velazquez told TV commentator Jerry Bailey that she wasn’t warming up properly.

Because Velazquez neither alerted a vet nor gave Life At Ten a normal ride, the KHRC cited him for “conduct that is against the best interest of horse racing.”

A winner of five of seven starts last year, Life At Ten is 6-5 for Sunday’s race at Gulfstream. Velazquez is scheduled to ride.

More stakes

The Wood card includes three other graded stakes, the Comely for 3-year-old fillies, the seven-furlong Bay Shore for 3-year-olds and the Grade I Carter.

Morning Line is the slight 5-2 fav­orite in the deep and competitive Carter. He’s lost two 2011 starts by less than a combined four lengths, after setting the pace and losing to Dakota Phone by a head in the BC Dirt Mile.

“That Breeders’ Cup Mile was insane,” Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said. “That other horse that won ran the best race of his life. I am frustrated. We did all the running.”

Morning Line will face, among others, Calibrachoa, 3-for-3 in stakes since being claimed by Pletcher on behalf of Repole.

The field also includes 2009 Jim Dandy winner Kensei, who is coming off a second to Misremembered in the Santana Mile.

Misremembered, the 2010 Santa Anita Handicap winner, is the 4-5 favorite in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

He’ll face Winslow Homer, an impressive winner of the Curlin at Saratoga last year before being knocked out of consideration for the Travers by an injury.

The 3-year-old fillies will take the spotlight at Keeneland in the Grade I Ashland, led by Kathmanblu (9-5) and Dancinginherdreams (2-1).

Kathmanblu, second in the P.G. Johnson at Saratoga last year, has won three straight stakes by a combined 11 lengths.

Dancinginherdreams, who will break from just inside Kathmanblu in the No. 5 post, is a worthy rival, having broken her maiden first time out at Keeneland and winning the Grade II Pocahontas at Churchill Downs in her next start.

Michael Tabor’s Excited (8-1) broke her maiden first time out on the Saratoga turf, but hasn’t quite been good enough in five sub­sequent starts, all on the grass.

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