Uncle Mo big favorite in 3-year-old debut

Mar 12 2011 - 4:58pm

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Leading Kentucky Derby contender Uncle Mo has been a model of comportment these past few months while waiting for his next race.

The colt willingly works out, knows when it's time for feed and rarely raises a fuss.

"He's like a big puppy dog in the stall," owner Mike Repole says.

And on the race track?

"He's a monster," Repole says.

As a 2-year-old, Uncle Mo won all three of his races by a combined 23 1/4 lengths. His much-anticipated 3-year-old debut comes Saturday in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The start will be the first for Uncle Mo since he won the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs by 4 1/4 lengths winner on Nov. 6.

"You've got to feel real good about Uncle Mo right now," Repole says. "Which I do."

Repole, a 42-year-old billionaire who hung out at Aqueduct as a kid, has never owned a horse like Uncle Mo, ranked No. 1 in the AP's Run to the Roses Top 10 Kentucky Derby list.

"I've been dreaming about this moment for 30 years," Repole says. "It's 10 times more exciting than I could have ever imagined, and believe me, I imagined it to be real exciting. I just didn't know that it came with 20 times the anxiety."

Not that Repole doubts Uncle Mo's chances Saturday. The colt is expected to be at least a 1-5 favorite in the one-mile race against five other 3-year-olds.

And Uncle Mo's unlikely to be overconfident.

"Once he goes out there and the gate's open, I think Uncle Mo is going to know it's game on," Repole says. "He's not going to know if he's in the Breeders' Cup Classic or if he's in the Timely Writer. And to be honest with you, we're not going to tell him, either."

The stakes was written especially to attract Uncle Mo to Gulfstream for his 3-year-old debut. An 11-race program also includes the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap for older horses at one mile, featuring a rematch between Soaring Empire and Tackleberry, and the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Regular jockey John Velazquez will be back aboard Uncle Mo, trained by Todd Pletcher.

"It's a position you want to be in -- to have a horse of his caliber," Pletcher says. "Along with that, obviously, comes a lot of added exposure and excitement and pressure. ... The races will only get tougher; the competition gets tougher; the field sizes get bigger. So we're just looking at this as the first step, and we'll go from there."

Repole and Pletcher also have Stay Thirsty, who is sixth on the Run to the Roses list after winning the Gotham by 3 1/4 lengths Saturday.

With two highly touted horses, Repole has developed a close relationship with his trainer.

"I joke and say the first thing I do is called Todd Pletcher in the morning," Repole says. "The second thing I do is kiss my wife."

Repole describes both Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty as once-in-a-lifetime thoroughbreds. Stay Thirsty ran fifth behind Uncle Mo in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Repole says Uncle Mo also has the edge in workouts.

"They've been galloping together," Repole says. "Uncle Mo does it a lot more effortlessly. When they gallop out, Uncle Mo kind of pulls away from Stay Thirsty."

In the Timely Writer Stakes, Uncle Mo's most formidable challenge may come from Rocking Out, who won his debut by 4 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct going six furlongs on Nov. 27 and finished third in a one-mile allowance at Gulfstream on Feb. 13.

Uncle Mo won his debut at Saratoga by 14 1/4 lengths in late August and the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park in October by 4 3/4 lengths. Impressive workout times -- including four furlongs in 48.8 Sunday at Palm Meadows -- have further enhanced his reputation.

Repole says his colt can bolster the sport's popularity.

"To own a horse like this is amazing," Repole says. "We've had Zenyatta. We've had Rachel Alexandra. It's been awhile since we've had a colt that people are really, really excited about.

"And really, Uncle Mo -- win, lose or draw -- is probably not going to change my life financially. But I think he has an opportunity to do something really, really special for racing that we haven't seen in a long, long time."

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