Todd Pletcher, who along with owner Mike Repole announced that early Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite Uncle Mo would be pointed for the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes, said Feb. 23 there were a combination of factors that led them to choose that race as the season's debut for their star 3-year-old.
The one-turn, one-mile Timely Writer is a newly-written overnight stakes that will be held March 12 at Gulfstream, the same day as the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), which is now the back-up plan for Uncle Mo in case the former does not fill. The Tampa Bay Derby is a two-turn race at a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
“The one-mile versus a mile and a sixteenth wasn’t so much the determining factor,” Pletcher said. “The biggest thing is to get him a race under his belt and set him up for the Wood (Memorial, gr. I, on April 9). There was really no right or wrong choice. Uncle Mo is very comfortable at Palm Meadows (Training Center, and that surface is almost identical to Gulfstream’s, while the Tampa track is a little bit different.
"Throw in the fact that it’s a shorter trip, and they were probably the X-factors that helped break the tie for us. But if the Timely Writer doesn’t fill, we’re very comfortable going to the Tampa Bay Derby. I wouldn’t expect a large field (for the Timely Writer). We’ll see if it fills.”
Uncle Mo, undefeated in three starts as a juvenile en route to being named champion 2-year-old male, has been working steadily at Palm Meadows since his return to training. He is scheduled to have another breeze Feb. 27.
Also breezing that morning will be stablemate Stay Thirsty , also owned by Repole. Pletcher confirmed that the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) runner-up will aim toward the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) for his season's debut if he comes out of his work in good order.
Pletcher also said he's leaning toward starting Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) winner Brethren in the Tampa Bay Derby, but that is not written in stone. The WinStar homebred, a half brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver , romped by four lengths in his stakes debut.
“He’s possible for the Tampa Bay Derby,” Pletcher said of the son of Distorted Humor . “We’ll see how he breezes. I talked with Elliott (Walden) about it, and he’ll either get one or two starts before the Derby. We’re leaning toward two.”
Another impressive WinStar homebred, Cal Nation, who dazzled in his debut Feb. 5 at Gulfstream in a maiden race, will point for an allowance race in March, Pletcher said. A one-mile race is the target, but Pletcher said it’s too early to talk about any plans after that. Cal Nation, also by Distorted Humor, won by nearly eight lengths in his seven-furlong debut.