Less than a month away, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum Brands (gr. I) was turned upside down April 9 when favored Uncle Mo was defeated by Toby's Corner, who passed Arthur's Tale in the final strides to post a shocking upset by a neck in the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. I) (VIDEO). Uncle Mo, who led for most of the way before being run down in the late stages, finished a length back third.
Track announcer Tom Durkin called the decision “the most shocking defeat in the Wood since Secretariat himself,” and it was every bit of that, as Uncle Mo was sent off as the 1-10 favorite in a field of nine. Last year’s 2-year-old champion male and undefeated in four starts by a combined 27 lengths entering the Wood, Uncle Mo was going to be the heavy favorite on Derby Day May 7 at Churchill--after he won the Wood.
Except, it didn’t happen. Dianne Cotter's Florida homebred Toby’s Corner, with Eddie Castro in the irons, stole the show. He completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:49.93.
"I can't say I'm shocked, but I'm disappointed,'' said Todd Pletcher, Uncle Mo's trainer. "It goes without saying that if he wins by 10 today he goes in there (the Derby) with quite a bit different morning line than he is now."
Uncle Mo broke from post 5 under John Velazquez and outfought Starship Caesar from the inside and Duca from the outside on the first turn to take a narrow lead after an opening quarter mile in :23.49. He retained the advantage through a half-mile in :47.98, receiving mild pressure from Duca and Starship Caesar. But it was a tightly-bunched field, as Isn't He Perfect, Arthur's Tale, and Preachintothedevil were also not far from the front through six furlongs in 1:12.28.
Isn’t He Perfect was just to the outside of Uncle Mo and right on his heels when they reached the quarter pole, with Starship Caesar still there and Norman Asbjornson now in contention. But Uncle Mo seemed to pick it up a notch when they reached the eighth pole, extending his narrow advantage just a bit. He led by a length with a furlong remaining.
But just when it seemed that Uncle Mo would draw away from what was billed by most as an overmatched field of 3-year-olds, he was about to be engulfed by a pair of horses from the outside—first by recent optional claiming winner Arthur’s Tale, who took over from a now struggling Uncle Mo at the sixteenth pole and seemed headed for the upset.
Arthur's Tale did not pull off the upset, however. It came instead from Toby’s Corner, who was sixth at the top of the lane and cut down rivals in upper stretch before splitting the leaders in the final yards. He first passed Uncle Mo and then got by Arthur’s Tale just before the wire.
Toby’s Corner won the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct Feb. 5 and was third in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) March 5 when Uncle Mo’s stablemate, Stay Thirsty, beat him by 4 1/4 lengths. Trainer Graham Motion put blinkers on Toby’s Corner, whose sire, Bellamy Road, won the 2005 Wood by a record 17 1/2 lengths.
Toby’s Corner, who is out of the Mister Frisky mare Brandon’s Ride, won for the fourth time in six starts. He has now earned $722,240 and will likely be headed to Churchill Downs for the Derby.
“Oh, I’m surprised," Motion said. "I couldn’t see a thing. I honestly couldn’t really see where he was until the eighth pole. I said to Mr. Cotter at the half-mile pole, ‘I can’t see where he is.’
“At the eighth pole, he kind of rebroke, it looked to me, and Eddie just said he had a great trip on the rail. We always felt the mile and an eighth was going to be a big factor for this horse and Eddie’s really felt very strongly about how talented this horse is since the first time he rode him. I think (the blinkers) were big; it’s the first time he’s really run straight like that. I should have done it a long time ago.
"We had never talked about (the Derby). The Cotters never mentioned it to me and I don’t think (Mrs. Cotter) even knew I’d nominated him (to the Triple Crown) early on. It’s pretty neat. We’re going, as long as he’s doing fine."
As for Mike Repole's Uncle Mo, the son of Indian Charlie will have to regroup before heading back to Churchill, where he won the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last November.
“He grabbed a quarter (left front) leaving the gate," Pletcher said after the Wood. "It didn’t help, but I’m not using that as an excuse. After that, he was kind of hounded early on. The fractions were reasonable. It was his first time going a mile and an eighth, first time over the Aqueduct surface. I was a little concerned turning for home at the three-sixteenths pole when he didn’t really kick clear. I thought then that we were going to be in for a fight. You could see the last 50 to 60 yards he was tired."
Darley Stable’s Arthur’s Tale, sent off at 20-1, also ran huge in a tough defeat. He earned $200,000 for his runner-up effort and could make a trip to the Derby if he has enough graded earnings to get in.
“He ran a huge race; he really did," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "It looked like he got in a little trouble, but in saying that he still ran a huge race and it looked like he ran on at the end. It looks like he’s starting to get his act together now and maybe he’s just a late bloomer.
"I’ll talk to the Sheikh (Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed) and we’ll make some decisions this week. A lot depends on earnings, I guess. We always thought he was a Belmont (gr. I) horse; he looks like a horse who wants to go long and he galloped out way ahead today."
Sent off as the second choice, Toby's Corner returned $19.40, $7, and $2.50. Arthur's Tale paid $11 and $3.30, and filled out a $158 exacta (2-4). Uncle Mo returned $2.10 to show, finalizing a trifecta (2-4-5) worth $183.
Norman Asbjornson was fourth, followed by Isn't He Perfect, Starship Caesar, Son of Posse, Preachintothedevil, and Duca. Full of Scoundrels was scratched.
Secretariat also finished third in the 1973 Wood before going on to win the Triple Crown.