Unlike the sunny, pleasant morning the day before, a sloppy surface at Churchill Downs greeted trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole the morning of May 1. Despite the less-than-favorable conditions, Pletcher sent out Repole’s pair of classic contenders Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty for their final major preps for the May 7 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The duo worked in company with Uncle Mo getting five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 and Stay Thirsty recording the same distance in 1:01 4/5.
For Saturday stakes races—which would most definitely include next Saturday’s Run for the Roses—Pletcher prefers to work the Sunday before and he stuck to the plan despite the off going.
Uncle Mo, last year’s 2-year-old champion male and winner of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), set fractions of :12 4/5, :25 2/5, :37 1/5, and :49 1/5. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 1/5 and seven furlongs in 1:28.
Stay Thirsty, winner of the March 5 Gotham Stakes (gr. III), recorded fractions of :13, :25 2/5, :37 2/5, and :49 2/5. To Pletcher’s pleasant surprise, Stay Thirsty galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 2/5 and seven furlongs in 1:28 1/5.
It was kind of a textbook type work,” Pletcher said at a news conference after morning training hours. “I really like to see :13, :25 and change, :37 and change. The way they galloped out, it was a textbook 101-type work.”
It rained heavily throughout the early hours in Louisville but stopped around 7 a.m. Pletcher’s pair, along with his Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) hopeful Her Smile and other Derby contenders, hit the track following the renovation track promptly at 8:30. Uncle Mo, with John Velazquez aboard, was the first on the track through the gap nearest the chute, followed by Stay Thirsty with exercise rider Fernando Espinoza aboard.
“You are always concerned about them going out there in conditions like that but in looking at the forecast, it’s just the kind of spring we’ve had here…we’ve had sloppy tracks most of the days that we’ve been here,” Pletcher said. “It looked like the chances of having an off track tomorrow were just as good as today, so we felt like we should stick to the schedule. It seems like it worked out well.”
It was Uncle Mo’s second work over the Churchill Downs strip. On April 26 the son of Indian Charlie—Playa Maya, by Arch worked five furlongs in 1:01 4/5.
“Johnny was thrilled with the work,” Repole said. “He told me this was a much better work for him. He had a big smile on his face and his direct quote was, ‘I’m happy and I wouldn’t change places with anybody'."
Uncle Mo’s works have been key since his third-place finish April 9 in the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I). Following the colt’s first loss, it was discovered he was suffering from a gastro-intestinal tract infection. He has been undergoing treatment by Dr. Doug Byars and Pletcher noted early on that everything needed to go just right for Uncle Mo to make it to the Derby.
“We’ve been able to train him in two good, solid five furlongs over the track,” Pletcher said. “He hasn’t missed a beat of training and everything indicates to us through his appetite and appearance that he’s responding to the treatment. He’ll have another check-up with Dr. Byers this week.”
Repole, who said he hadn’t seen his star colt since he left Belmont Park a few weeks ago, has noticed a difference.
"My eye on horse racing is not Todd Pletcher’s eye on horse racing, but he looks like a way different horse than the one that left Belmont a few weeks ago,” he said. “I couldn’t be any happier. If I can tell you that his coat looks different, then that’s telling you something. (Veterinarian) Dr. Byars’ quote…he calls it ‘sheen’; he calls it ‘seal-like.’ He would be the expert; I’m just taking his quotes.”
So at this point, all arrows are pointing up for Uncle Mo.
“We’ve gotten in our main pieces of work and now we’ll take care of the little things—the gate schooling, the paddock schooling,” Pletcher said. “The good thing about Uncle Mo is he’s a very professional horse. He’s not high maintenance. Part of what makes him successful besides his great mechanics and natural ability is he’s got a great mind to go along with it.”
Not lost on the work for the champ was the move by Stay Thirsty, who hung with Uncle Mo nearly every step of the way. After winning the Gotham, he finished a dull seventh, beaten 16 3/4 lengths in the Florida Derby (gr. I). The previous move at Churchill Downs by the son of Bernardini —Marozia, by Storm Bird, came on April 24 when fired a bullet 1:00 over a fast track.
“To me, this was the best work Stay Thirsty has had,” Pletcher said. “And not just the five-eighths in 1:01, but the gallop out afterward. He can be a little lazy when it comes to galloping out and I thought for him to hang in there and gallop out as strongly as he did was an indication of good form and his ability to handle an off track should it happen to rain on Saturday.”
The move by both colts was encouraging for Repole.
“Todd told me the gallop out was going to be the key and I asked him what number he was looking for and he said, ‘1:30,’” Repole said. “When they went in 1:28, which was 10 lengths better than we thought…the key part to me was that Stay Thirsty was right there. And now I know at least I have my exacta for the Derby. I’m actually going to box it.”