That is the major question everyone wants answered with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) just a few days away. Of course, the “he” is juvenile champion Uncle Mo, and the question that needs to be answered is: Will he be in the starting gate Saturday, May 7?
Uncle Mo has been the talk of the Churchill Downs backstretch all week and the subject of an intense rumor mill that has reached Charlie Sheen-esque proportions. Maybe it’s not at that level, but in world of Thorougbred horse racing, this is as close as it gets.
The son of Indian Charlie is still recovering from a gastrointestinal infection that was detected a few days after he finished third in the April 9 Wood Memorial (gr. I), which was his first defeat in five starts. Since then, owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher have reiterated the same thing in many different ways: The horse will run in the Derby only if he is 100%.
Despite rumors that he will be scratched before the race, so far Repole and Pletcher contend that Uncle Mo is progressing nicely and is still on target to make the race. Both owner and trainer spent the May 4 post-position draw addressing the health of their horse, who was made the 9-2 second choice in the morning line.
“He’s doing well,” Pletcher said. “He has had a good couple of days, and we’re looking forward to a good gallop (May 5).
"When you have a horse like him who has the reputation that he has and is coming off a disappointing race and gastrointestinal infection, it’s only logical that everyone wants to know what’s going on and how he is responding. Like Mike Repole has said, everybody is 50-50 until you make it to the starting gate. But so far we’ve been really pleased with everything we’ve seen."
And if the race was run tomorrow, would Uncle Mo be in the starting gate?
“Yes,” Pletcher said simply.
On May 5 veterinarian Dr. Doug Byars will come by Pletcher’ barn to examine Uncle Mo once again, just as he has done every couple of days since he has been at Churchill. But even if he checks out OK, the colt will have to pass tests May 6 and Derby morning.
“It’s such a tough, tough decision to make because you want to do right by the horse," a stressed Repole said. "I lose sleep over it every night. It’s all I think about every second of the day.
“Things change very quickly in horse racing; just look at Toby’s Corner. These horses don’t speak. I know Mr. Ed does and some of you think (Uncle Mo) does because of his Facebook page, but it’s so hard to know with an internal issue if a horse is 100%.
"That’s what is driving me nuts," Repole added. "If it was a physical thing you could tell if he was 95% or 90%. Whatever decision we make, we’ll never know if it was the right one.
“You watch his appetite. You watch his attitude. You watch his energy, and it’s all progressive. But at the end of the day, unless the horse says ‘Dad, my tummy hurts,’ you just don’t know.”