Based on his physical appearance, strong comeback effort, and subsequent training, Uncle Mo looks as though he is back to being the same horse as he was when earning champion status last year. Now his goal is to get back to the winner’s circle and make it to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
Uncle Mo will face older horses for the first time and tangle with the red-hot Jackson Bend in the $200,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. II), one of six graded stakes at Belmont Park Oct. 1. The son of Indian Charlie, made the 4-5 morning-line favorite, is part of a five-horse field in the one-turn, one-mile race. Post time is set for 4:33 p.m. EDT.
Owned by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, Uncle Mo did everything but win in the Aug. 27 King’s Bishop (gr. I) for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, as he rated patiently, took over on the turn, and opened up a clear lead in the stretch before being run down in the final jump by Caleb’s Posse. It was the first race for the bay colt since April when he came out of the Wood Memorial (gr. I) with a rare liver disorder that nearly cost him his career.
The Kelso winner will earn a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) on Nov. 5 but Repole has made it clear that he plans to point Uncle Mo for the BC Classic if he is successful on Saturday. Leading up to the race, Uncle Mo has been terrific in his training, turning in three fast and visually impressive works including a four-furlong breeze in :46 2/5 Sept. 25 at Belmont—the best of 80 that morning.
Uncle Mo will make his first start at Belmont since his sensational 4 3/4-length triumph in last year’s Champagne (gr. I), which he used as a springboard to winning the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
"He's certainly training awfully well," Pletchersaid. "I thought he trained really well before the King's Bishop. I thought he ran a very good race off the bench and his three subsequent breezes since the King's Bishop have been even more impressive than the ones leading into it which were very good in their own right.
"We're coming back to Belmont where he won the Champagne at a one-turn mile last year and he's certainly training like a horse that's getting ready to run his 'A' race."
Regular rider John Velazquez will have the mount on Uncle Mo, who will break from post 3 and carry 117 pounds.
No horse has been more impressive than Jackson Bend in his last two starts. The 4-year-old son of Hear No Evil broke a 12-race losing streak against a good field in the July 22 James Marvin Stakes when scoring by 2 1/2 lengths, then he came from off the pace to romp in the Sept. 3 Forego (gr. I) for his first graded stakes win. Both victories were at seven furlongs at Saratoga.
Owned by Robert LaPenta and breeder Fred Brei, Jackson Bend was unplaced in his only other start at Belmont, that coming last year in the Star of Cozzene Stakes. He is winless in three starts at a mile, but was runner-up in the Holy Bull (gr. III) last year at the distance.
Trainer Nick Zito has sent Jackson Bend out for two works at Saratoga since the Forego, including a bullet four-furlong move in :46 4/5 Sept. 25. Corey Nakatani will keep the mount.
Charles Fipke’s Jersey Town was runner-up to Jackson Bend in the Forego and the Teddy Drone Stakes at Monmouth Park before that. His last try at a mile resulted in a 34-1 upset in the Hill ‘N’ Dale Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) last November at Aqueduct. The Speightstown horse was third in this event in 2010.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” said trainer Barclay Tagg. “We freshened him up, he came back well and now he’s doing really, really well. Cornelio (Velasquez) knows him and will just let him run his race. I hope there’s enough speed to go after Uncle Mo so we don’t have to.”
The Kelso also drew Godolphin Racing’s Sangaree, who returned to the United States this summer after a brief campaign in Dubai. The 6-year-old son of Awesome Again was sixth in the Rob N Gin overnight stakes on the turf at Belmont in July and most recently second to Rule in the Birdstone at Saratoga.
Completing the field for the Kelso is Golddigger's Boy, whose five-race winning streak in Pennsylvania was snapped when he finished fifth in the Forego.
$200,000 Kelso Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:33 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Jersey Town (KY), C H Velasquez, 119, B Tagg, 9-2
2. Jackson Bend (FL), C S Nakatani, 121, N P Zito, 5-2
3. Uncle Mo (KY), J R Velazquez, 117, T A Pletcher, 4-5
4. Golddigger's Boy (PA), S Elliott, 115, R Preciado, 15-1
5. Sangaree (KY), R Maragh, 116, S bin Suroor, 6-1