He wasn’t facing all that much, but champion Uncle Mo passed his first test of the season with flying colors on March 12, as he posted a convincing 3 3/4-length victory in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes (VIDEO) at Gulfstream Park.
Returning from a four-month layoff for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher, Uncle Mo solidified his status as the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite when he turned away a bid from Rattlesnake Bridge at the top of the lane and cruised to the wire under a hand ride from John Velazquez. The son of Indian Charlie remained perfect in four career starts, stopping the clock in 1:36.56 for one mile on the fast main track.
The bay colt, who won the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last year en route to being named champion 2-year-old male, was never asked for his best at any point during the dominating performance. It was exactly the kind of start to the season that his connections were hoping for and the highly-touted 3-year-old could move on to the $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 9 at Aqueduct or go to the Florida Derby (gr. I) on April 3.
“It’s the first time in three months that I’ve taken a deep breath," said Repole, a New York resident who came to South Florida with more than 50 family and friends to watch his star run. "So it kind of feels good to take a deep breath. But when you have the best trainer in the world and he tells you how good this horse is, you’ve got to trust him.”
Leaving from post 1, Uncle Mo broke a step inward at the start and briefly bumped with Gallant Dreams and Javier Castellano. But he quickly recovered and, as expected, went right to the front. He set easy opening fractions against his overmatched rivals, especially after the only other potential speed in the race, Madman Diaries, was scratched. Uncle Mo loped around in splits of :25.53 and :49.58 while maintaining a comfortable lead over Rattlesnake Bridge. When they reached the quarter-pole (six furlongs in 1:13.69), Rattlesnake Bridge and Jose Lezcano inched even closer to his outside and were only a head from the front.
At that point Velazquez let Uncle Mo out a notch and he responded, opening up a two-length advantage with a furlong to go. The only time Velazquez moved on the champion was approaching the sixteenth-pole when he peeked over his right shoulder to make sure nobody else was coming.
“It was pretty simple," Velazquez said. "I wanted to keep him out of trouble and slow the pace down as much as possible. We were able to do that. He was doing it so easily. In the stretch, I let him run a little and made sure he galloped out an extra eighth of a mile to make sure he got something out of the race.”
Pletcher was pleased with the effort.
“Except for the break when he and (Gallant Dreams) bumped, everything went the way I had hoped," the trainer said. "It’s great to get over this hurdle. He got the last quarter in :22 4/5, which is always good in a dirt race, and he really galloped out strong. He was the Derby favorite going in and he’s the Derby favorite coming out. We’re on schedule with the Wood."
Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Michael Cavey and out of the Arch mare Playa Maya, Uncle Mo upped his earnings to $1,336,000.
Sent off at odds of 1-20, the winner paid $2.10, $2.10, and $2.10. Rattlesnake Bridge, a debut maiden winner Feb. 12 at Gulfstream Park, paid $2.20 and $2.20 as the 7-1 second choice. Gallant Dreams finished third and paid $3. The exacta (1-6) was $4 and the trifecta (1-6-2) returned $11.40 for $1.