It’s been four months since the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite has stepped into the starting gate. Every racing fan is wondering the same thing: Is Uncle Mo as fast as he was a year ago?
That question will be answered in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes March 12 at Gulfstream Park, as Uncle Mo takes on five rivals in his 3-year-old debut. The one-mile contest is the first of three stakes on the card and has a scheduled post time of 4:25 p.m. EST.
It remains to be seen if the Timely Writer will be a taxing debut for Uncle Mo, who went undefeated in three starts last year en route to being named champion 2-year-old male. But that is not the major goal for his comeback race, said owner Mike Repole.
“The goal is to have this race set him up nicely for the Wood Memorial (gr. I, April 9) and to have a happy and healthy horse for the Kentucky Derby,” Repole said. “He’s training so well at Palm Meadows and it is very similar to the surface at Gulfstream. The ship (distance) is 20 minutes versus a four and a half hour ship (to Tampa Bay Downs). The surface at Tampa is way different. We know he can get two turns. He proved that already in the Breeders’ Cup. I just thought that it was just the right move for the horse.”
Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher also entered Uncle Mo in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) on the same day as the Timely Writer, but he is expected to scratch from that race.
Uncle Mo’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) victory Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs completed a sensational season that also included a 14 1/4-length maiden romp and a dominating score in the Champagne (gr. I) when nearly setting the stakes record.
He has been very sharp in six works this year since arriving with Pletcher at Palm Meadows in January. The son of Indian Charlie—Playa Maya (by Arch) was clocked four furlongs in :48 4/5 in his latest March 6 breeze.
“Todd always (says) Uncle Mo doesn’t just have the talent but he has the brain,” Repole said. “The horse doesn’t have any real bad habits on the track or in the stall. When he’s on the track he knows what a jog is. He knows what a gallop is and he knows what work is.
“He’s filled out and, you know he’s training great. I mean he’s training great.”
Uncle Mo, with regular rider John Velazquez, will be the expected odds-on favorite and they will break from post 1. The bay colt will carry top weight of 123 pounds, conceding four to six pounds to his rivals.
Uncle Mo, who has been on or near the lead in all of his starts, could go right to the front or sit off the other speed in the race, Madman Diaries. Trained and co-owned by Wesley Ward, Madman Diaries is the only other starter with stakes experience. He showed electric speed when winning the Sapling (gr. III) in wire-to-wire fashion at Monmouth Park last September in his first start on dirt, and won the Victoria Stakes on Woodbine's Polytrack by more than nine lengths earlier in his 2-year-old season.
In his last start, Madman Diaries disappointed in the Feb. 26 Hutcheson (gr. II), as he was never involved in a dull seventh-place finish. Jeffrey Sanchez will keep the mount on the son of Bring the Heat.
The Rick Dutrow Jr. trainee Rocking Out led for a half-mile in a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Feb. 13 before finishing third as the heavy favorite. But the son of Include, who broke his maiden in his debut last November at Aqueduct, probably does not have the speed to stay with Uncle Mo or Madman Diaries. Julien Leparoux will be in the irons.
The other three starters seem to prefer coming from off the pace. Live Oak Plantation’s homebred Gallant Dreams scored a maiden win impressively at Belmont Park last out for Tom Albertrani, but that was back in October. Also entering off a victory is Mill House’s Rattlesnake Bridge, a debut maiden winner at Gulfstream Feb. 12 when coming from well back in a six-furlong contest to get up late. The son of Tapit was piloted by Velazquez in that one, but Kiaran McLaughlin has assigned Jose Lezcano to ride this time.
Schoolyard Cat has one win from from seven starts. He comes off five consecutive turf starts, having finished seventh in a pair of optional claimers at Gulfstream.
Under conditions of the Timely Writer, the winner will get 50% of the purse, while second-place will receive 25% and third-place 15%.
$100,000 Timely Writer Stakes (Race 8, 4:25 p.m.), 3YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Uncle Mo (KY), J R Velazquez, 123, T A Pletcher
2. Gallant Dreams (KY), J Castellano, 117, T Albertrani
3. Madman Diaries (FL), J Sanchez, 121, W A Ward
4. Rocking Out (KY), J R Leparoux, 117, R E Dutrow Jr.
5. Schoolyard Cat (NY), R Curatolo, 117, C F Martin
6. Rattlesnake Bridge (KY), J Lezcano, 117, K P McLaughlin