All eyes were on Uncle Mo Oct. 9 at Belmont Park. People wanted to know if the highly-touted juvenile was the real deal.
He did not disappoint.
The son of Indian Charlie was pressed by longshot I'm Steppin' It Up through fast opening fractions, but still had plenty left in the tank to win the $300,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) by 4 3/4 lengths under John Velazquez for his first stakes triumph. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt is now on his way to the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, where he will likely be the favorite.
Uncle Mo, a $220,000 Keeneland September 2009 yearling sale purchase, gave owner Mike Repole his first graded stakes win in the Champagne, which went to post with a field of six. The bay colt was sent off at odds of 1-5 after scoring by more than 14 lengths in his Aug. 28 debut at Saratoga.
Under Velazquez’s handling, Uncle Mo broke sharply and went straight to the front. But he did not have an easy time on the lead, as I’m Steppin’ It Up was right on his heels through a :22.41 opening quarter, :45.92 half-mile, and 1:10.47 three-quarters. The favorite put away I’m Steppin’ it Up when they made the turn, opening up a 3 1/2-length lead with a furlong remaining.
His biggest threat in the final furlong was Mountain Town, who made a menacing four-wide rally with Cornelio Velazquez aboard and was bearing down on the leader in upper stretch, but Uncle Mo was still full of run while sprinting to the wire under a vigorous hand ride. The final time on the fast main track was 1:34.51, which tied Seattle Slew for the second-fastest Champagne at the distance, just a fifth of a second slower than Devil's Bag in 1983.
Mountain Town was 9 3/4 lengths clear of third-place I’m Steppin It Up.
“The other horse was right next to him and he got a little strong, but I didn’t want to choke him down,” Velazquez said. “So I just did give and take with him and tried to get him to come back to me a little. Even though he went pretty fast he was doing it comfortably.
“Once we hit the three-eighths pole he kind of let go of the bit and relaxed. And then when I asked him at the quarter pole he was there. The instant I asked him he accelerated. He really did surprise me in how quickly he picked it up. He galloped out really well.”
Uncle Mo, who is based at Belmont, gave Repole his third win on the card.
“It’s been six years as a horse owner, but I’ve been coming here since I was 13, so it’s really been like 28 years, and it just feels great,” Repole said.
“He’s just such a talented horse; he’s able to do things other horses can’t do,” Pletcher said. “The sky’s the limit. I don’t see how a horse could start a career more impressively than he has. His maiden was as good as I’ve seen, and then to come back and run 1:34 2/5 in the Champagne is unbelievable. His times have been exceptionally fast; he gets stronger as he goes along.
“The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile would be the obvious goal. He’ll ship to Churchill Downs (Oct. 26) and have one work over the track.”
Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Michael Cavey, Uncle Mo is out of the Arch mare Playa Maya. He has earned $216,000.
The winner paid $2.40, $2.10, and $2.10. The exacta (1-5) returned $11.40 and the trifecta (1-5-4) was $67.
Settle for Medal was fourth, followed by Meridian Magic, and Brother in Arms. Stay Thirsty, also owned by Repole, was scratched.