When Uncle Mo broke his maiden by a whopping 14 1/4 lengths in his Aug. 28 debut, he immediately became a Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) threat and a horse to watch for the 2011 Triple Crown.
But before the son of Indian Charlie can try to fulfill those lofty expectations, he must first get through the $300,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 9 at Belmont Park. Pegged as the 1-4 morning-line favorite, he will face five rivals in his stakes debut. They will travel one mile on the main track, two furlongs longer that Uncle Mo went in his maiden special weight romp.
The added distance shouldn’t be an issue, according to owner Mike Repole, who purchased his standout for $220,000 at the Keeneland September 2009 yearling sale. Uncle Mo is out of the Arch mare Playa Maya. He is trained by Todd Pletcher.
“We definitely feel he doesn't show any distance limitations,” said Repole, the leading owner at this summer’s Saratoga meet. “Bottom-side he's bred to go long. We don't think that a one-turn mile at Belmont should be an issue. Obviously, when you have a Todd Pletcher opinion, you have to feel pretty confident that he'll handle the distance.”
Though Uncle Mo won wire-to-wire in his only start, Repole said he doesn’t necessarily have to be on the lead to win.
“I don't think the horse has to be in front,” he said. “I don't think he's a speed horse. If you looked at the race really closely, it wasn't just like he was a run-off. He was up by six (and) won by 15. He actually waited the first 4 1/2, five furlongs (before taking off).”
John Velazquez will have the mount and they will break from post 3.
Repole also owns Stay Thirsty, who ran second in the Sept. 6 Hopeful (gr. I) after breaking his maiden by 5 1/2 lengths in August. He has entered him in the Champagne as a coupled entry with Uncle Mo, but is expected to scratch the son of Bernardini with Pletcher training him right up to the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup.
The only juvenile with stakes experience that is expected to run is Settle for Medal, who was fourth in the Hopeful. The Mark Hennig trainee broke his maiden at second asking going six furlongs at Saratoga July 31, coming from well off the pace under Cornelio Velasquez. Jose Lezcano will have the mount this time.
“The Hopeful really was considerably slower than the filly races that day,” said Hennig. “I’m hoping that with the Champagne being longer, there will be a more realistic pace scenario. We’re up against it a little bit, but perhaps the big, sweeping turns here will help him, and he had a really nice work the other day.”
Velasquez decided to pick up the mount on Mountain Town, winner of maiden claiming race by a head Aug. 19 at Saratoga for Nick Zito. The Marylou Whitney homebred was claimed out of that debut race for $75,000 by Paul Pompa Jr., and given to Rick Dutrow Jr. to train.
Though it won’t be with Mountain Town, Zito will have a starter in the Champagne with Meridian Magic. The Mineshaft colt went wire-to-wire to win in a one-mile maiden special weight Sept. 18 at Delaware Park in his second start. Alex Solis will have the ride.
$300,000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 2YO, 1 Mile (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Meridian Magic (KY), A O Solis, 122, N P Zito
2. Settle for Medal (KY), J Lezcano, 122, M A Hennig
3. Uncle Mo (KY), J R Velazquez, 122, T A Pletcher
4. I'm Steppin' It Up (FL), D Cohen, 122, A Pecoraro
5. Stay Thirsty (KY), J Castellano, 122, T A Pletcher
6. Mountain Town (KY), C H Velasquez, 122, R E Dutrow Jr.
7. Brother in Arms (KY), E S Prado, 122, K J Breen