Tuesday, February 08, 2011

It Makes "Sense"

Uncle Mo is the current prohibitive favorite of the "winter books" for the 2011 Kentucky Derby. I would say that honor is most deserved, given the crushing manner in which he toyed with the competition in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Should he go on to win the Kentucky Derby on May 7, Uncle Mo would become only the second winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to win the Kentucky Derby, joining 2006 Juvenile and 2007 Derby winner, Street Sense, with those laurels. That would be fitting, since it seems that the connections of Uncle Mo are following the example set by the connections of Street Sense four years ago.

To begin with, Street Sense won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in 2006, the same venue that Uncle Mo won his Juvenile at several months ago. While it might be true that Street Sense might have had a little help from the inside track bias the day of his Juvenile win, he still made it to the Winner's Circle, just like Uncle Mo. I think Uncle Mo's win was certainly the more visually impressive of the two performances. Trainer Carl Nafzger elected to only give Street Sense two prep races between the Juvenile score and the Kentucky Derby. Uncle Mo's trainer, Todd Pletcher, is also only allowing two prep races before the First Saturday In May for his charge. You might take note at this point that both Nafzger (Unbridled in 1990) and Pletcher (Super Saver in 2010) had a Derby victory on their resumes.

Nafzger went with the Tampa Bay Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes as his selections for Street Sense's prep races. Street Sense won the Tampa Bay Derby overcoming a game Any Given Saturday. He then went to Keeneland and ran on the Polytrack there, losing narrowly to artificial surface favoring Dominican in the Blue Grass. Pletcher is choosing the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood Memorial as his two preps for Uncle Mo. The reasons for this difference should be obvious to everyone, since Uncle Mo's owner, Mike Repole, is a New Yorker who prefers the Wood Memorial anyway and they get to avoid the tricky Polytrack surface so close to the big day.

Street Sense would rally from well off the pace and get a ground-saving rail ride from Calvin Borel to carry him past the underrated Hard Spun and into the Kentucky Derby Winner's Circle at Churchill Downs. He would come up a little bit short in the Preakness, getting tackled by eventual 2007 Horse Of The Year, Curlin, in the shadow of the wire. Street Sense would skip the Belmont, but come back later in the summer to win both the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga. The historian in me feels that Uncle Mo, like Street Sense, might come up short in the remainder of the Triple Crown with only two prep races before the Derby, which is a shame since he could possess the qualities of a Triple Crown winner. The practical side of me says that the connections are currently only interested in winning the first leg of the Triple Crown (and the most historically significant anyway) in the Kentucky Derby. I guess in the final analysis, you cannot question anything that Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher have done so far with Uncle Mo, at least to this point in time anyway. If they don't win that Derby they are expected to win, there will be plenty of time for everyone to second-guess them in the aftermath.

Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone...GOODBYE!

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