FLORIDA / FIVE RIVALS FACE CHAMPION UNCLE MO IN TIMELY WRITER – Unbeaten and unchallenged champion Uncle Mo, winner of the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Grade I) and considered a strong early favorite for the 137th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), will be at the center of racing’s spotlight when he makes his highly anticipated return to racing on Saturday at Florida’s Gulfstream Park. 

            The $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes provides the stage for the return of Uncle Mo, who has trained sharply in for trainer Todd Pletcher in preparation for his first race since his Breeders’ Cup victory in November at Churchill Downs. 

            The race is the first of two planned starts for Uncle Mo prior to his major objective: the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 7, at Churchill Downs.  Owner Mike Repole, whose Stay Thirsty won last week’s Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct, hopes for a positive step toward his star’s final Kentucky Derby prep in the April 9 Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct.

            “The goal is to have this race set up nicely for the Wood Memorial and to have a happy and healthy horse for the Kentucky Derby,” Repole said. 

            Uncle Mo was also entered in Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs, but that race was Pletcher’s back-up option in case the Timely Writer failed to attract enough entrants to be included on Gulfstream Park’s Saturday program.  But the names of five 3-year-olds were dropped into the entry box to face Uncle Mo in his 3-year-old debut.

            Regular jockey John Velazquez will ride Uncle Mo, who will carry high weight of 123 pounds in his 3-year-old debut and concedes four-to-six pounds to the five horses that will line up with him in the starting gate.  The son of Indian Charlie will break from the rail post and is the 3-5 morning line favorite.

            Madman Diaries is the only other horse in the Timely Writer with experience in stakes competition.  A stakes winner at two on traditional dirt and synthetic courses, the versatile colt finished a good fourth behind Pluck for trainer Wesley Ward in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI) at Churchill Downs.  

Ward’s colt finished seventh to Flashpoint when he returned to the dirt in his 2011 debut in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 26.

            Others in the field are Gallant Dreams, Rocking Out, Schoolyard Cat and Rattlesnake Bridge.

            Post time for the Timely Writer is scheduled for 4:25 p.m. (Eastern).

            LIBERTY CAP TOPS PALM BEACH AS PLUCK LOOKS ELSEWHERE – Shortly after the running of the Timely Writer, the turf course at Gulfstream Park will showcase promising 3-year-old grass runners in the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes (GIII). 

Breeders’ Cup hero Pluck was entered in the 1 1/8-mile race and would have a been a strong favorite, but trainer Graham Motion is expected to scratch Pluck in favor of a run in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs.  In his absence, the likely Palm Beach favorites include Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Liberty Cap, Pletcher’s Queen’splatekitten, Art C and Master Dunker. 

Palm Beach Odds and Ends: Even though it’s a turf race, the Palm Beach has produced three Kentucky Derby starters in the last four years: 2007 third-place finisher Storm in May finished 16th in the Derby, and 2010 top-two Paddy O’Prado and Dean’s Kitten ran third and 14th, respectively, in the “Run for the Roses.” … Sea Hero ran ninth in the 1993 renewal, when it was contested on dirt, before he won the Kentucky Derby … Paddy O’Prado holds the stakes record of 1:45.40 … Swamp (1999) and Mr. Livingston (2000) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figures (96). Preferences (1992) recorded the lowest (81). 

            BRETHREN ON THE OUTSIDE, BUT STILL HEAVY FAVORITE IN TAMPA BAY DERBY – No brothers or half-brothers have won the Kentucky Derby in 136 years, but WinStar Farm’s Brethren will attempt to keep his bid to make history in the “Run for the Roses” on track when he starts as a heavy favorite in Saturday’s $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs.

            The unbeaten half-brother to WinStar’s 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver drew the outside post in the 1 1/16-mile race that attracted 10 entrants  He also started from an outside post against nine rivals in his stakes debut Tampa Bay Downs’ Sam F. Davis, but scored an easy four-length victory.

Ramon Dominguez will be ride Brethren for trainer Todd Pletcher.

            The Tampa Bay Derby field will be reduced to nine following the expected scratch of reigning juvenile champion Uncle Mo, who was entered in the race but will run in Gulfstream Park’s Timely Writer. 

            Major competition for Brethren in the Tampa Bay Derby could come from Free Entry, who carries a two-race winning streak into his stakes debut for trainer Chad Brown, and Sam F. Davis runner-up Too Experience, who chased Brethren home in the earlier race at odds of 31-1.

            Post time for the Tampa Bay Derby is scheduled for 5:20 p.m. (Eastern)

Tampa Bay Derby Odds and Ends: Now positioned eight weeks from Kentucky Derby 137, the Tampa Bay Derby was previously situated seven weeks from the first Saturday in May … This year’s purse of $350,000 is the highest in race history … The race has produced two Kentucky Derby winners: 2007 champ Street Sense and last year’s third-place finisher Super Saver … In 2009, four starters exited the race and ran in the Derby, including Musket Man, who finished third behind Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 20-2-2-2 … Street Sense holds the stakes record winning time of 1:43.11 … Equality (2002) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (102). Prix du Crouton (1994) turned in the lowest (82).


WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / JAYCITO, RUNFLATOUT OUT TO RAISE PROFILES IN SAN FELIPE – Saturday’s $250,000 San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita provides a pair of colts that have generated considerable Kentucky Derby buzz – the Bob Baffert-trained Jaycito and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Runflatout – with an opportunity to live up to their hype and prove they belong in the discussion of serious contenders for the big race on the first Saturday in May.

Zayat Stable’s Jaycito is the more accomplished of that duo with a victory in the Grade I Norfolk at Santa Anita heading his resume.  Trained at two by Mike Mitchell, he was last seen in a seventh-place finish behind Uncle Mo in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.  Jaycito broke awkwardly that day and swerved to the outer rail on the backstretch, but finished with a strong run through the stretch.

            Now trained by three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert, Jaycito will break from post nine in a field of 10 3-year-olds in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe.  Martin Garcia will ride for Baffert, a four-time San Felipe winner who also entered the Lanni Family Trust’s Awesome Patriot in the race.

            Runflatout has run only once, but it was an eye-catching romp at six furlongs at Santa Anita. The John Sadler trainee could earn a berth in the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 9 with another run.

            Looking for redemption in the San Felipe is the Peter Miller-trained Comma to the Top, the winner of the CashCall Futurity (GI) at Hollywood Park in December.  Comma to the Top’s five-race winning streak was snapped in his most recent start when he finished a disappointing fourth to Silver Medallion in February’s El Camino Real Derby (GIII) at Golden Gate Fields.

            Others to watch in the San Felipe include Premier Pegasus and British import Surrey Star, the 3-4 finishers to The Factor in Santa Anita’s San Vicente (GII); unbeaten California-bred stakes winner Bench Points; and the Steve Asmussen-trained Albergatti, who is coming off his first career victory.

            Post time for the San Felipe is 4:07 p.m. (Pacific).

            San Felipe Odds and Ends: The San Felipe returns to dirt after Santa Anita abandoned a three-year experiment with a synthetic surface … It also is placed eight weeks from Kentucky Derby 137, one week earlier than previous renewals … The $250,000 purse has jumped $100,000 from a year ago … Eleven Kentucky Derby winners have exited the San Felipe: Jet Pilot (1947), Determine (1954), Tomy Lee-GB (1959), Lucky Debonair (1965), Affirmed (1978), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) and Giacomo (2005) … Record of starters in the Derby since 1985: 57-6-2-4 … Consolidator (2005) holds the stakes record of 1:40.11 … Artax (1998) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (108). Pioneerof the Nile (2009) recorded the lowest (91).

KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE POOL OPENS – The second of three betting pools for Churchill Downs 2011 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KOFW”) opens its three-day run on Friday, March 11, and oddsmaker Mike Battaglia expects unbeaten Uncle Mo to give ‘All Others’ a battle for the role of favorite.

            Battaglia gave the mutuel field (#24), which includes all 3-year-olds other than the 23 individual horses on the KDFW roster of 24 betting interests, the nod as the 3-1 favorite.  But Uncle Mo (#23) was close behind at 7-2.  “All Others” was favored in the February’s opening Derby Futures pool.

            Pool 2 betting begins at noon (all times Eastern) on Friday and concludes at 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 13, 30 minutes prior to the close of betting on the companion Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, which also opens Friday at noon.  KDFW Pool 2 mutuel payouts on Kentucky Derby Day, May 7, will be determined by the odds in place at Sunday’s close of betting at North American racetracks, off-track betting facilities and TwinSpires.com and other advance deposit wagering outlets. 

         DERBY 137 TALK – What was described as a minor heel bruise will knock trainer Ken McPeek’s Rogue Romance out of the $1 million Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds on March 26.  Catesby Clay’s third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile could use either Oaklawn Park’s Arkansas Derby (GI) or the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland as his final Kentucky Derby prep. … A majority interest in El Camino Real Derby winner Silver Medallion has been purchased by Steven Marshall, with original owner Mike Ryan retaining a minority share.  Terms of the purchase were not disclosed.