Repole Stable's unbeaten champion UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie) made an imperious return to action against four overmatched opponents in Saturday's $78,400 Timely Writer S. at Gulfstream Park, ratifying his status as the early Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite. Under regular rider John Velazquez, the Todd Pletcher colt easily secured the early lead, turned back the game challenge of Rattlesnake Bridge (Tapit), and kicked away to a 3 3/4-length triumph.
Uncle Mo was making his first start back since his conquest of the November 6 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Churchill Downs, which sealed his Eclipse Award as champion two-year-old colt. Just five opponents dared to meet him in the Timely Writer around Gulfstream's one-turn mile, a race specially designed to attract Uncle Mo. The only other stakes winner in the field, Sapling S. (G3) victor Madman Diaries (Bring the Heat), was scratched, leaving four horses with no more than maiden wins to their credit to face the champ.
Hammered into 1-20 favoritism, Uncle Mo didn't get off to an auspicious start in the Timely Writer. He was a tad slow from the gate, then bumped hard with Gallant Dreams (Bernardini) just to his outside. Uncle Mo reacted with his trademark professionalism, however, and shrugged off the contact. The handsome bay deftly regrouped to take command, for his foes were devoid of much early speed.
Uncle Mo was already a length on top after a slow opening quarter in :25 2/5, but Rattlesnake Bridge drew to within a half-length through splits of :49 2/5 and 1:13 3/5. Uncle Mo was only allowing Rattlesnake Bridge that close on sufferance. Straightening into the stretch, Uncle Mo went into another gear and left Rattlesnake Bridge toiling in his wake.
As Velazquez looked over his shoulder for non-existent threats, Uncle Mo was extending his dominance with every ground-devouring stride. He crossed the wire 3 3/4 lengths in front while reeling off the mile in 1:36 2/5 on the fast track, and wasn't done yet. Uncle Mo kept galloping relentlessly far beyond the finish line, paying $2.10, $2.10 and $2.10 to his legions of supporters.
"It's the first time in four months that I've taken a deep breath," said a relieved owner Mike Repole, who had been feeling particularly anxious about Uncle Mo's reappearance. "So it kind of feels good to take a deep breath. But when you have the best trainer in the world and he tells you how good this horse is, you've got to trust him.
"(Uncle Mo) knows what he's here for," Repole said. "He's just one of those special horses. I've said it many times, 'Good horses know they're good.' He knows he's good. He's a monster on the racetrack and he's a puppy dog in the stall. He knew today, he was running."
"It was pretty simple," Velazquez said. "I wanted to keep him out of trouble and slow the pace down as much as possible. We were able to do that. He was doing it so easily. In the stretch, I let him run a little and made sure he galloped out an extra eighth of a mile to make sure he got something out of the race."
Pletcher was pleased with his star pupil.
"Except for the break when he and the 'two' (Gallant Dreams) bumped, everything went the way I had hoped," Pletcher said. "It's great to get over this hurdle. He got the last quarter in :22 4/5, which is always good in a dirt race, and he really galloped out strong.
"He was the (Kentucky) Derby favorite going in and he's the Derby favorite coming out," the trainer summed up.
Rattlesnake Bridge was much the best of the rest, 5 3/4 lengths clear of Gallant Dreams. Rocking Out (Include) and Schoolyard Cat (Catienus) trailed.
"We are very pleased with how (Rattlesnake Bridge) ran," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He did everything we wanted him to except win. Uncle Mo is the two-year-old (champion) for a reason. I'm not sure what is next for him."
Now a perfect four-for-four, Uncle Mo earned $40,000 for what was little more than a public workout in company, increasing his bankroll to $1,336,000. He has been dispatched as the favorite in each of his starts, and first drew attention when romping by 14 1/4 lengths in his career debut on Travers Day at Saratoga. Stepping straight into the one-mile Champagne S. (G1) next time out, he made light of an early pace duel to roll by 4 3/4 lengths.
Uncle Mo employed stalking tactics in his two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he pulled away by 4 1/4 lengths. With this sophomore debut out of the way, he will stretch out in distance for his final Derby prep, most likely the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial (G1) on April 9 at Aqueduct.
Bred in Kentucky by D. Michael Cavey, Uncle Mo passed through the sales ring twice, bringing $160,000 as a Keeneland November weanling and $220,000 when going in the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is the third registered foal out of the multiple stakes-placed Playa Maya (Arch), whose newborn colt is by Broken Vow. This is the family of Grade 3 scorer Woods of Windsor (Woodman), Argentinean Group 1 winner Eithan (Polish Numbers) and Group 3-placed stakes victress Impetious (Inchinor [GB]).
Repole, who also owns Gotham S. (G3) winner Stay Thirsty (Bernardini), is savoring the ride on the Derby trail.
"It's not like I have 700 horses and I've been in this game since I was 18 and I'm 85 years old," said Repole, who has owned horses for seven years. "I'm not stupid enough or naïve enough not to know how lucky I am."