The early favorite for the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), Repole Stable’s unbeaten 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, was just fine after stretching his legs against four overmatched opponents in Saturday’s $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
But owner Mike Repole, having watched his son of Indian Charlie win his first race since a dominant victory in the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), was the one who was trying to recover.
“It’s the first time in four months that I’ve taken a deep breath. So it kind of feels good to take a deep breath,” said Mike Repole, the impresario behind the popular Vitamin Water who owns both Uncle Mo and Gotham Stakes (GIII) winner Stay Thirsty. “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.”
Repole’s trainer is Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Kentucky Derby with WinStar Farm’s Super Saver and is favored to make it back-to-back wins with the unbeaten Uncle Mo. He watched the colt recover from a rough start to glide to a comfortable lead in slow fractions. Uncle Mo and jockey John Velazquez effortlessly pulled way in the stretch to win by 3 ¾ lengths over Rattlesnake Bridge.
The returning champion’s time for the one-mile distance was 1:36.56, but he covered the final quarter mile in a very sharp 22.80 to win under wraps for Pletcher.
“He got the last quarter in 22 4/5, which is always good in a dirt race, and he really galloped out strong,” he said. “He was the (Kentucky) Derby favorite going in and he’s the Derby favorite coming out.”
Uncle Mo is expected to make his final prep for the May 7 Kentucky Derby in the Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on April 9, although Repole left a crack in the door on Saturday to the possibility of the colt remaining at Gulfstream for the $1 million Florida Derby (GI) on April 3. Current plans call for Stay Thirsty to represent Repole and Pletcher in the Florida Derby.
Also on Saurday at Gulfstream Park, Joe’s Blazing Aaron surprised favored Queen’splatekitten in a front-running victory in the $100,000 Palm Beach Stakes (GIII) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
Allan Hunter Jr. was aboard the winner, a son of Graeme Hall who was a 73-1 winner in his previous start in a Gulfstream Park turf race for $50,000 claiming horses. Joe’s Blazing Aaron was an 11-1 shot in the Palm Beach.
BRETHREN BEATEN BY PAIR OF LONGHOTS IN TAMPA BAY DERBY – While things went perfectly for trained Todd Pletcher and champion Uncle Mo at Gulfstream Park, it was a more difficult afternoon for Pletcher and WinStar Farm’s unbeaten Brethren a few hours away at Tampa Bay Downs.
Make that “previously unbeaten’ Brethren, because the half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver was challenged by a pair of longshots in the upper stretch in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) and had nothing left to hold them off. Gilbert Campbell’s 43-1 shot Watch Me Go (43-1) and former claiming horse Crimson Knight (86-1) ran past the 1-2 favorite and Watch Me Go won by a neck for trainer Kathleen O’Connell.
“I’ll have to talk to the owner,’’ said O’Connell, “but I’m sure right now he’s thinking roses.”
Neither Watch Me Go nor Crimson Knight, who was claimed for $16,000 in his most recent start, is nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
Brethren, a betting interest in the weekend’s second of three pools in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, faded to third. Jockey Luis Garcia and Watch Me Go completed the 1 1/16-mile distance over a “fast” track in 1:44.25.
Earlier in the day, Team Valor International’s Pluck finished fourth as the 3-10 favorite in a turf allowance race that marked his 2011 racing debut. Second betting choice Lil Bit O’Fun was the winner.
WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / PREMIER PEGASUS A PLAYER AFTER SAN FELIPE WIN == The roster of major contenders for the 137th Kentucky Derby now contains the name of Premier Pegasus, a son of the 2000 winner of the ‘Run for the Roses” who took a big step on Saturday toward the big race at Churchill Downs.
Owned and trained by Myung Kwon Cho, the son of Fusaichi Pegasus grabbed the lead at the head of the stretch in Saturday’s $250,000 San Felipe (GI) at Santa Anita and drew away to a 7 ¾-length victory over Jaycito, the favorite who ran for the first time for three-time Kentucky Derby-winner Bob Baffert. The latter was one of a trio of betting interests in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager that finished well behind Premier Pegasus. The others were Comma to the Top (fourth) and Runflatout (last of 10).
Alonso Quinonez was aboard the winner, who covered 1 1/16 miles over a fast rack in 1:41.23 and earned a shot at the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 3 and, if all goes well there, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 7. Premier Pegasus had finished third to Kentucky Derby hopes The Factor and Sway Away in his previous race in the seven-furlong San Vicente (GII).
Premier Pegasus sat just behind a sizzling pace before launching his move to the lead on the far turn. Jaycito, far back early, ran late to grab second and the previously unbeaten Bench Points finished third.
"The horses were flying on the lead during the first part of the race,” Quinonez said, “I knew they were going to come back to the field."
Premier Pegasus raced without blinkers for the first time in his five-race career.
SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) / GREAT MILLS WINS GRINDSTONE – Millennium Farm’s Great Mills led from the start and held off favored Willcox Inn to win Saturday’s weather-delayed Grindstone Stakes at Fair Grounds. The Steve Asmussen trainee was ridden to victory by Shane Sellers in the 7 1/2-furlong turf race.
The race is named for the winner of the 1996 Kentucky Derby.
KENTUCKY DERBY FUTURE WAGER / UNCLE MO THE NARROW POOL 2 CHOICE – Repole Stable’s unbeaten champion Uncle Mo, an easy winner in his 2011 debut in Saturday’s $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park, emerged as the favorite in the second of three pools of Churchill Downs’ 2011 Kentucky Derby Future Wager (“KDFW”).
While Uncle Mo was the favorite in the three-day pool that wrapped up Sunday evening, he did not early the role by much. Uncle Mo closed at odds of 3-1, but barely edged the mutuel field, which included all 3-year-olds other than the 23 individual horses in the pool and closed at 7-2.
Others of note who trailed the favorite for the 137th running of the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs include Dialed In (10-1), Soldat (13-1), To Honor and Serve (14-1), Jaycito (16-1) and Sway Away (18-1).
Fans wagered $376,699 in the three-day pool. The final Kentucky Derby Future Pool is set for April 1-3.