The Kentucky Derby (G1) picture descended further into chaos during the stretch run of Saturday's $1 million Wood Memorial S. (G1) at Aqueduct as unbeaten juvenile champion and Derby favorite Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) wilted through the stretch at odds of 1-10 and could only finish third behind the unheralded pair of TOBY'S CORNER (Bellamy Road) and Arthur's Tale (Bernardini). While the latter made the bold outside move to seize control from the front-running Uncle Mo inside the final furlong, it was Toby's Corner who was moving best at the end, charging inside of Arthur's Tale to snare the win for owner-breeder Dianne Cotter.
Uncle Mo was away in good order but was left little breathing room while in control of the pace and was not asked to separate himself from the rest of the field. Flanked for the better part of the race by Duca (Empire Maker), Uncle Mo held just a half-length advantage through splits of :23 2/5 and :47 4/5, but opened up a length on that one through six furlongs in 1:12 1/5. However, his patented stretch kick was missing in the Big A stretch.
Toby's Corner settled in the second half of the field while racing close to the rail, and though he lost position down the backside, was kept inside until the stretch when Eddie Castro swung the colt out for the drive. Meanwhile, Arthur's Tale raced between rivals as the field was tightly bunched together around the far turn, had to steady slightly approaching the quarter pole, then swung widest for the stretch. Under Ramon Dominguez, Arthur's Tale appeared to turn in the winning kick down the middle of the track, but Toby's Corner charge was too powerful to deny. The final margin was a neck and the final time for nine furlongs on the fast main track was 1:49 4/5.
"Oh, I'm surprised," winning trainer Graham Motion said. "At the eighth pole, he kind of re-broke, it looked to me, and Eddie just said he had a great trip on the rail. We always felt the mile and an eighth was going to be a big factor for this horse and Eddie's really felt very strongly about how talented this horse is since the first time he rode him.
"I think (the blinkers) were big, it's the first time he's really run straight like that. I should have done it a long time ago. We've put the blinkers on him the last couple of weeks and I was worried it was going to make him keen, and he was actually more relaxed with them on. I've never had a horse respond like that to them."
"We had never talked about (the Derby). The Cotters never mentioned it to me and I don't think (Mrs. Cotter) even knew I'd nominated him early on. It's pretty neat. We're going, as long as he's doing fine. It looks like the mile and a quarter won't be a problem and it's very wide open now. It's obviously a very wide open group and I kind of think he ranks right up there with the top ones."
Toby's Corner returned $19.40, $7 and $2.50 as the 8-1 second choice. Arthur's Tale gave back $11 and $3.30 at 20-1, while Uncle Mo returned the mandatory minimum of $2.10. The order of finish was completed by Norman Asbjornson (Real Quiet), Isn't He Perfect (Pleasantly Perfect), Starship Caesar (Repent), Son of Posse (Posse), Preachintothedevil (Pulpit) and Duca. Full of Scoundrels (Great Notion) was scratched.
"He ran a huge race, he really did," said trainer Tom Albertrani of Arthur's Tale. "It looked like he got in a little trouble, but in saying that he still ran a huge race and it looked like he ran on at the end. It looks like he's starting to get his act together now and maybe he's just a late bloomer. I'll talk to (Sheikh Mohammed) and we'll make some decisions this week. A lot depends on earnings, I guess. We always thought he was a Belmont (S. [G1]) horse -- he looks like a horse who wants to go long and he galloped out way ahead today. We were kind of using this as a steppingstone to keep him on a schedule, but now we may be thinking differently."
Uncle Mo showed no visible excuses, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, and whether Uncle Mo makes the trip to Louisville will be played by ear.
"I can't make much excuse," Pletcher said. "Johnny (Velazquez) said he wasn't as relaxed as he would have liked him to be, although the fractions were fair. Obviously he got a little late the last part. I can't say I'm shocked but I'm disappointed.
"He grabbed a quarter (left front) leaving the gate. It didn't help but I'm not using that as an excuse. After that, he was kind of hounded early on. The fractions were reasonable. It was his first time going a mile and an eighth, first time over the Aqueduct surface. I was a little concerned turning for home at the three-sixteenths pole when he didn't really kick clear. I thought then that we were going to be in for a fight. You could see the last fifty to sixty yards he was tired.
"It goes without saying that if he wins by 10 today he goes in there with quite a bit different morning line than he is now. It doesn't mean we're not going to go, it doesn't mean we are going to go. We'll see how he comes out of it and make sure he's physically OK, that's a priority. It's totally up to Uncle Mo. My confidence hasn't changed in the horse. He's got a good win at Churchill and maybe this is what he needed to step forward four weeks from now."
Third in his debut at Delaware Park last October, Toby's Corner next won a Laurel maiden by 10 3/4 lengths to conclude his juvenile campaign. He kicked off his sophomore season with a 1 1/4-length allowance score at the same venue, then shipped north to win the Whirlaway S. by two lengths over Aqueduct's inner dirt. Last time, the chestnut was beaten 4 1/4 lengths when third in the Gotham S. (G3). His record now stands at 6-4-0-2, $722,240.
Toby's Corner is a son of 2005 Wood Memorial winner Bellamy Road, whom Cotter also bred. The Florida-foaled hero is the second stakes winner produced from the winning Brandon's Ride (Mister Frisky), joining his three-quarter brother Bushmills Best (Concerto). This is the extended family of Grade 2 winner Mr. Lucky Phoenix (Lucky Debonair) and Grade 3 winner Foolish Intent (Foolish Tanner).
Toby's Corner's sixth dam was Jacola (*Jacopo), a half-sister to Johnstown, who won the Wood Memorial, Kentucky Derby and Belmont in 1939. Jacola was also the dam of Phalanx (Pilate), the champion three-year-old colt of 1947, who won the Belmont and Wood Memorial.