Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Oaks Preps

The Kentucky Lottery

Spare yourself the trouble of ranking Kentucky Derby contenders and play the quick pick, with Green but Game’s random top 10 list generator.

I left Uncle Mo #1 on this week’s PDI, feeling contrary, if not enthusiastic. “[L]et’s keep it in perspective; he was beaten 1 1/4 lengths, not 5 1/4 lengths,” notes Jason Shandler. “I still think [Uncle Mo's] a very good horse and he’ll bounce back,” said trainer Bob Baffert. Many thought post-race that Mo looked less than fit in the Wood stretch, but not trainer Todd Pletcher. “I do not believe he was a short horse the other day. Maybe I’m wrong,” he tells Jay Privman. “Sometimes, making up for if you felt like you didn’t have him fit enough and going the other way would be a mistake.” So, no Mo tightening?

Enough about the Derby; “#KYOaks should be one helluva race!” Joyful Victory is the latest filly to announce herself an exciting prospect, following up her win last month in the Honeybee with a seven-length romp in the Fantasy Stakes, a race that’s turned out a Kentucky Derby runner-up (Eight Belles) and two Oaks winners (Rachel Alexandra, Blind Luck) in the last three years.

This is a huge development: Citing the increasing internationalization of racing, and the success of the steroids ban, The Jockey Club backs RCI’s call to end raceday medications. It’s time. Janet Patton tweeted on Monday, “KHRC vice chair Tracy Farmer says it will happen in Kentucky.”

4/13/11 Addendum: Well, trainer Nick Zito isn’t inspiring much confidence with his Derby approach for Dialed In either. “Zito plans to train Dialed In up to the Derby in nearly the same manner he got him ready to win the $1 million Florida Derby earlier this month — with a series of long gallops and just one more sharp five-furlong work between now and May 7.” That’s it?

The Shake Up

So, Uncle Mo lost. Considering the self-flagellation, told-yas, schadenfreude, and hearsay diagnoses that flooded the web immediately after the race, you would think the Wood Memorial was The Greatest Trouncing in the History of American Turf, and not a 1 1/4-length defeat by the 1-10 favorite to Toby’s Corner and Arthur’s Tale, the second- and third-favorite respectively. (For that matter, the horse bet fourth, Norman Asbjornson, finished fourth. Aside from an excess of Mo-thusiasm, bettors pretty much got the Wood right.)

So, Mo can lose. And look remarkably unexceptional while doing so. After leading the field through a half in :47.98 and three-quarters in 1:12.28, the previously undefeated colt displayed neither fight nor interest when jockey John Velazquez asked him to pick things up in the stretch, running the final eighth in :12.88. Toby’s Corner closed quickly, finishing in :11.97. “Oh, I’m surprised. But no longer is [Uncle Mo] such a dominant force, and it just opens up the entire picture [for the Derby],” said winning trainer Graham Motion.

It would seem so. Less than four weeks to the Derby, and only the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby are left now to make sense of this 3-year-old crowd, following Midnight Interlude’s upset in the Santa Anita Derby. By the margin of a head, he went from a maiden winner to G1 victor, giving trainer Bob Baffert a third Derby prospect. “The Kentucky Derby was once a horse race,” groused Bill Dwyre of yesterday’s results. “Now, it has become a crapshoot.”

In an era when conditioners seem to be competing on who can bring the freshest horse to the Derby, could it become anything but?

Trainer Todd Pletcher reported this morning, via text to Darren Rogers, that Uncle Mo will ship to Churchill Downs on April 18, which should help put to rest rumors that the former Derby favorite is out of contention. He’s expected to work twice before the Derby. How he trains will determine whether or not he starts, but it probably won’t answer the questions many were already asking about Uncle Mo’s light prep schedule. As Paul Moran writes:

Apparently, the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream, a combination publicity stunt and public workout, was insufficient to propel Uncle Mo to a Grade I, even in the absence of proven Grade I company, which beyond the bowed favorite was lacking in the Wood. Almost certainly, the Wood will leave the light-bodied Uncle Mo short of an effective effort at 10 furlongs in Kentucky on the first Saturday of May.

That’s got to be the concern of anyone who backs him going forward. “We’ll see if we can get him prepared to step up,” Pletcher said this morning. “It was not a typical Uncle Mo performance, but I do not feel like the mile and an eighth was an issue.” Maybe the Wood was just the gut check he needed.

Beyer speed figures: 94 for Toby’s Corner and 92 for Uncle Mo in the Wood; 95 for Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby; 93 for Joe Vann in the Illinois Derby; 87 for Lilacs and Lace in the Ashland Stakes.

6:00 PM Addendum: “If not Mo, who?” That is the question this weekend.

Triple Digit Hit

A sophomore standout going nine furlongs impressed at Gulfstream over the weekend, and it wasn’t Dialed In running the final eighth in :13.09 to beat 68-1 Shackleford by a head in the Florida Derby on Sunday. “For a lightly raced horse to do what he did is amazing,” cried trainer Nick Zito to Mike Welsch. Amazing seems a better word for R Heat Lightning in the Gulfstream Oaks on Saturday. The Kentucky Oaks prospect finished in :12.77, winning by 8 1/4 lengths under a handride. Her final time of 1:49.27, “less than one-fifth of second off of the time clocked by 4-year-old Awesome Maria in the Rampart,” was eight-tenths of a second faster than the time of 1:50.07 in the Florida Derby. For her brilliant effort, R Heat Lightning was given a Beyer speed figure of 100. Dialed In received a 93 for his final Derby prep. “Disappointing, considering he got the perfect setup,” the man himself reportedly said.

3/5/11 Addendum: “To me, even though they ran on different days, usually it’s not a good sign for the colts when fillies run faster,” observes Pletcher.

Weekend Figures

Beyer speed figures of 89 for Uncle Mo, making his 3-year-old debut, in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream on Saturday; 83 for Watch Me Go, upset winner of the Tampa Bay Derby; 96 for Premier Pegasus in the San Felipe at Santa Anita; and 82 for Joyful Victory in the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn. The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated.

Gulfstream Prep Figures

Beyer speed figures of 102 for Flashpoint in the Hutcheson Stakes and 96 for Soldat in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday; 98 for R Heat Lightning in the Davona Dale. The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated with charts and replays.

← Before