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Derby favorite has been unchallenged

Sat., April 9, 2011

NEW YORK – Uncle Mo gives his owner, trainer and jockey every indication he can be a special racehorse.

Owner Mike Repole sees it in Uncle’s Mo’s eyes, and in the bay colt’s confident gait and calm demeanor.

Todd Pletcher knows a champion when he sees one, and the nation’s leading trainer says Uncle Mo has the potential to be among the all-time greats if he continues “doing what he’s been doing.”

John Velazquez has been aboard Uncle Mo for all four of his victories and says he’s versatile enough to win no matter how the race sets up when the field turns for home.

The rest of the racing world gets another chance to see Uncle Mo today, when the No. 1 Kentucky Derby contender goes against nine other 3-year-olds in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack.

What to expect in Uncle Mo’s final prep before he’s shipped off to Churchill Downs for the Derby on May 7?

“We just want to see more of what we’ve seen from Uncle Mo in every start of his life and that’s brilliance,” Pletcher said earlier this week. “That’s kind of become what we expect from him.”

Uncle Mo is the 1-5 favorite over what appears an overmatched field in the Grade 1 Wood. Toby’s Corner, third in the Gotham behind Mo’s stablemate Stay Thirsty in his last start, is the 8-1 second choice. The others are listed at odds ranging from 12-1 to 99-1.

What makes Uncle Mo so special is an extra burst of speed, and extra gear, that allows him to take command. He won in his debut, at six furlongs, by 141/4 lengths; he took the Grade 1, mile Champagne by 43/4 lengths; blew away the field by 41/4 lengths in the 1 1-16th-mile, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; and easily drew clear for a 33/4-length win in the Timely Writer in his only start this year.

Repole used a Mike Tyson-Michael Spinks fight a few decades ago to describe Uncle Mo’s racetrack knockout punch.

“It’s jab and jab and jab and all of a sudden boom! Pow! Light’s out! Mo has that,” Repole said. “He gets to the top of the stretch – he did it in all four of his races – and when somebody gets close to him and he wants to get away … boom! Five lengths in 5 seconds. He’s been unchallenged his whole career.”

Uncle Mo is not an imposing horse, but his speed is deceiving thanks to a long, smooth stride.

“He does things very easily,” Pletcher said. “I haven’t measured his stride, but I would suspect it’s tremendous. He just covers so much ground that I think that’s one of his many strengths, that he’s able to get into that high cruising speed.

“But when you see him sort of lower (to) that next level and drop his body down and extend his stride, it’s tremendous. He has that ability to while he’s going fast then have one more gear that’s even faster. So many horses don’t have that gear.”

Repole said the son of Indian Charlie he bought for $220,000 has a calming effect on him.

“It’s like he’s saying ‘I got it,’ ” the 42-year-old owner said. “Like someone said, he’s got this LeBron-Jordan air of confidence, like ‘I know you’re here and I know I’m here and I know you’re here to see me and I’m going to put on a show.’ ”

On race days, Repole goes through the same routine with Uncle Mo. When Pletcher is saddling the colt in the paddock, the owner looks over to his horse and asks: “You gonna win today, Uncle Mo?

“His eyes go right at me, basically saying ‘Are you kidding me? You’re joking right?’ Like he read the Racing Form.”

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