This is the 3rd in a series of posts previewing the upcoming 2011 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs. Part 1 looked at the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies and the chalky nature of those races over the years. Part 2 examined the Turf, and the recent decline in the quality of that race. This post takes a look at the Classic and one of its high profile contenders, Uncle Mo.
Horses that perform at a high level in juvenile races, whether it's at the Breeders' Cup or just a garden variety Maiden Special Weight, seem to always capture the imagination of racing fans. Most of that comes from dreaming about that horse developing into a Kentucky Derby or Triple Crown winner, or just witnessing a young horse develop into a champion later on in their life. We like to be able to say, "I saw that horse win its first race!" when a promising two-year-old matures into a successful horse. It's even more exciting if that same horse becomes a superstar.
While we are generally fascinated with stylish juvenile winners, the reality is that very few dominating juveniles carry that form into subsequent years. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule (the great Secretariat being at the top of the list). But, for the most part, juvenile champions fail to capture that magic in later years and, more often that not, end up a bit of a disappointment. This can be due to injuries or simply a failure to develop.
Most of you already know that only won horse to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile has come back to win the Kentucky Derby the following spring. But did you also know that since the beginning of the Breeders' Cup in 1984, twenty horses have attempted to win both a juvenile race (Juvenile, Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies, or Juvenile Fillies Turf) and another Breeders' Cup race (Classic, Distaff, etc.). None of those twenty were able to accomplish the feat, going 22-0-2-4 in the process (Fly So Free and Macho Uno each ran in two Breeders' Cup races following their juvenile win). Zero for 22.
Uncle Mo, winner of the 2010 Juvenile, will attempt to change history in the 2011 Classic.
|Horse||Juvenile Win||Sub-BC Starts|
|Arazi||1991 Juvenile||1992 Mile (11th)|
|Chief's Crown||1984 Juvenile||1985 Classic (4th)|
|Favorite Trick||1997 Juvenile||1988 Mile (8th)|
|Fly So Free||1990 Juvenile||1991 Classic (4th)|
|1993 Sprint (9th)|
|Epitome||1987 Juvenile Fillies||1988 Distaff (7th)|
|Go For Wand||1989 Juvenile Fillies||1990 Distaff (DNF)|
|Gilded Time||1992 Juvenile||1993 Sprint (3rd)|
|Indian Blessing||2007 Juvenile Filllies||2008 Filly&Mare Sprint (2nd)|
|Macho Uno||2000 Juvenile||2001 Classic (4th)|
|2002 Classic (5th)|
|Maram||2008 Juvenile Fillies Turf||2009 Filly&Mare Turf (6th)|
|Meadow Star||1990 Juvenile Fillies||1992 Distaff (7th)|
|Midshipman||2008 Juvenile||2009 Dirt Mile (3rd)|
|My Flag||1995 Juvenile Fillies||1996 Distaff (4th)|
|Open Mind||1988 Juvenile Fillies||1989 Distaff (3rd)|
|Outstandingly||1984 Juvenile Fillies||1986 Distaff (3rd)|
|Rhythm||1989 Juvenile||1990 Classic (8th)|
|Silverbulletday||1998 Juvenile Fillies||1999 Distaff (6th)|
|Storm Flag Flying||2002 Juvenile Fillies||2004 Distaff (2nd)|
|Street Sense||2006 Juvenile||2007 Classic (4th)|
|Twilight Ridge||1985 Juvenile Fillies||1986 Distaff (6th)|
Arazi, winner of the 1991 Juvenile, might be the dictionary definition of a high juvenile expectations fading into the abyss the following year. After dominating the 1991 Juvenile in a manner that Uncle Mo could only have dreamed about, Arazi was named the champion two-year-old of not just Europe, but America. He was also Europe's Horse of the Year in 1991.
Arazi's path to racing immortality hit a snag when he required surgery to remove bone chips from both his knees during the winter. The colt made it back into training and racing, but he was never again displayed the dominance he possessed as a juvenile. He entered and ran in the 1992 Kentucky Derby but faded to finish 8th after briefly challenging the leaders on the final turn. Following the Derby, Arazi returned to France to race four more times, winning the G2-Prix du Rond Point, but the magic was clearly gone. The final race of his career came in the 1992 Breeders' Cup Mile where he finished 11th as the 3/2 favorite.
While Uncle Mo probably hasn't had as big of a fall as Arazi did in 91/92, it would be a severe understatement to describe Uncle Mo's 2011 campaign as anything other than"up and down". After easily winning the 2010 Breeders' Cup, Uncle Mo came into his three-year-old season as the undisputed favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Things got off to a slow start for the defending juvenile champion when it was announced that Uncle Mo would on run in just two prep races prior to the Kentucky Derby. Then it was announced that his first prep race would come in an ungraded one-turn mile stakes race at Gulfstream Park (the Timely Writer) instead of the more visible Tampa Bay Derby. He dominated the Timely Writer but the race was little more than a paid workout.
The season went from so-so to bad when Uncle Mo made his final Kentucky Derby prep in the G1-Wood Memorial. Going off extremely low odds (0.10), Uncle Mo led the field through soft opening fractions only to flatten out badly in the stretch to finish 3rd. Following the race, Uncle Mo was diagnosed with cholangiohepatitis, or a "severe inflammation of the bile passages and adjacent liver, which sporadically causes hepatic failure in horses and ruminants." [Bloodhorse.com: Veterinarians Release Uncle Mo's Diagnosis] The illness knocked the colt out of action for most of the summer.
Uncle Mo made his return to the track in the G1-King's Bishop at Saratoga and unleashed a big effort, finishing 2nd to late running Caleb's Posse at the wire of the seven furlong race. He followed up that race with a fairly easy victory in the one mile G2-Kelso Handicap run over the mud at Belmont and, based on the strength of those two performance, was pointed to the Classic by trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole.
While Uncle Mo appears to have recovered from his illness, there are still many questions surrounding this colt as he heads towards the Classic. Chief among those questions is his ability to handle the mile and a quarter distance, something he's never tried before. His win in the Juvenile certainly tells us that the Churchill surface isn't a problem, but winning at 1 1/16 miles is a lot different than winning at 1 1/4 miles. Similarly, while his two comeback races this fall have been excellent, they came at eight and seven furlongs, respectively. In fact, Uncle Mo has only run in one two-turn races this year, the aforementioned Wood Memorial, and that race was nothing short of a disaster.
The questions surrounding Uncle Mo are real, but so is the high level of anticipation from many in the racing community to finally get to see this colt run on the "Big Stage". Ever since he pulled away from the competition in last year's Juvenile, we've been waiting to see if he can carry that kind of performance into a race like the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders' Cup Classic. We'll find out the answer to that question on November 5th.
The Classic Field
Havre de Grace will sew up Horse of the Year honors with a victory in the Classic. She's got three Grade 1 wins to her credit in 2011 (Woodward, Beldame, and Apple Blossom) and is only a nose away from being a perfect six-for-sishe appears to be training quite wells to be training quite well in her build-up to the Classic.
A Classic win would have put Whitney and Met Mile winner Tizway at the top of the HOY discussion, but an injury has sidelined the colt for the season, making it very difficult for him to capture top honors at the end of the year.
Flat Out finished 2nd to Havre de Grace and Tizway in the Woodward and Whitney, but notched good victories in the G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup and the G2-Suburban. The most distressing feature of Flat Out is his 2-0-0-0 record at Churchill Downs. He finished 6th in a fairly weak G1-Stephen Foster on June 18th, the same position he finished in his very first race, a Maiden Special Weight on Nov. 8th of 2008.
2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer has just an ungraded stakes win to his credit in 2011, but he ran a decent 2nd to Flat Out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Game On Dude is a double Grade 1 winner in 2011 - Goodwood Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap - and is the top West Coast Classic contender.
Gio Ponti is great on grass (23-11-9-1), decent on synthetics (5-1-1-0), but has never raced over a dirt surface in his career. He was an excellent 2nd to Goldikova (IRE) in last year's Mile, so you would think his connections would try to get reverse that result this year.
Headache has won three of his last four races, including the G2-Hawthorne Gold Cup and the G3-Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows. His only loss during that time was a 5th place finish in the Whitney, over seven lengths back of Tizway.
Ice Box will likely draw in if any of the other horses opt to run in one of their cross-entered races. He hasn't won a race since March 20th, 2010 (Florida Derby).
Prayer For Relief won four straight races (G2-Super Derby, G2-West Virginia Derby, and G3-Iowa Derby) prior to a tough-luck 3rd in the Oklahoma Derby. This year's Classic will be, by far, the toughest field he's ever run against.
Rattlesnake Bridge finished 2nd to Uncle Mo in that infamous Timely Writer race at Gulfstream in March but has only a single ungraded stakes win to his credit over the rest of the year. Like all of the horses outside of the top contenders, he's good, and he's capable of running a big race at some point, but he appears to be a notch below a filly like Havre de Grace.
Ruler On Ice is a tough horse to really get a read on given the fact that his only graded stakes win came in this year's Belmont Stakes over a sloppy and sealed track. He hasn't run bad since that race (3-0-1-1) but he's still been shut out since early Junce.
So You Think (NZ) won four Group races in England and Ireland this year, three of which were Group 1s, after a highly successful career in Australia. The Classic will be the Ballydoyle colt's first start on dirt. When racing on turf, So You Think likes to sit close to the early leaders in a prime stalking position. It remains to be seen whether he'll be able to employ those tactics on dirt given the greater emphasis on early speed in U.S. racing.
Stay Thirsty won both of the top graded stakes for three-year-olds at Saratoga this summer (G1-Travers and G2-Jim Dandy) but couldn't replicate that effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. It's possible that he just didn't care for the muddy surface that day but there's a little cause for concern when you look at the past performance: Stay Thirsty have never run well outside of New York (5th in the BC Juvenile, 7th in the Florida Derby, 12th in the Kentucky Derby).
To Honor and Serve is one of the more intriguing entries in this year's Classic after missing a bunch of time this summer due to injuries. The Bill Mott trainee was very good as a juvenile when he won the Remsen and the Nashua, but couldn't recapture any of that form down at Gulfstream in the G2-Fountain of Youth or the G1-Florida Derby. In his last two races he's finally found his form, especially in the G2-Pennsylvania Derby when he beat Ruler On Ice and Rattlesnake Bridge. The track at Parx was very fast and very favorable to horses in the front that day, so it remains to be seen whether he can carry that form to Churchill Downs. But at least he's (finally) heading in the right direction.
Arazi - 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile
Uncle Mo - 2010 Breeders' Cup Juvenile