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Healthy Uncle Mo back for Breeders’

Ex-Derby favorite is 5-2 for Classic

By Beth Harris
Associated Press / November 1, 2011

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Uncle Mo is back at Churchill Downs as the early 5-2 favorite in a field of 13 for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic nearly six months after he was knocked out of the Kentucky Derby on the eve of the race with what was later diagnosed as a life-threatening liver disease.

He was the second choice for the Derby. Now all eyes are back on Uncle Mo to see if he can complete his comeback with a season-ending victory in North America’s richest race.

“Uncle Mo has never looked better, has never trained better,’’ said owner Mike Repole, who will arrive in Louisville today. “This is the Uncle Mo we thought we’d see the whole 3-year-old season. For him to make this comeback in just four months from being diagnosed is amazing.’’

Uncle Mo lost 200 pounds while he was sidelined with the illness that initially puzzled veterinarians and trainer Todd Pletcher. He returned to the races in August and lost the King’s Bishop by a nose before winning the Kelso Handicap by 3 lengths earlier this month.

“He’s doing as well as he can be doing,’’ Pletcher said. “We’ve come a long way since May and we’re hoping we can get all the way there.’’

Uncle Mo and John Velazquez will break from the No. 12 post in Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile race.

“It gives Johnny some options going to the first turn,’’ Pletcher said about Uncle Mo’s post position. “It’s perfect. He’s a good horse getting away from the gate.’’

Uncle Mo will be running against an accomplished field that includes stablemate Stay Thirsty, filly Havre de Grace, Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, and Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude.

Pletcher and Repole will have two shots at winning the Classic with Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty. Repole owns both colts.

A major question surrounding Uncle Mo is whether he will handle the Classic distance, while Stay Thirsty has had success running 1 1/4 miles with a win in the Travers and a third-place finish in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“He’s done nothing to indicate that he can’t go the distance, but until he does it you don’t know for sure,’’ Pletcher said about Uncle Mo. “But he’s coming into the race well and he’s the most talented horse in the field coming into the race.’’

Havre de Grace drew the No. 10 post and was installed as the 3-1 second choice for the Classic.

“I think we’re in the perfect spot,’’ owner Rick Porter said. “A lot will depend on how fast they go up front, but we’re happy with it.’’

She is 5 for 6 this year and already has one win against the boys in the Woodward. Havre de Grace is following the path taken by Zenyatta, who beat males in the 2009 Classic and then was edged by a nose in last year’s Classic to end her career with a 19-1 record.

“The fillies have run very well,’’ trainer Larry Jones said, citing Rachel Alexandra’s win against males in the 2010 Preakness Stakes. “Why not?’’

Uncle Mo, Havre de Grace, New Zealand-bred So You Think at 5-1, and Flat Out at 6-1 were the only Classic runners listed at single-digit odds.

Five were listed at 30-1, including Ruler On Ice, Ice Box, and Prayer for Relief, who drew the No. 1 post for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. He also has 10-1 Game On Dude in his bid to win the Classic for the first time. Chantal Sutherland is aboard Game On Dude, co-owned by retired Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre. She could become the first woman to ride a Classic winner.

At 70, trainer Scooter Dickey has his first Breeders’ Cup horse in Flat Out.

“We’re in the gate, aren’t we, so we’re going to run flat out,’’ he said, smiling. “He’s very sharp right now.’’

Another female will be looking to share the spotlight Saturday when Goldikova goes for a record fourth consecutive victory in the $2 million Mile. She was made the 7-5 favorite and will break from the No. 1 post in the turf race after arriving from France over the weekend.

“That’s what we were hoping for, the rail, to cover the least possible ground,’’ said Regis Barbedette, assistant trainer to Freddy Head. “I just spoke with Freddy Head on the phone and he was applauding us. I said, ‘We had nothing to do with it, but thanks anyways.’ He was so happy.’’

Undefeated Union Rags is the 2-1 favorite in Saturday’s $2 million Juvenile for Michael Matz, who trained 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

Highlighting Friday’s card is the $2 million Ladies’ Classic, with Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty the early 2-1 favorite for Baffert.

The 15 races to be run Friday and Saturday are worth $26 million.


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