Carefully placed by trainer Todd Pletcher in Saturday's ungraded, $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Uncle Mo was bumped at the start but recovered quickly and led the rest of the way to a 3 3/4-length victory over four rivals who were always running for place money.
Rattlesnake Bridge finished second with Gallant Dreams third. Uncle Mo, a Kentucky-bred son of Indian Charlie out of the Arch mare Playa Maya, got the mile on a fast track in 1:36.56 with John Velazquez along for the ride.
Uncle Mo won all three of his starts as a 2-year-old, including the Champagne at Belmont Park and culminating in an easy victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He has plenty of graded stakes earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby even if more than the maximum 20 are entered.
"It's the first time in four months that I've taken a deep breath," said winning owner Mike Repole, who also owns last week's Gotham Stakes winner, Stay Thirsty. "So it kind of feels good to take a deep breath. But when you have the best trainer in the world and he tells you how good this horse is, you've got to trust him."
Pletcher also saw nothing to dislike. "Except for the break, when he and (Gallant Dreams) bumped, everything went the way I had hoped," the trainer said. "It's great to get over this hurdle. He got the last quarter in 22 4/5, which is always good in a dirt race, and he really galloped out strong.
"He was the Derby favorite going in and he's the Derby favorite coming out," Pletcher added.
Repole and Pletcher are expected to flip-flop horses for their final Kentucky Derby preps, with Stay Thirsty shipping south for the Florida Derby and Uncle Mo journeying to New York for the Wood Memorial.
Repole, who has owned horses for seven years, said after the race, "I'm not stupid enough or naive enough not to know how lucky I am."
Elsewhere on the Kentucky Derby trail:
While Uncle Mo did what he was supposed to do in Hallandale, another Pletcher charge, Brethren, faltered on the other side of the peninsula, running third in Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Tampa Bay Derby. Brethren broke from the outside post position, surged to the lead only to have Watch Me Go and Crimson Knight rally past him in the stretch to finish 1-2.
Watch Me Go, a Florida-bred colt by West Acre out of the Deputy Minister mare Sabbath Song, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.25 with Luis Garcia up. Earlier, he had finished third in the Sam F. Davis.
"I knew this horse was something special," Garcia said. "He was only third in the Davis but he showed me something. That was his first time stretching out and learning to relax behind a good pace. That experience helped us today."
Larry King, who manages winning owner Gilbert Campbell's Stonehedge Farm South, said of Campbell "is considering the Arkansas Derby or the Bluegrass as options. We definitely have the Kentucky Derby as a goal."
And out west, it was moderate long shot Premier Pegasus who ran away with Saturday's $250,000, Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, leaving favorite Jaycito in his dust and winning by 7 3/4 lengths. Jaycito finished a clear second over Bench Points with Comma to the Top third. The highly touted Runflatout led early but flat ran out of gas, finishing last of 10.
Premier Pegasus is a Kentucky-bred colt by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, out of the Summer Squall mare Squall Linda. He ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:41.23 with Alonzo Quinonez up for owner/breeder/trainer Myung Kwan Cho.
"Next stop, the Santa Anita Derby," said Cho.
Premier Pegasus won three straight races last year, including the 7-furlong Hollywood Prevue. He was third in the 7-furlong San Vicente last month but was stretching out for the first time Saturday.
"He waited for me until I asked him," Quinonez said. At the three-eighths pole, he switched leads and grabbed the bridle. I didn't hold his intentions back. I just let him go. He knew it was time to go because he's a very special horse."
Kentucky Oaks preps
Joyful Victory lived up to her name in a big way in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Honybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park, surging to the lead when asked by jockey Mike Smith, then drawing off easily to win by 8 3/4 lengths. Holy Heavens was best of the rest, with Dixie City third. Joyful Victory, an Ontario-bred Tapit filly out of the Wild Again mare Wild Lucy Black, finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.83 with Mike Smith up for trainer Larry Jones. "It set up almost too good, to tell you the truth," Smith said. "I knew I was going to have to hit the front too soon. Mr. Jones told me he put the blinkers on because when she by herself, she's liable to do something. He told me to stay aware of that and of course I hit the front pretty early. I hit her twice just to make sure, but she was home by then."
Wyoma came from the clouds to win Saturday's $50,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by a head over Devilish Lady. Her Smile finished third. Wyoma, a Kentucky-bred Vindication filly, ran the 1 mile and 40 yards in 1:39.93 under Frederic Lenclud.
In other weekend racing:
(By Richard Gross)
The Dubai International Racing Carnival closed with a flourish Thursday and a final preview of some horses expected to compete on Dubai World Cup Day.
Aptly named speedster JJ The Jet Plane took off and landed safely in fine style to win the Dubai Duty Free Finest Surprise over 6 furlongs on the turf to state he was ready for the Al Quoz Sprint at identical conditions on World Cup Day March 26.
The evening found a new potential Godolphin Mile candidate in Rileyskeepingfaith who took the evening's feature, the Zabeel Mile (UAE-II).
The longest race of the Carnival was the 2-mile turf DRC Gold Cup (UAE-III) won by Whispering Gallery with Frankie Dettori up. Dettori also won earlier on Emirates Champion in the 11-furlong Dubai Duty Free Golf World Cup handicap.
Steele Tango took the mile-and-a-quarter Dubai Duty Free Milennium Millionaire on the turf with Ryan Moore up. "Ryan gets on so well with this horse," said English trainer Roger Teal, "and it would be lovely to run on Dubai World Cup night."
There were also two personal triumphs. Honour Systems claimed the 9 1/2-furlong Dubai Duty Free Double Millionaire Handicap to give trainer Saeed bin Suroor a winning edge, 16-15 over Mike de Kock during the Carnival. Jockey Christophe Soumillon bested local favorite Dettori, 11 winners to 10 in the jockey standings.
All eyes now turn to the selections for Dubai World Cup day and its signature $10 million Dubai World Cup purse run March 26. There are a total of 312 nominations from 18 countries, including 49 from the United States. The selection date for all runners in the eight-race card has yet to be announced.
In the United States, however, owners and trainers already were making preparations after hearing from Dubai officials about their steeds.
Logistical considerations apparently will keep Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge home in New Orleans even though trainer Bret Calhoun said he wanted to go. "Mainly, it's just because of shipping arrangements," the conditioner said, citing the problems involved in getting Chamberlain Bridge to Miami in time to catch a Dubai-bound flight Tuesday. "We were on the fence, trying to see if we could work out any other arrangements," he said. "But we weren't able to."
However, Game On Dude, winner of the March 5 Santa Anita Handicap, apparently has been invited to the World Cup and trainer Bob Baffert said the horse -- and jockey Chantal Sutherland -- are going. "He looks good and that's why I asked for an invitation," Baffert said. Sutherland, the first woman jockey to win the "Big Cap," added, "How cool is that?"
And I Want Revenge, who finished fourth in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park Feb. 5 in his first start since last August, has been invited to the $1 million Godolphin Mile, rather than the big race, trainer Rick Dutrow said. "I guess they thought they had a whole bunch of horses better than he is," Dutrow said. "I don't agree. But what can you do?"
Miss Match, at 45-1 odds, rallied between horses through the stretch run of Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Santa Margarita Invitational and nipped odds-on favorite Switch by a head. Vision in Gold finished third. Miss Match, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred daughter of Indygo Shiner, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.33 with Garrett Gomez in the irons. "When I first got to the quarter-pole," Gomez said, "I asked her to pick it up and she did a little bit at a time. As I moved her out and decided to move back in, it was like a whole new horse just jumped right in the bridle. She had this win attitude where she knew what she wanted, and she went after it." Switch's rider, Joel Rosario, said his filly "just got a little tired in the lane. I'm not disappointed. It's her first time at a mile and an eighth and she gave me everything she had." Always a Princess took a bad step in the stretch while tiring on the lead and was pulled up. She underwent surgery Sunday and will be retired for breeding. "She'll be all right," trainer Bob Baffert said.
Cambina raced off the pace in Sunday's $75,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, swung wide for room with a furlong left and got home first, beating Cathy's Crunches by 3/4 of a length. Wallstreeter was third. Cambina, an Irish-bred daughter of Hawk Wing, ran 2 miles on firm turf in 1:35.70 with Garrett Gomez riding.
Tackleberry led the way in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap and held at the end to beat Soaring Empire by a neck and Tizway by another nose. The favorite, Rule, finished sixth. Tackleberry, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Montbrook gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.23. It was his third stakes win of the Gulfstream meet, at distances from 6 furlongs to 1 1/8 mile. "The trainer told me to go to the front no matter what," winning rider Javier Santiago said. "He said, 'If you need to use him in the beginning, use him. I want to see him in front.' He's a very special horse. When he goes to the front, he likes to fight. My horse saw the horse on the outside and that was it."
Joes Blazing Aaron took Saturday's $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds, leading by a comfortable margin most of the way and going on to post the upset victory by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Queen'splatekitten. Newsdad finished third. Joes Blazing Aaron, a Kentucky-bred Graeme Hall gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.85 with Orland Bocachica in the irons. Joes Blazing Aaron came into the race off a victory in a $50,000 claimer on Feb. 17 -- his first turf try, and at odds of 73-1. "We were hoping he wouldn't get any respect," said winning trainer Allen Hunter Jr., "and the plan was to go to the lead. When no one went with him, I was pretty confident he'd go on just like he did last time."
Dynamic Holiday saved ground into the stretch turn in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came out for running room and closed best, winning by 2 lengths over Mystical Star. The favorite, Excited, ran evenly to finish third. Dynamic Holiday, a Pennsylvania-bred Harlan's Holiday filly out of the Dynaformer mare Dynamic Cat, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.60 with Ramon Dominguez riding. It was her fourth straight win over four different tracks. "Everything worked out perfectly," Dominguez said. "There was enough speed to set up her run and she was good again today. Her last few races, she's really gotten good." Her previous wins during the streak were at Keeneland, Calder and Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay Downs
Denomination outfinished favorite Zagora to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares by a neck. Keertana rallied from last to finish third, another 1 1/2 lengths in arrears. Denomination, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike mare, finished the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.69. "Everything worked out for us just right today," winning rider Frederic Lenclud said. "She was eager to run and I was able to get her to relax just off the leader. I asked her for run getting to the stretch and she responded like I knew she would."
It Happened Again pressed the pace in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Razorback Handicap, went to the lead turning for home and prevailed by a half length over the late bid of Thiskyhasnolimit. Win Willy was third. It Happened Again, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Proud Citizen gelding, got the 1 1/16 miles over a fast track in 1:43.58 with Michael Baze up for trainer Larry Jones. It was the third straight win of the meeting for the aptly named It Happened Again. The first two were optional claiming events.
The bon temps roulez'ed Tuesday in New Orleans and so did Street Storm in the $60,000 Mardi Gras Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. With Jesse Campbell up for trainer Steve Margolis, the Kentucky-bred Stormy Atlantic filly rallied from a pace-stalking trip, engaged in a three-way battle to the wire and prevailed by a neck over the favorite, Aide. Cryptocandiac was another neck back in third. The race, originally scheduled for 7 1/2 furlongs on the grass, was run at 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast main track. Street Storm was clocked in 1:43.77. "She really gave me her all from the quarter-pole to the wire," Campbell said. "It was the first time I'd ridden this filly, but anytime you ride for Steve, you get a lot of extra confidence." It was the second win in seven career starts for Street Storm.
Ravi's Song closed on the leaders entering the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 New Orleans Ladies Stakes, split rivals during the drive and quickly got clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Stage Magic led briefly before yielding to finish second, 4 3/4 lengths better than Fighter Wing. The favorite, Dundalk Dust, was never in the mix and finished last of seven. Ravi's Song, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Unbridled's Song mare, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.64 with Corie Lanerie aboard.
Great Mills led all the way to a 1-length score in Saturday's $60,000 Grindstone Stakes for 3-year-olds. The favorite, Willcox Inn, closed a big gap to finish second and Mavericking rallied from far back to finish third. Great Mills, a Kentucky-bred War Front colt, ran the "about" 7 1/2 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:34.09 under Shane Sellers.
Inherit the Gold moved to the lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $65,000 Kings Point Stakes for New York-breds, opened a good lead and cruised home first, 2 lengths ahead of Yawanna Twist. Spa City Fever led the field into the stretch turn and held on for third. Inherit the Gold, a 5-year-old Gold Token gelding, ran 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:50.99 with Eddie Castro up.
Eminent Tale was far the best in Sunday's $60,000 Sweet Envoy Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds, leading throughout and winning by 5 3/4 lengths. Uncle Smokey was second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Surfactant. Eminent Tale, a Read the Footnotes colt out of the Tale of the Cat mare Six Tales, got the 1 mile and 70 yards over the fast inner track in 1:43.92 with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons.
R Holiday Mood set a pressured pace throughout Sunday's $60,000 Out Ruled Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but finally prevailed by a neck over a persistent Portside. Buster's Ready and Le Mi Geaux completed the order of finish. R. Holiday Mood, a Florida-bred Trippi filly, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:44.90 with Cornelio Velasquez steering.
Fascinatin' Rhythm stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Conniver Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, then quickly took over in the stretch run, drawing off to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Sweet Goodbye was second, a neck in front of Miss Charm City. Fascinatin' Rhythm, a 6-year-old More Than Ready mare, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.90 under Forest Boyce.
Spring Party rallied five-wide to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $50,000 Wintergreen Stakes for fillies and mares, then held off the favorite, La Gran Balladora, to win by a head. Hot Hot Mama head the lead early in the stretch run but faded to finish third. Spring Party, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Smart Strike mare, got the mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.99 with Ben Creed aboard.
Winter Camp led all the way to a big upset win in Saturday's $50,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes, getting home a head in front of late-running Stephengothisstar. Tactful finished third. Winter Camp, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Forest Camp gelding, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.04 with Agapito Delgadillo aboard.