Show of hands who was surprised when Uncle Mo, for the first time in his short career, came to the top of the stretch and did not kick clear? Who was surprised that in the stretch, not only, was he passed by one horse, but two? Well, as long as we're being honest, I'll say that my jaw hit the floor so hard that I may have knocked some teeth lose.
When Tom Durkin said "The most shocking upset since Secretariat himself" he was not exaggerating. There was shock, then disappointment, then the "what just happened" mode. Did Uncle Mo not handle the track, was he too short, did grabbing his quarter throw him off, or was it a combination of all of things? We can't be sure, but one thing I can say is every horse deserves a second shot, even Uncle Mo.
Uncle Mo did, for once in his career, came staggering down the last sixteenth of a mile, as opposed to his normal bounding. He went right for the lead setting, what looked like average fractions for the day. However, when comparing with the only other nine furlong race within the last couple of days he was moving at a fairly decent clip.
The first quarter and half are normally pretty average when compared to other track, however when looking at the three quarters and mile splits, one notices a huge difference. Where other tracks will run a 1.11 or 1.12, Aqueduct normally sees a 1.12 or 1.13. Mile splits for many tracks will be 1.35 or 1.36, but at Aqueduct you hardly ever see a horse breaking 1.37. In fact not many, over last week were even breaking 1.38. Uncle Mo's fractions over the Aqueduct main course were 23.49, 47.98, 1.12.28, 1.37.26, with his personal final time being around 1.50.13.
Were these fractions blazing, no. However they were solid when put into proper prospective. Mo was also a short horse in need of conditioning, entering the Wood Memorial. He only had two four furlong works coming into the race, off the Timely Writer, one was a 49.45. Before the Timely Writer the longest he worked was 5 furlongs, and he did that twice before running in that spot. One could argue that Uncle Mo was better prepared to go nine furlongs in his first start than he was in the Wood Memorial.
Looking at the replay, it is apparent Uncle Mo had simply run out of gas down the stretch, which can be largely attributed to the lack of work he had prior to the race. It was also reported that Uncle Mo grabbed his left front quarter leaving the gate. Depending on the severity, this could have easily caused Uncle Mo pain when he went to switch to his left lead in the stretch. Normally, Uncle Mo switches leads and displays a turn of foot that leaves his opponents spinning. This time Uncle Mo did not drop his shoulder and level off. Instead it looked like he continued evenly down the lane.
Knowing all of this does Uncle Mo deserve to be tossed to the curb off this one race? I say no. Many people wanted a race that would see him challenged and would give him some conditioning. The Wood did that. He faced adversity and even though he did not win he certainly did not fold, like other top Derby contenders have this year when trouble has come their way. He certainly got the conditioning most were crowing for out of this race, which if coupled with a couple of long fast drills from Pletcher, should have him cranked up and raring to go for the Derby. So, come on people. Yes, the result was disappointing, but everybody and every horse has an off day. Let's give Uncle Mo one more shot.