Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The New Derby Rules – Does Uncle Mo Fit The Profile?

Over the last twenty years, colts that have been victorious in the Kentucky Derby have followed a fairly specific training pattern. The majority of the Derby winners from 1990 – 2010 made their initial start between June and October and won their maiden between August and November. Only two horses, Fusaichi Pegasus and Monarchos, didn’t win their maiden race until the following January. All except six contenders in twenty years have run in a stakes race as a two year old. Over the last eight years, all except three Derby heroes had a high cruising speed and sat in the first flight of horses. Of those, four had pedigrees considered borderline to get 1 ¼ miles.

Street Sense
Until 2007, the Derby champs started their three year old season in January or February and participated in three or four prep races before the big dance. Things changed in 2007 when Street Sense didn’t start his year until March and had only two prep races. Street Sense had a good two year old foundation. He had five starts and an Eclipse Award under his girth and he could rely on the purse earned from the lion’s share of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

The following year, Big Brown only made one start as a juvenile and didn’t start his journey on the Derby trail until March. Like Street Sense, Big Brown had only two prep races before the Kentucky Derby. Following in the hoof prints of Street Sense, Mine that Bird and Super Saver participated in two races before entering the Derby starting gate. Mine That Bird had his first start in February; Super Saver didn’t make his season debut until March. Of the three, only Big Brown earned his way into the Kentucky Derby off of his three year old earnings. His connections took a gamble and it paid off. A lesser horse would have been excluded from the starting gate.

There’s no question that Uncle Mo is currently the most talented colt of his generation. Besides locking up the Juvenile Championship with his decisive win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Uncle Mo gave an impressive display of speed and determination in the Champagne Stakes. Even though he didn’t beat a very accomplished field, Uncle Mo did it in style. His final time of 1:34.51 was a fifth off of the stakes record, and he tied Seattle Slew for the second fastest running of the Champagne. Unlike Seattle Slew, Uncle Mo fought with rivals every step of the way and showed an extra gear pulling away from an exhausted field.

Let’s take a closer look at this precocious colt’s pedigree.

Indian Charlie - Photo: Tony Leonard
His sire Indian Charlie won the Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles, but in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, weakened in the final furlong and finished third behind his stable-mate Real Quiet. Indian Charlie raced only five times and was retired after the Kentucky Derby due to injury.
 Unfortunately, In Excess, Indian Charlie’s sire, is prone to getting swift but often fragile sprinter/miler types and Indian Charlie is passing these genes along to his progeny. Six of Indian Charlie’s stakes wining progeny have won at 1 1/8 miles, but only Indian Charlie’s daughter Fleet Indian has been successful at 1 ¼ miles. Victorious in the Personal Ensign (G-1) and Delaware Handicap (G-2), Fleet Indian proved that her achievements at the top level of racing was no fluke.

Playa Maya
Uncle Mo’s stakes placed dam Play Maya was in the money in all six starts with earnings of $81,521. The versatile mare won over dirt, turf and placed over off going. She was the only foal produced by the Dixieland Band mare Dixie Slippers. Dixie Slippers achieved three career wins as a sprinter. She’s a half sister to Federico Tesio Stakes (G-3) winner Woods of Windsor and two stakes placed sprinters.

Arch, Uncle Moe’s damsire, won the 1 1/8 mile Fayette Stakes in 1:53.87 setting a new track record at Keeneland. He also took the 1 ¼ mile Super Derby and earned $480,969 in seven starts. At stud, the son of Kris S. is passing along his stamina. His best progeny are Horse of the Year contender Blame, Canadian Female Turf Champion Arravale, English Champion Les Arcs, South African Champion Sprinter Overreaching and multiple Grade 1 winner Pine Island. Both Blame and Pine Island are successful at 1 ¼ miles.

Arch - Photo: Claiborne Farm
Arch is a relatively new broodmare sire. His 70 producing daughters have produced 32 foals with 21 starters and eight stakes winners. Most are miler-types, but Arch’s grandson Blue Exit won the Prix Matchem (Fr. Listed) at 2000 meters (about 1 ¼ miles) over turf. Arch’s pedigree and record at stud indicate that his daughters could pass along stamina influences but it is too soon to make a definitive factual statement that Arch will be a stamina-oriented damsire.

Uncle Moe’s second damsire Dixieland Band was the damsire of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and five other racers that were successful at 1 ¼ miles. Dixieland Band’s daughters passed along versatility to their offspring with the sire of the progeny often determining how far they would run.

Uncle Mo
Uncle Mo has shown that he is fast, precocious and has the will to win, but his pedigree appears borderline for getting the Kentucky Derby distance. Only time will tell if his talent can deepen with maturity and if he can stay abreast of rapidly developing late bloomers who should relish 1 ¼ miles and beyond. According to trainer Todd Pletcher, Uncle Mo will enjoy some down time in Ocala, Florida before joining the racing stable at Palm Meadows, Florida. Uncle Mo is slated to have two prep races before the Derby.

High cruising speed, borderline pedigree, two starts before the big dance. Uncle Mo fits the profile of a modern Kentucky Derby winner and could become the second horse to take Breeders’ Cup Juvenile/Kentucky Derby stakes.