Keeneland presents American Graded Stakes Standings: Top Juveniles a Year Later
It's been very interesting to watch the top two 2-year-olds from 2010 – Uncle Mo and To Honor and Serve – rounding back into form as the year-end championship-defining races approach.
Uncle Mo, last year's unbeaten 2-year-old champion, will still be looking for his first American Graded Stakes win of this year when he faces Grade 1 Forego Handicap winner Jackson Bend and three others in the G2 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Saturday, though in the G1 King's Bishop he did everything but win. That was only the third start of 2011 for Mike Repole's Indian Charlie colt, following a winning seasonal debut in the ungraded Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream and a third-place finish in the G1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Caleb's Posse, the son of Posse who beat Uncle Mo in the last jump of the seven-furlong King's Bishop, is no slouch. This colt, who races for Oklahoma breeder Don McNeill and partners, has won half of his 14 starts, and he's not a one-dimensional runner, having won the G3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown earlier this year going 1 1/16 miles around two turns.
Lost somewhat in all of the outstanding races this weekend at Belmont Park and Santa Anita Park, is the G2 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, where Caleb's Posse will try to knock off another giant, G1 Preakness winner Shackleford. That race carries a $500,000 purse and is contested at the same distance as the Ohio Derby. The Donnie Von Hemel trained colt has been installed the 2-1 second choice in the track's morning line.
But back to Uncle Mo, who is being talked about as a potential runner in the G1 Breeders' Cup Classic if his performance in the Kelso warrants it. That scenario seems unlikely to me, going from a one-turn mile at Belmont to a two-turn mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs five weeks later, even though Uncle Mo has a great deal in his favor in the Kelso. It's a small field of five runners, devoid of a true front-runner, and it's likely Uncle Mo will lead throughout, just as he did one year ago in the G1 Champagne, his second career start and final prep before winning the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. Going from the Kelso to the Classic would be a great leap.
While Uncle Mo had been entered in the Kentucky Derby by trainer Todd Pletcher before being scratched from the race with an ailment that knocked him out of action for more than two months, Bill Mott took To Honor and Serve off the Triple Crown trail earlier in the spring after two sub-par efforts in Florida.
Last year's winner of the G2 duo of the Nashua and Remsen Stakes for Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Plantation just didn't fire in either the G2 Fountain of Youth or G1 Florida Derby, so Mott did what he has done throughout his Hall of Fame career: give a good horse time off. The son of Bernardini came back in the G2 Amsterdam at Saratoga, tiring to be sixth behind Caleb's Posse, winning an easy allowance race/optional claimer, then scoring an impressive victory over a good field in the G2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.
Mott has been rewarded for his patience, but the biggest reward could be the Breeders' Cup Classic, a victory that would thrust To Honor and Serve into a very contentious race for Horse of the Year.