One year after his auspicious winning debut on Travers Day at Saratoga Race Course, Uncle Mo will attempt to steal the limelight once again when he makes his first start in more than four months in Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Foxwoods King's Bishop, the featured undercard race preceding the Travers.
Owned by Mike Repole, Uncle Mo lived up to the potential he showed in his 14 ¼-length maiden score, going on to win the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile en route to being named Champion Two-Year-Old Male. He began his 3-year-old season as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, winning the Timely Writer at Gulfstream Park in March before tasting defeat for the first time when third in the Grade 1 Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial in April at Aqueduct Racetrack.
His connections attempted to regroup and run Uncle Mo in the Kentucky Derby off that loss, but the colt was scratched the day before the race and was later diagnosed with, cholangiohepatitis, a rare liver disorder. Following treatment and light conditioning at WinStar Farm, Uncle Mo arrived at trainer Todd Pletcher's barn on July 12, with the Foxwoods King's Bishop circled on the calendar.
Uncle Mo has trained forwardly since his arrival, posting six breezes in the lead up to the seven-furlong Foxwoods King's Bishop, which will be his first sprint start since his debut.
“We've been pointing for [the Foxwoods King's Bishop] since we started,” said Pletcher. “We envisioned it'd be a tough spot. We're somewhat limited in options. When you have a horse like that, who has accomplished a lot and doesn't have any allowance conditions left, you have to start somewhere. We think he's the kind that's talented enough to do something off the bench like that.”
Although Uncle Mo has never competed in a sprint stakes and will face several horses who have already won stakes at seven or fewer furlongs, his maiden victory gives his connections confidence that he'll be able to handle his Saturday assignment.
“It seems that he runs well fresh and runs well over this track,” said Pletcher. “The reality is, he's not going to have to run whole a lot faster than he ran [in his debut] to win a race like this. We're hoping for that type of performance. We have every reason to be confident in the horse. When he's right, he's awfully good.”
Uncle Mo , who has the same connections as Travers morning-line favorite Stay Thirsty, was made the 9-5 morning-line top choice for the Foxwoods King's Bishop. John Velazquez will ride from post position 7.
One of the established sprinters facing Uncle Mo is Flashpoint, who has won his three sprint starts by a combined 20 ½ lengths. Trained early in his career by Rick Dutrow, Jr., the speedy Peachtree Stable color-bearer debuted a 6 ¼-length winner in January at Aqueduct, romped by 7 ¼ lengths in the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park in February, and was a well-beaten fourth when stretched out for Gulfstream's Grade 1 Florida Derby in March.
Subsequently transferred to the barn of Wesley Ward, Flashpoint was last of 14 in the Grade 1 Preakness in May at Pimlico before he returned to sprinting, posting a seven-length victory against three opponents in his most recent start, the Grade 3, six-furlong Jersey Shore on July 3 at Monmouth Park .
“He's doing fantastic, and we're looking forward to the challenge,” said Ward. “He's an extremely talented horse, and we'll have to see how it comes up, but we're confident.”
Flashpoint, the 5-2 morning-line second choice, will leave from the rail with Cornelio Velasquez aboard.
Another horse who was effective on the cutback was Caleb's Posse, who enters Saturday's race off a come-from-behind, four-length triumph in the Grade 2, 6 ½-furlong Amsterdam on August 1 at Saratoga . He entered the Amsterdam off a win in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown and a fourth in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, both 1 1/16-mile races held in June.
“[The Foxwoods King's Bishop is] certainly a tough spot, with the likes of Uncle Mo and plenty of competition,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains the son of Posse for McNeill Stables and Cheyenne Stables. “The horse ran well the last time and has trained well in the interim. The horse is pretty versatile. He won a stakes going seven furlongs as a juvenile. He's won races longer and shorter. One-turn races are probably his best deal, from seven furlongs to a mile.”
Rajiv Maragh has the call aboard Caleb's Posse, 9-2 on the morning line, from post 2.
The connections of Dominus hope their horse will emulate Flashpoint and Caleb's Posse by dropping back in distance off three straight starts in routes. Second in the Grade 3, one-mile Derby Trial in April at Churchill Downs and winner of the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Dwyer on July 2 at Belmont, Dominus contested the pace before fading to third when trying two turns in the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy on July 30 at the Spa.
Team Dominus, which consists of trainer Steve Asmussen and owners George Bolton, Stonestreet Stables, and Spendthrift Farm, decided after the Jim Dandy to bypass the 1 ¼-mile Travers in favor of the Foxwoods King's Bishop. The fact the Foxwoods King's Bishop is the final major sprint stakes available to 3-year-olds was a major factor in the team's decision to send Dominus to the King's Bishop, according to Bolton .
“The turn back in distance felt right to us,” said Bolton . “Now we back him up to a distance where we know he's comfortable. This is the time, this is the week where it makes the most sense shortening him up instead of stretching him out another furlong.”
Dominus, tabbed at 6-1 on the morning line, will leave from post 4 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
Asmussen also will send out Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by VisitNassauCounty.com winner Justin Phillip, who enters Saturday's race off a fourth in the Grade 2 Amsterdam. Ramon Dominguez has the assignment aboard the Zayat Stables representative, who drew post 6 and was installed at 15-1 on the morning line.
Swilcan Stable's Poseidon's Warrior will ship up from trainer Robert Reid, Jr.'s base at Parx Racing to contest the Foxwoods King's Bishop. After opening his career with a record of 2-1-1 from seven starts, Poseidon's Warrior appears to be hitting his best stride, having drawn off to a 10-length allowance victory on June 19 at Parx and kicking away to a 6 ¼-length score in Penn National's East Hanover on July 30.
“I ran him back too quick [as a juvenile], and he really blossomed after we gave him a break over the winter,” said Reid. “He had a couple of starts off the layoff and really matured before his last two starts. He doesn't need the lead. He'll rate.”
Frank Pennington will come in to ride Poseidon's Warrior, a 20-1 longshot on the morning line, from post 5.
The Foxwoods King's Bishop field also includes Runflatout, who makes the trek from Hollywood Park off a fourth in the Grade 2 Swaps on July 9, and Cool Blue Red Hot, third in the Dwyer.
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