Current Kentucky Derby betting favorite and last year’s Breeder’s Cup Juvenile champion Uncle Mo is expected to make his season debut in the Timely Writer Stakes scheduled for March 12 at Gulfstream Park north of Miami. It’s something of a surprising move–the conventional wisdom until now had Uncle Mo running in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs on the same day. Technically speaking, the Timely Writer will likely be a less competitive race–it carries no conditions and is open to all three year old horses and will be run over a one turn mile.
Uncle Mo’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, cited a similar surface to the one his charge trains on at Palm Meadows and the easier logistics as the primary rationale for choosing the Timely Writer over the Tampa Bay Derby:
“The Gulfstream Park surface is very similar to the surface that Mo’s training on every day at Palm Meadows. There’s also the advantage of a 20-minute van ride to Gulfstream as opposed to a four-hour ride to Tampa Bay. Mo’s been training exceptionally well since his return and I am very confident and comfortable with either the Timely Writer or the Tampa Bay Derby.”
The plan is still to race Uncle Mo in the April 9 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as his final preparation before the Kentucky Derby. Uncle Mo’s owner Mike Repole issued the following statement about the decision to race in the Timely Writer:
“Our number one goal and focus is to do what’s best for Uncle Mo; to have a very healthy and successful 3-year-old campaign. Mo has more than enough graded earnings to qualify for the (Kentucky) Derby on May 7. In racing, there’s no one’s opinion I trust more than Todd Pletcher. Just knowing how excited he is about the way Mo’s training is very encouraging. With the race more than two and a half weeks away, hopefully, this will give Mo’s fans ample time to make arrangements to watch his 3-year-old debut.”
There’s still one more issue that could keep Uncle Mo out of the Timely Writer–if the race fails to attract enough entries it could be cut from the Gulfstream schedule. Should that happen, however, Pletcher has kept the Tampa Bay Derby open as an option. Most likely the presence of the presumptive Kentucky Derby favorite would make it an appealing event for enough horses to fill the field. It also means that Pletcher’s other Derby hopeful, Brethren, will be pointed to the Tampa race. Earlier this month Brethren won the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, considered the major prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby.
Uncle Mo has been considered a top challenger for the Kentucky Derby ever since his win in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile last November 6 at Churchill Downs. As of February 21 he was the 7/2 betting favorite in the Wynn Sportsbook futures for the Kentucky Derby and after the end of the first pool of the Churchill Downs based Kentucky Derby Futures Wager he was the top single entry among the betting public at 7/2. As is the case every year after the first pool the mutual field or ‘all other 3 year olds’ was the favorite wagering interest at 6-5.