Sunday, April 10, 2011

No, No, Mo

Well, it's been nearly a full thirty three years since America has seen it's last Triple Crown winner, and seemingly that long since I last updated my blog.

With the Derby preps in full swing, and the smell of roses in the air, I'm back to blogging.   We are just under four weeks from "The Greatest Two Minutes In Sports". 

This past weekend saw a disappointing effort from what definitely seemed our best hope to reverse the trend of non Triple Crown winners.  Last fall, Uncle Mo stamped himself as the "TC redeemer" with his electrifying two year old campaign.  Culminating with his authoritative Breeders' Cup Juvenile triumph, he took Two year old Eclipse honors with the promise of much bigger, and brighter to come.

Before Saturday, he had one three year old race under his belt.  A familiar stroll around the Gulfstream Park oval, with his usual disassembling of his overmatched rivals.

Saturday's  one million dollar Wood Memorial Stakes, was to be his final preparation on his way to racing immortality.  Unfortunately, something happened on the way to Louisville, and his shocking third place finish has brought every naysayer, "dosage dope", and hater out of the woodwork to claim that Mo can't go when it comes to the ten furlong May Classic.

I on the other hand, an avid "goad kicker" myself, and never one to relish ten cent on the dollar returns, find myself actually defending Mo in his run for greatness.

Sure there wasn't a great field assembled in this year's Wood.  I'll even agree to the fact that any true self respecting Kentucky Derby, and Triple Crown king needs to beat up on a field like this one before the coronation can continue.  Come May 7th, the Mo we saw Saturday, will not be the same Mo we see staring out from one of the two overstuffed masses of padded steel towards the most hallowed quarter of a mile in American racing.

To me, Saturday was a result of an otherwise dominant horse, running a sub par performance, on perhaps an abnormal surface.

The track surface at Aqueduct seemed a little interesting to me.  All day, the leaders at the top of the lane seemed to have a hard time finishing the last sixteenth.  Never more evident than in the two previous stake races run before the Wood Memorial.

In the Grade III Bay Shore, 2-1 second choice Vengeful Wildcat sat a perfect stalking trip behind pacesetter Smoke It Right.  Rider Carlos Marquez asked him to pick it up, and quickly dismissed the leader at the quarter pole, and appeared a certain winner until the last 1/16 when J J Lucky Train was able to gobble up the leader in the final hundred yards.

One race later, in the Grade I Carter, 7/5 favorite Apriority was another one who looked all a winner at the top of the lane.  Apriority  made a "winning" move at the quarter pole and left eventual winner The Morning Line "grinding" a few lengths back in third.  Looking as if the heavily backed favorite would win comfortably, The Morning Line was able to pick up a suddenly laboring Apriority in the final few yards. 

Visually, the last three stakes of the day were run strikingly similar, and tends to lead me to believe that Uncle Mo's disappointing result was due IN PART to circumstances beyond his control.  That's not to excuse his part in this whole debacle whatsoever.  As I said earlier, I believe a couple of circumstances came together to produce his poor result.  He ran a sub par race, and wasn't going to catch a break on this surface.

indisputably, up until 5:48 Eastern time Saturday afternoon, Uncle Mo had no equal when it came to the three year old picture.  He most certainly would have been a paltry 3 or 4-5 when he entered the gate for Derby 137.  After Saturday's disappointment, he's certain to be a more enticing 3 or 4-1.  Something I hope to take full advantage of.

All of a sudden people are starting to look at the Derby as a "wide open" affair.  I have to disagree.  True The Factor, and Dialed In are talented horses, and have come the closest to separate themselves from the "other" three year olds, but The Factor is slightly untested, and Dialed In has shown limitations in his brief career.  Not to mention the fact that with Premier Pegasus off the KD trail, this is the first time in memory that the west coast is lacking a true Derby contender. 

This is why I believe we can still hope for history this year.  To me, If this is the worst Uncle Mo can give, then we may be in for some special kind of five week ride come late spring.

---R.I.P. Misty