Smile Politely

Controversy! Intrigue! Suspense!

At last, some word from the Uncle Mo camp on exactly what in the heck went down this past Saturday in the Wood Memorial: following his first career defeat, the juvenile champ was scoped and given the medical pat-down, and on Wednesday night, the veterinarian’s results showed that Mo has a gastro-intestinal tract infection. It sounds horrible to say this, but thank God! At least we can point to something to give us some sort of excuse for Mo’s uncharacteristic performance in what should’ve been a slam-dunk of a race. And while I have no degree in veterinary medicine to deduce if a GI tract infection is a good enough excuse for that dismal third-place finish in the Wood, if it’s anything like a bad stomach ache, I can understand why he didn’t run at 100%. That’s the thing about animals—they can’t tell you when they’re not feeling well.

Because Uncle Mo has been diagnosed with this infection, his status for the Kentucky Derby is on shaky ground. Owner Mike Repole has said he would not run Mo unless he’s 100% healthy. The colt has already begun treatment for the infection, and as trainer Todd Pletcher told Thoroughbred Times, he can train while on the antibiotics. Uncle Mo will ship to Churchill Downs as planned, but you can guarantee the press will be watching every sniffle, every twitch of his ears, every grain in his feed bin prior to the first Saturday in May for signs of the colt’s improvement, or lack thereof.

The FactorSo what about these last two preps for the Kentucky Derby? After the vanquish of the golden boy, it suddenly feels like anyone could step up and be the Next Big Thing. Outside of Mo and Dialed In, the only other horse with any type of winning form would be a gray horse whose pedigree is in doubt of getting the classic distance. All eyes will be on him this Saturday, when The Factor headlines a packed house in the Grade I Arkansas Derby.

The War Front colt has speed to spare, but after Mo’s fall from grace, and the question of his distance limitations, any favorite is suspect. The Factor’s 6 ¼-length margin of victory in the Rebel convinced the world this colt was more than just a sprinter, so one can only hope he can stretch himself out a little further to prove his new status as the early Kentucky Derby favorite is justifiable. But the Bob Baffert-trainee has hardly scared away any competition. A field of thirteen have assembled for the Grade I-affair, including the second and third place finishers of the Rebel Stakes, Caleb’s Posse and Archarcharch, as well as several other familiar faces from that race, like Sway Away and J P’s Gusto. But one of the most intriguing new shooters is Brethren, who was undefeated before a couple of longshots broke his streak in the Tampa Bay Derby. Nehro and Elite Alex enter the race after finishing second and third in the Louisiana Derby. Alternation, who was scratched after flipping in the gate prior to the Rebel Stakes, will try to win the Arkansas Derby in his stakes debut. Quality of graded stakes-placed competition, as well as the genuine dirt surface, makes this a deeper, more legitimate field than you’ll find in the other Kentucky Derby prep this Saturday, the Blue Grass Stakes.

It’s difficult to take the Grade I Blue Grass very seriously as a key Derby prep after you realize it’s been 20 years since the winner of the Blue Grass went on to take the roses in May. Only the ultra-consistent Street Sense, who ran second in this race in 2007, could claim to be a horse who won the Kentucky Derby and also ran in the Blue Grass within the past 15 years. With the installation of the Polytrack at Keeneland, this race can be chalked down to this: consider first those who have performed well over this track in the past, or horses who are actually better suited to the turf. If you use this formula, this does give the favorite, Santiva, an edge. Santiva ran second here in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity, and then went on to win the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in his following start. Twinspired has a win over the Keeneland Poly, as well as the synthetic surface at Turfway Park; he last ran third in the Spiral Stakes there, and could be live in this spot at 12-1. Willcox Inn has finished in the money here, and ran well over the grass in stakes company under the guidance of Rosie Napravnik; the fact she will be in the irons again is a feather in the cap for this colt, who has never been out of the money. Crimson China has the kind of form that could do well here, too, as his past successes on the turf and synthetic has shown. You could basically stick these contenders on the Wheel-of-Fortune and pick a winner as easily as you could handicap one.

With the picture of the Kentucky Derby looking just about as confusing as ever, the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes will either cement the reputation of its most consistent horses, or scramble things beyond recognition. As these are the two last Grade I Kentucky Derby prep races, one would hope we would gain some type of final insight into the crop from its results. Thanks to the entrance of latecomers like Midnight Interlude in the Santa Anita Derby, it appears there is still room for talent to rear its head in the final hours. Will we see even more new blood enter the Derby picture this Saturday, or will a horse finally show us the meaning of the word “consistency?”


The Grade I Arkansas Dery will air live from Oaklawn Park on HRTV. Post time is approximately 6:58pm ET.

The Grade I Blue Grass Stakes will air live from Keeneland on TVG. Post time is approximately 5:45pm ET.

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