Archive for Uncle Mo

Will The Mediocrity of 2011’s Sophomores Create a Stronger Handicap Division for 2012???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Paul Moran of ESPN…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Wait Until Next Year

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — With no Grade 1 races restricted to 3-year-olds remaining in 2011, it has been the year of one and done.

Each in his allotted 15 minutes of fame, the slow and inconsistent have in turn stood in the winner’s circle on big days, from Miami to Saratoga and through the Triple Crown. Despite what is a clear imbalance to the advantage of the downside, there may be an upside hidden in the assessment of the current gaggle of 3-year-olds who have spent the year in a fruitless search of a leader when there was really none in the first place.

Saturday’s Travers Stakes, won by the classic horse-for-the-course Stay Thirsty, was the 10th Grade 1 stakes of the year in the division and the winner, whose running time for 10 furlongs rivaled the U.S. Postal Service, is the 10th Grade 1-winning 3-year-old of 2011. The winners of the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational were unplaced in the Travers, a result appropriate to the season’s tone and on a day when the champion 2-year-old of 2010 would be beaten in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, a race that left the distinct impression that Uncle Mo, stablemate of the Travers winner, is clearly a horse with limited range and great ability if permitted to take advantage of his strength and aptitude. This may have been the most valuable thing learned on Travers day.

The upside to serial mediocrity: None of the 10 3-year-old Grade 1 winners of 2011 are likely to be retired for breeding purposes at year’s end. Gelding them all would make more sense, but certainly they will be kept in training and return to competition at age four. This at least guarantees depth in terms of numbers for the major races for older horses next year, a pool that has been shallow for a very long time. Given the distinct possibility that some of these horses will improve with age, some may even provide a greater degree of consistency. The return of an injured Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who many believe has always been the best of this group, would add an interesting element and the possibility that one or more of the current 3-year-olds will advance sufficiently to make a substantial impact, would well result in a season of interesting competition in what was once called the handicap division. Among those currently at the upper crust of that group, only 6-year-old Tizway, winner of the Metropolitan and Whitney Handicaps, is certain to be retired to stud for the 2012 breeding season.

So, what has been far less than a banner year in either division, could lead to competition among older horses next season that if not memorable could be at least entertaining.

Though he has not been a participant in the division’s dance of the indecisive, the recovered Uncle Mo is an interesting element now that he has returned to competition. He was defeated by Caleb’s Posse at the wire in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, but Uncle Mo produced a huge effort in his first race since April, when he was found to be suffering from a liver ailment.

Uncle Mo is not a robust horse, nor one who gives the impression of being suited to distance. But he is a fast horse, probably best at between 6 furlongs and a mile. Given the long gap in his form and lack of a Grade 1 title at age three, there is scant opportunity for Uncle Mo to make an impact this year sufficient to merit retirement, so, barring injury the potential exists for his return at age four. Top milers are exciting horses with great public appeal and 2012 could see two. The Factor is emerging in California as such a horse. A healthy 4-year-old Uncle Mo, kept to races of eight furlongs or less, could be a very interesting animal in a compelling division.

The summer has seen a succession of 2-year-olds who have shown great potential in the nascent stage of their careers. With the current 3-year-olds facing the formidable task of competition with older horses for the first time in the fall, what has been eight months of disappointment and upset is not likely to reverse course. Without much to look forward to in the near term, waiting for next year may hold some promise. This year’s famine could become, if not next year’s feast, perhaps a buffet.


Could a Few Small Changes To Entering Racing’s Biggest Race Make it Substantially Better???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Evan Hammonds of The Blood-Horse…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

A Bettor Derby Day

The Thoroughbred racing industry should be riding the “high” it got off this year’s rendition of America’s greatest horse race, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). A record attendance for the day under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs followed the third-largest crowd for Oaks day. Solid betting figures, decent television ratings, and a winner with an outspoken owner—what will he say next?—make for a nice run-up to the May 21 Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

Anyone who would want to mess with the Derby would stir champagne, right?

No institution, however sacred, is immune to change. In 1957, geldings were finally permitted to compete in the Belmont Stakes. In 1983, The Jockey Club accepted women members. In 1997, Keeneland installed a public-address system and hired a race caller. Just last month Churchill Downs ran the Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III) under the lights for the first time.

The Derby itself might benefit from a few tweaks, particularly as they relate to how the final field is determined and how post positions are drawn.

Following a 23-horse cavalry charge in the 100th Kentucky Derby in 1974 and a 21-horse field in 1981, the field size has been limited to 20 starters. While many have proposed to limit the field to less than that, 20 doesn’t always mean 20.

Consider the 2011 Run for the Roses. The race drew 22 entries the Wednesday before the race, with only 20 permitted to start based on their graded stakes earnings. On that Friday, Uncle Mo was scratched, but the rules did not permit Sway Away, No. 21 on the earnings list, to join the field. Needless to say, the colt’s connections were not pleased when 19 went postward, with trainer Jeff Bonde calling Sway Away a “victim of the system.”

Most other races in North America allow also-eligibles. The nation’s tote system can handle the 24 entries on the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Why shouldn’t the Derby draw a 22-horse field with a pair of also-eligibles that could draw in should there be a defection or two?

In 2002, Windward Passage, the winner of that year’s Rebel Stakes (gr. III), was No. 21 on the list and didn’t draw into the field despite the scratch of Danthebluegrassman the day before the Derby. The breeder/owner of Windward Passage? Team Valor Racing, headed by Barry Irwin, who won this year’s Derby with Animal Kingdom.

“It’s not so much an owner’s question as it is how it affects the bettors,” Irwin said recently. “It’s the advance wagering on Friday; that’s the issue as far as I can see.”

It’s an issue that doesn’t hold a whole lot of water. While there is advance wagering, it has traditionally been a small fraction of what is bet on the Derby. And, as more wagering moves online, refunds become less of a hassle.

For the owners, it allows that shot at the roses, despite the longshot odds. As for Windward Passage, he shipped to Texas and finished fourth in the Lone Star Derby (gr. III).

“In real life if your horse is that far down on the list, the chances of your horse being the Derby winner are pretty slim anyway,” Irwin said. “So, if you’re going to knock out a contender, that’s one thing; but if you’re just filling the gate, that’s another thing.”

Once horses are entered, there needs to be a better way of determining post positions. A blind draw is fine for a giveaway at a carnival or a kid’s birthday party, but a blind draw for a sporting event of the Derby’s magnitude is wrong. While it creates some suspense and garners some airtime, it’s time for this method to go.

We couldn’t agree more with Matthew Gatsas’ “Industry Voices” editorial in the April 30 edition of The Blood-Horse (page 1156). He wrote: “Simply give the connections of the top earner the first pick, continue down the list, and the 20th selection goes to the final qualifier.”

He pointed out that no other major sport relies on the blind draw, and he’s right. Home field advantage in the playoffs based on regular season performance is in play for the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. The fastest qualifiers get the best slots in NASCAR and other motor sports. Even the NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments—March Madness—are seeded.

While there are plenty of upsets during March Madness, and the No. 1-seeded teams don’t always reach the Final Four, everyone knows the best horse doesn’t always win the Derby. That’s the sporting life. However, in the case of the Derby, the better horses have earned the right to be given better chances.


Handicapping the Derby: Picking a Winner or Picking Your Favorite Excuse???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Eric Crawford of The Courier-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Cornering The Market on Sorry Excuses

In most sports, nobody wants to hear excuses from losers. Coaches even go so far as to say, “We’re not going to make excuses,” before they rattle off, that’s right, a series of excuses.

But horse racing is different. In horse racing, the excuse is a respected tradition, a hopeful harbinger even.

In no other sport are fans so eager to “throw out” a bad performance, and nowhere else in sports is the solid excuse for defeat so welcome by the public. The compelling excuse is the get-out-of-jail free card of thoroughbred handicapping.

You’re bound to hear anything. The most famous excuse, perhaps, came in Secretariat’s third-place loss in the Wood Memorial. The tooth abscess that vets discovered was a Triple Crown excuse. It was (1) a nagging but not serious condition that (2) affected the horse’s ability to run but (3) had no bearing on his soundness.

More dubious are the nonspecific excuses, old standbys like “didn’t like the track,” “bad trip” and “didn’t like the distance,” which can be legitimate but must be judged on a case-by-case basis. Too often they are used as a matter of habit, in the “dog ate my bullet work” fashion.

Which brings us to the current Derby field. Seven of the expected 20 starters are coming off victories — but don’t think they aren’t in need of excuses.

Blue Grass winner Brilliant Speed, for instance, lost his only two dirt starts by 19¼ and 21 lengths. And there really is no excuse for that.

Of the others in that group, Toby’s Corner, Pants On Fire, Twice the Appeal and Animal Kingdom might not need an excuse after winning their last race, but they probably need one for just about every other race of their careers.

And then there are your favorites. Dialed In, the only winner of multiple graded stakes races this year, is dismissed from the excuse discussion. He won the Grade III Holy Bull, then could be said to have bounced (receded after a big effort, another historic excuse) to finish second against nonstakes company before winning the Florida Derby.

If Dialed In bounced in his second race of the year, Uncle Mo flushed. He was the probable top choice in the morning line before finishing third in the Wood Memorial, but he’s easily the top choice for best excuse. His connections said he had a gastrointestinal problem that slowed him in the Wood. Who can’t identify with that?

Connections of Soldat, fourth in the Florida Derby, said he didn’t like dirt in his face, and later trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he didn’t get a good trip (i.e., couldn’t lead wire to wire). On Sunday he added breaking from the No. 1 hole — another classic excuse, the post position.

As excuses go, that’s not a bad effort, certainly better than Todd Pletcher’s Stay Thirsty got after the same race. Pletcher said he had “no excuse” after finishing seventh but on Sunday got into the spirit.

“Stay Thirsty came to the paddock and he was completely drenched,” Pletcher said. “It was almost like an overheating thing. … I don’t know if the heat affected a number of horses, but I thought it was a peculiar race.”

There are others. Mucho Macho Man lost a shoe in the Louisiana Derby. Jockey Kerwin Clark said Decisive Moment was “a tad confused running on Polytrack” in the Spiral Stakes. Tom Walters, who owns Santiva, said his horse “got buried inside” and “never really got to run” while finishing ninth as the beaten favorite in the Blue Grass.

You get the picture. In a wide-open year, in addition to trying to pick the best horse, you also might want to pick the best excuse.


Disclosure In Horse Racing: How Much Does The Horseplayer Deserve To Know???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Ray Paulick of The Paulick Report…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Does Racing Need Mo Disclosure?

Mike Repole’s Uncle Mo arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday, still dogged by questions about his first career defeat in the Wood Memorial on April 9. Last year’s 2-year-old champion had no response when challenged in the final furlong of the Wood, finishing third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Toby’s Corner.

Some questions have gone beyond Uncle Mo’s performance, dealing with more philosophical questions about transparency in the area of veterinary medicine and racehorses.

For example, more than a few observers wondered about that freshly shaved rectangular patch below Uncle Mo’s right knee. Could it be a splint bone issue, a skin problem, or was the area ultrasounded for diagnosis only?

Others noticed markings on both of Uncle Mo’s shins indicating pinfiring, something that could have occurred many months ago. And then there was what appeared to be a right hind foot with an Equilox patch, a remedy that could indicate the need for reinforcement due to a quarter crack, bad hoof walls, or simply a complication from shoeing.

We don’t know, and probably never will.

The real question is whether or not it’s anyone’s business other than the owner of the horse.

It is the prevailing philosophy in American racing, as well as in the breeding and auction arena, that such information is private. Disclosure seems to be a dirty word in this business, whether it’s surgeries on racehorses, leg-straightening procedures on foals who will later be offered at weanling, yearling and 2-year-old sales, or medications given to horses before auctions or races.

Is there a connection between this veil of secrecy and the growing distrust and skepticism consumers seem to be exhibiting about the Thoroughbred industry? Or is this much adieu about nothing?

For their part, owner Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher have practiced partial disclosure. Following Uncle Mo’s defeat, they issued a statement saying the colt came out of the Wood Memorial with a gastrointestinal tract infection. The disclosure of the infection was preceded by this comment from Pletcher: “Although it is not my standard practice to share a horse’s examination results with anyone other than the owner, I feel that Uncle Mo’s disappointing performance in the Wood Memorial warrants an explanation.”

Their explanation for Uncle Mo’s performance didn’t include a treatment plan. Would he be given therapeutic medication, a special diet, or perhaps spend some time at a clinic with a hyperbaric (oxygen) chamber?

Again, is it any of our business?

That depends. Mike Repole owns the horse and pays the bills to take care of him. But many of the people who bet on horse racing believe they have a right to know what kind of injuries a horse may have had, what veterinary procedures that horse has undergone, and what medications he may be receiving.

Repole is a horseplayer. If he had no connection to Uncle Mo, do you think he might be curious to know about that shaved area on the right foreleg before he made a bet on the Wood? If he was playing the Derby Futures Wager, and there was widespread talk among racetrack veterinarians that Uncle Mo may have had a chip removed from his knee after the Breeders’ Cup in November, is that something Repole the horseplayer would be interested in knowing?

There are veterinary-client privilege laws throughout the United States, but horse racing is a highly regulated, government controlled industry. Many states require disclosure of information regarding the gelding of a horse or what raceday medications a horse receives. The long arm of regulations could be expanded.

Complete disclosure is practiced in what many consider the world’s most successful racing program in Hong Kong. Surgeries, lameness diagnoses and medications are fully disclosed and available to the public at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s website. In my opinion, that kind of disclosure builds confidence in the wagering public.

Here’s an example: Sacred Kingdom, the 2010 Hong Kong Horse of the Year, had colic surgery last March and was diagnosed as lame on three different occasions. (Click here to read his veterinary report.) That kind of information is available on every horse stabled at an HKJC track.

In addition, horseplayers in Hong Kong are provided complete information on every horse competing in advance of each racing program. For example, click here for a look at tomorrow night’s starters in the seventh race at Happy Valley.

“We have complied and published records on our official website for about 10 years,” said Bill Nader, the former New York Racing Association executive who now serves as the executive director of racing for the HKJC. “The Jockey Club website is content rich, embraces transparency and our customers have come to expect the highest standard of information delivery. So, it is all good.”

Nader acknowledges that it’s a lot easier to practice complete disclosure under Hong Kong’s controlled environment.

“The built-in advantage here,” he said, “is a captive horse population as only nine of our races are truly open to outsiders, the rest are for horses stabled at Sha Tin. Also, all vets are employed by the Jockey Club.

“Customer experience is the one thing that nearly every industry must respect and horse racing is no exception,” Nader added. “Reporting veterinary findings, whether on an odds-on favorite that has run poorly or any horse whether it be in a Class 5 or a Group 1, is good customer service. If a horse bleeds or suffers from a heart irregularity, we will announce it over our public-address system within an hour after the race. We strive to present the best racing and betting product in the world and, by doing so, we are meeting customer expectations. The fundamentals required to do this are quality racing, big betting pools that offer high liquidity, competitive racing with regard to runners per race (12.5) and integrity. Through greater transparency, we only take integrity to a higher level.”

Average daily pari-mutuel handle on each of Hong Kong’s 83 racing programs is US$123 million and growing (that’s more than was wagered in the pari-mutuel pools on the 2010 Kentucky Derby).

They must be doing something right.


Mike Repole Embodies What Is “Good For The Game”

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Finley of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Be Like Mike

I never really believed much in the idea that something can be “good for the game.” If a horse were to win a Triple Crown there would still be 3,009 people at Belmont the following Wednesday. As marvelous as she was, Zenyatta’s exploits have done nothing to save California racing from getting off to a miserable start in 2011. Few things in the sport, no matter how great or marvelous they may be, seem to have much of a carryover effect.

But in Uncle Mo and his owner Mike Repole, we may actually have something that is “good for the game,” something that could help lift horse racing out of its ongoing malaise. That’s what makes them so easy to root for.

There’s no doubt that should Uncle Mo sweep Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont he will create the sort of excitement that racing hasn’t seen in more than 30 years and put 100,000-plus people in the seats at Belmont come June 11. But as great as Uncle Mo appears to be, it is Repole that might just do more for the sport than anyone has in a long time.

If Uncle Mo gets to the Belmont Stakes undefeated, Repole, who doesn’t shy away from publicity, is going to become the face of racing, and that would be a good thing. Not only is he a terrific representative of the sport, he leads by example and maybe he can chip away at some of the mindsets that have been so counterproductive to the game’s overall well being.

Repole, more so than any one else, puts the sport first, which makes him a breath of fresh air in an era when self-interests almost always prevail.

That’s why he has already announced that if Uncle Mo stays healthy he will race next year as a 4-year-old. Repole, a very rich guy, gets it that the many millions that Uncle Mo could put in his pocket the minute he stops being a race horse and becomes a sire won’t change his life one bit. He’d much rather enjoy watching the horse race and treating the racing fan to at least one more year of watching this potential superstar on the racetrack. Who knows, maybe Uncle Mo will run at five, maybe six.

That sort of thinking sounds so logical, but very few ever keep their good horses racing a second longer than they have to. Greed wins out just about every time.

For obvious reasons, Repole loves Uncle Mo, but he seems to love all of his horses. Repole always goes the extra mile to make sure that anything that comes into his barn never has to worry about their post-racing careers. He is among the most generous donors in the sport when it comes to thoroughbred rescue charities and he showered an old claimer he owned named Cool N Collective with love and affection when throwing him a retirement party last year at Aqueduct before sending him off to a cushy life.

He does everything he can to help promote the sport. A busy guy, Repole makes himself accessible to the media and is always friendly and upbeat when he does. He is particularly good to New York racing, which is why he told trainer Todd Pletcher that Uncle Mo would go in the Wood Memorial instead of the Florida Derby. Repole wanted to do something for the Big A, the same track where he discovered racing. He grew up in Middle Village, Queens, not far from Aqueduct.

Not that any of this should come as a surprise. Repole is the guy who appears to be too good to be true but apparently isn’t.

The co-founder of Glaceau, the company that makes Vitaminwater and Smartwater, he sold his business to Coca Cola for $4.1 billion. Yet, he is the least pretentious filthy rich person you could ever find. Usually seen in sweatshirts and jeans, he dresses like a kid from Queens that refuses to grow up, which is exactly what he is. He remains loyal to his neighborhood friends, donates millions to charities, calls his parents every day and helps look after an ailing grandmother. We learned from a feature story on Repole in the New York Daily News that he talked his brother into retiring from the police department and helped set him up in the real estate business so that no one would have to worry about his safety.

“I’m not delusional about how lucky I am,” he told the Daily News. “I’m truly blessed. I’m so appreciate of every thing given to me. I’m very fortunate and now I try to give back in as many ways as possible.”

Maybe Repole is just one in a million. Then again, maybe there are others in the sport that will see what he does and how he goes about his business and decide to emulate him. If he can do it, others can. Be like Mike, be “good for the game.”