Uncle Mo won't run in the Kentucky Derby today because of a puzzling ailment that has reduced his appetite and energy. The loss of the biggest name in a field already short on star power makes the race even more wide open .
Owner Mike Repole announced the decision to scratch the colt yesterday, about 40 minutes before Derby wagering opened. Uncle Mo was the 9/2 second choice. His absence reduced the field for the 137th Derby to 19 horses. Dialed In was the 4/1 early favourite.
In 2009, favourite I Want Revenge was scratched on the morning of the Derby with a career-ending leg injury. A week before last year's Derby, heavy favourite Eskendereya dropped out with a bad ankle.
"It shows how tough our business is and how unfortunate it is, too," said Dialed In's trainer Nick Zito. "We all would have liked to see him run. It's devastating."
The Derby dreams of Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher aren't completely dashed. Repole owns and Pletcher trains 20/1 shot Stay Thirsty, but their biggest hopes rested with Uncle Mo.
"Our confidence level with a healthy Uncle Mo would have been pretty high," Pletcher said. Jockey John Velazquez, winless in 12 Derbys, lost his mount on Uncle Mo. He was then named to ride Animal Kingdom, replacing Robby Albarado, who broke his nose in a spill this week. Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Stay Thirsty.
Aidan O'Brien saddles Master Of Hounds in the hunt for the £795,000 winner's prize. The John Magnier-owned colt returns to Churchill Downs after finishing sixth there last November in the Grade Two Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert empathised with Pletcher, having lost two of his other contenders, The Factor and Jaycito, on the road to the Derby.
"You're never safe until you put that saddle on because anything can happen," said Baffert, who will saddle Midnight Interlude. "Everybody says there's no woofing (boasting) in your sport. That's because we don't want to jinx ourselves. You woof when you win."
Pletcher, who trained Eskendereya, still won his first Derby last year with long shot Super Saver.
"Honestly, I've never had a horse as good as Uncle Mo," he said. "To not make it here is a big let-down."
Uncle Mo's illness, which began as a gastrointestinal inflammation, was discovered after he was upset as the heavy favourite in the Wood Memorial on April 9. He led for most of the way before finishing third, beaten by a length.
Pletcher said Uncle Mo had a GI infection, but no one is sure if it was the main issue or a secondary problem. The colt's blood work showed a specific enzyme was elevated, and the vets couldn't explain why.