Kentucky Derby hopeful Uncle Mo gets in a morning workout with exercise… (John Sommers II / Reuters )
Reporting from Louisville, Ky.
Mike Repole is the kind of guy who doesn't mind a little attention from the media, but he admitted Thursday he'd definitely prefer to be answering questions this week about how good it feels to have the Kentucky Derby favorite as opposed to questions about whether his horse, Uncle Mo, will even run.
Repole took questions from reporters for nearly 15 minutes outside trainer Todd Pletcher's barn Thursday morning, but it still isn't known whether Uncle Mo will be in the starting gate come Saturday as he tries to recover from a gastrointestinal illness.
Repole did, however, vow that he and Pletcher and their team of veterinarians will make a decision by Friday morning about Uncle Mo's status. The horse, who was the juvenile champion last year, is having blood work done as well as several other tests. He looked good in his morning workout, but that doesn't indicate whether he'll be able to hold up for 1 1/4 miles.
"When it's an external problem, everyone knows what's going on," Repole said. "But when it's internal, you just don't know. I've asked him, but he doesn't talk. You have to go by his energy, his appetite and his attitude, and all of those are up. But how do you know if he's 80%, 90% or 100%? You don't really know."
Repole has said that if Uncle Mo isn't 100%, he'll have no problem scratching him and focusing on the Preakness Stakes. He even went so far as to say that if all three equine veterinarians say Uncle Mo is cleared to run, but Pletcher doesn't feel comfortable doing it, then Uncle Mo will be scratched.
"We'll know by [Friday]," Repole said. "We owe to him, we owe to the fans, we owe it to the media. If he's not 100% [Friday], he's not going to be 100% on Saturday."
The mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer, stopped by Uncle Mo's barn on Thursday and Repole joked that he was going to try to convince Fischer to push the Derby back a week so that Uncle Mo could run. He has never wavered in his belief that Uncle Mo is by far the best horse in the field. He even went so far as to say this week that Uncle Mo could have won the Derby as a 2-year-old.
"I've dreamed about this for 30 years," Repole said. "We've got what we know is the best horse here this year, and probably the best horse of the last 20 years. I wanted to enjoy the moment, and to be honest with you, it's been tough. Racing needs superstars, and Uncle Mo, if he's 100%, could be that superstar."
Zayat can't help but remember
Occasionally, Ahmed Zayat will watch a clip of the 2010 Wood Memorial and daydream. He tries not to do it too much, but he can't help but think about what might have been.
Watching a horse as good as Eskendereya will do that to an owner. A year ago, after Zayat's horse dominated the Wood Memorial, Eskendereya came to Louisville as a huge favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. But before the week even began, he was scratched with a leg injury, and he was retired shortly after.
"Every time I watch, with my son Justin, his Wood Memorial, the race gives me goose bumps," Zayat said. "The sheer dominance, the beauty and the majesty of thoroughbreds. That was a horse that was once in a lifetime. In the bottom of my heart he would have won the Triple Crown. It is very hard to think, 'What if?' "
Zayat, however, would be happy to forget about last year's race if he could get a little luck this year. He made it back to the Derby with Nehro, the Louisiana Derby winner, and his horse has flown under the radar a bit this week with all the focus on Uncle Mo and Dialed in. Nehro is currently listed at 6-1 odds, even though he's stuck in the No. 19 post position, a spot that has never produced a winner in the history of the race. Still, Zayat feels his horse has been training so well, he's good enough to overcome what he's facing.
"His energy level is unbelievable," Zayat said. "Believe it or not, I think he's actually gained weight. This horse keeps showing us every sign of a horse that is going to put in a big performance."
Baffert thinks Mo looks fine
After years of putting his foot in his mouth, Bob Baffert has come up with something he likes to call "The 10 Minute Rule."
He'll talk to the media about whatever they want, but only for 10 minutes. After that, he says, he tends to say stuff he later regrets. So when reporters gathered around his barn Thursday morning to get his thoughts on the horses entered in this year's Kentucky Derby, including his own horse, Midnight Interlude, he playfully checked his watch every few minutes.
"When I first came here, I felt like I had to talk to everybody and give them good stuff," Baffert said. "But my wife taught me that when I talk too much, after 10 minutes, I start babbling, and that's when I get myself in trouble."
But Baffert still couldn't resist saying a few things people may deem controversial, including that he isn't quite buying the mysterious illness that has stricken Uncle Mo in recent weeks.