Kentucky Derby Prep Racing: Why Is Uncle Mo Not Entered in the Tampa Bay Derby?

Jeff DebeleCorrespondent IMay 30, 2016

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While the horse racing public has been waiting for Uncle Mo’s first start since last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, trainer Todd Pletcher has been grappling with which race to enter him in.

Should he enter Uncle Mo in Saturday’s Grade 1 Tampa Bay Derby for a purse of $350,000? Or should he enter him in a much less lucrative Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park? Well, Pletcher did what anyone facing such a difficult decision would do.

He entered him in both.

This was a good decision for the time being, but eventually Pletcher knew he would have to make a decision.

It has since then been determined that Uncle Mo will be racing Saturday at Gulfstream in a small six-horse field in the Timely Writer Stakes. Nevertheless, before scratching out of the Tampa Bay Derby, Uncle Mo was dubbed as the morning-line favorite at 3-5 odds. With status as a heavy favorite, why would Pletcher be so inclined to enter Uncle Mo in a much less prestigious race?

The first of many answers is that Uncle Mo already has over a million dollars in earnings, which is more than enough to enter the Kentucky Derby. In fact, he has almost $500,000 more in earnings than the next in line on the list, Gourmet Dinner.

The second answer is that Pletcher has another highly regarded horse, Brethren, already entered in the Tampa Bay Derby. With $120,000 in earnings, Brethren is currently 23rd on the earnings list for three-year olds and could certainly use a large piece of the $350,000 purse in the Tampa Bay Derby to ensure his status as a starter in the 137rd running of the Kentucky Derby this May.

Third, with a layoff of over four months, it could be risky for Uncle Mo’s mentality to throw him into heavy competition right off the bat against Grade 1 runners. It makes much more sense to enter him in the weaker field at Gulfstream and let him get his legs under him in racing conditions before facing tougher competition in a later Grade 1 prep race. This could be a great tune-up for the Florida Derby on April 3rd.

The last major advantage looks further into the future and into the Triple Crown trail as a whole. By not forcing Uncle Mo to grind it out against some very tough horses, Pletcher is potentially saving his Uncle Mo in terms of stamina for the grind that is the Triple Crown. If this horse is as good at its connections and the betting public think he is, then maybe this move could result in the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Of course, this decision does not come without its drawbacks for Todd Pletcher. First of all, there is the risk that Uncle Mo may not take this weaker field as seriously as he should and may not get enough out of what is now essentially a workout for him. It also does not give Uncle Mo an idea of the type of competition he will be facing at the Kentucky Derby.

Nevertheless, it does appear that the numerous benefits outweigh these potential disadvantages. While the betting public may not like the idea of two heavy chalks in two of Florda’s highest-profile races on Saturday, it does appear to be the right move for Todd Pletcher and both of his top horses.

After all, in a twenty-horse field as unpredictable as the Kentucky Derby, having two horses entered is always better than one.