Bob Baffert isn't buying the gastrointestinal infection story.
"Uncle Mo looks fantastic out there to me.....Everyone is talking about him being 50/50. I think [owner Mike Repole] is just trying to build a price for himself because it sounds like he likes to gamble. He's going to be dangerous. I don't think it's some [gastrointestinal issue], I think he just got tired at the Wood [Memorial]. From what I've seen visually, there is nothing there that tells me the horse isn't ready to run. I'm not buying that crap. He's just trying to steal this race." [LA Times]I had written that if the connections said that Uncle Mo was fine and he ran poorly, then people would think that they, and the sport, was full of it. But it can work the other way around too. If he runs lights out, then no doubt people may suspect what Baffert does (though I figure he had his tongue at least partially implanted in his cheek); or, that Repole was simply trying to preserve the horse's reputation. I'd imagine that there would be some pretty bitter horseplayers come Saturday night should Uncle Mo win at healthy odds, and you know how suspicious they can be.
So there's likely to be a healthy dose of skepticism either no matter what happens. At least we'll find out on Friday morning if he's going to run at all. [UPDATE: Scratched. As he should have been three weeks ago, what a farce.] (In his final workout report, Mike Welsch said that while Uncle Mo looked pretty good on the track, he feels like the horse is "little bit less than 100%," and seems to think he won't run, perhaps taking the word of the owner and trainer who have pledged not to run unless he is 100%. His final comments on each of the entrants can be found here.)
A few more horses of some interest (or not):
Soldat is reported to be training extremely well, bouncing back from his disappointing Florida Derby. Remember, he was actually favored over Derby morning line favorite Dialed In that day. So if you can excuse his ten length defeat, then he might look pretty ok at his 12-1 morning line (preferably higher). His connections say he just had a bad day. “It was just the trip and the draw, a hot day and deep track,” said Kiaran McLaughlin. Soldat is considered to be one of the speed threats off his two front-running wins (the 103 Beyer he earned in his sloppy allowance win will surely attract money should the weather turn bad). However, he has rated successfully in his grass efforts. Maybe those dirt races just weren't that fast - his early Moss pace figures are not in the league with those of speedy types like Shackleford, Comma at the Top, Pants on Fire, and even Decisive Moment. So, I think he'll be tracking the pace, especially considering his outside post.
Soldat is a son of War Front (Danzig), a sprinting type himself, out of a mare by the Wood winner Coronado's Quest. Besides the usual inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, this one has Round Table 5x4. Not too often you see that this close up these days. Not much on the catalog page....a description that I seem to apply to more and more Derby horses over the last few years. I think that the dropoff in overall quality we've seen in Derby fields of late has been totally apparent from a pedigrees standpoint as well. But I digress. Go back to the colt's sixth dam, and you'll find distinguished distance horses such as Fort Marcy, Key to the Mint, Papineau, Silver Patriarch, and Key To Content. So there's some classic distance influence in there somewhere. This one wouldn't be a shocker if he wins.
Santiva (30-1) has a stakes win over the track, and a surface excuse for the poor effort over the Polytrack in the Blue Grass. His prior two to that race were good ones on the dirt. He ran second in the Risen Star to Mucho Macho Man by just a length and a half; yet he figures to be significantly higher than that one on the tote here. Didn't get a ringing endorsements from Welsch however. Son of Giant's Causeway is out of Smarten mare who's a half sister to a couple of crack sprinters in Partner's Hero and, especially, Safely Kept. Hmmm.
Midnight Interlude came out of a maiden race to win the G1 SA Derby, perhaps more a commentary on the strength of that field than a testament to his improvement. He did however earn a 97 Beyer, which makes him one of the fastest horses in this field; and that despite being extremely wide on both turns. Good tactical speed, a nice closing kick (12.3 for the final furlong of the SA Derby despite traffic issues midway), and the training mastery of Bob Baffert. He's a son of War Chant (a stout 7.7 furlong average winning distance) out of a Groom Dancer mare. Again, not much to see on the catalog page as far as notable names on his distaff side; but comes in at a solid 2.47 on the dosage scale. Definitely a possibility, but would demand significantly more than his 10-1 morning line.
Those interested in taking a shot on a horse who could perhaps steal the race up front might want to take a peek at Shackleford (though at his morning line of 12-1, again, seems very light). Big improvement in his near miss in the Florida Derby, earning some solid Moss numbers along the way. Yes, he tired badly as we've noted before - 39.1 for the last three furlongs. But he's reported to be training very well, as evidenced by that bullet five furlong work over the track. Being a son of Forestry, from the Storm Cat line, may not inspire confidence that he could hold on at the Derby distance; but he is a half-brother to Lady Joanne, who won the Alabama at a mile and a quarter.