NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

UNUNDEFEATED UNCLE MO IS OVERWHELMING FAVORITE IN THE WOOD MEMORIAL

In his final appearance before the Kentucky Derby, undefeated Uncle Mo returns to New York as the overwhelming favorite for Saturday’s Grade I,$1 million Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park, N.Y. Supporting the Wood on Saturday’s card is the 111th renewal of the Grade I, $250,000 Carter Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at seven furlongs and a pair of Grade III events, the $200,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs and the $150,000 Comely Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going a mile.

Since Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in 1930, 20 Derby winners have prepped in the 1 1/8-mile Wood, most recently Funny Cide in 2003. Owner Mike Repole, who grew up in Queens just a few miles north of Aqueduct, would like nothing more than to send Uncle Mo off to Louisville having won his hometown track’s most important race.

“Pleasant Colony was the first horse I remember who won the Wood, and I was there when I was a teenager for Broad Brush [1986], Gulch [1987], and Easy Goer [1989],” said Repole. “To me, Aqueduct was the racetrack, and from being a 13-year-old kid who took the bus there to having the favorite for the Wood is like coming full circle. If I had a choice of what race I wanted to win in New York, other than the Belmont Stakes, it would be the Wood Memorial.”

Nine will line up in the gate on either side of Uncle Mo, who has won his four starts by a combined margin of 27 ¼ lengths. The 1-5 choice on the morning line, Uncle Mo drew post position 5 under regular jockey John Velazquez as he looks to add a third Grade I victory to his resume, having taken the Champagne at Belmont Park and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile en route to the Eclipse Award as 2010’s Top 2-Year-Old Male. A 14 ¼-length maiden winner at Saratoga Race Course last August, Uncle Mo launched his 3-year-old campaign with an easy 3 ¾-length victory over four rivals in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream Park on March 12, further cementing his credentials as the early favorite for the May 7 Run for the Roses.

The Wood will be the third time Uncle Mo has faced nine others, having done so in both his maiden race and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and marks the first time the Indian Charlie colt will travel 1 1/8 miles; the Champagne and the Timely Writer were both one-mile races, while the Juvenile was at 1 1/16 miles.

“He’s never given me any concerns about distance limitations in any of his races or any of his training, so we’re looking forward to it,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who won last year’s Wood with Eskendereya. “We wanted a 1 1/8-mile prep before the Derby, so that’s one of the reasons we chose the Wood a while ago.”

The lone listed stakes winner facing Uncle Mo in Saturday’s 87th edition of the Wood is Toby’s Corner, victorious in the Whirlaway at Aqueduct on February 5 and subsequently third behind Uncle Mo’s stablemate, Stay Thirsty, in the Gotham on March 5. Outfitted with blinkers for the first time, the Bellamy Road colt is the second choice in the Wood at 8-1, having drawn post 2 with Eddie Castro aboard.

“It’s a $1-million race, it’s a Grade I, and it’s 2 ½ hours away,” said trainer Graham Motion on the decision to run Toby’s Corner in the Wood rather than Saturday’s Illinois Derby. “It’s just a ship on the day of the race, while [the Illinois Derby] is a 14-hour ship. I think he’d be the second favorite in either race. I’m not eager to run against Uncle Mo, but the second or third-place money is really good.

The complete field for the Wood Memorial, in post position order, is: Starship Caesar (jockey: Cornelio Velasquez, morning line odds: 50-1) Toby’s Corner (Eddie Castro, 8-1); Full of Scoundrels (C.C. Lopez, 50-1); Arthur’s Tale (Roman Dominguez, 12-1); Uncle Mo (John Velazquez, 1-5); Preachintothedevil (Junior Alvarado, 20-1); Duca (Jon Court, 20-1); Norman Asbjornson (Julian Pimentel, 15-1); Isn’t He Perfect (Channing Hill, 50-1); and Son of Posse (Francisco Maysonett, 99-1). All will carry 123 pounds.

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