The Uncle Mo--The Factor showdown never did materialize in the King's Bishop (gr. I) as many had hoped, but by the time the weekend was over there were very few disappointed by what they saw from the pair of dazzling 3-year-olds--both coming off lengthy layoffs.
Uncle Mo was terrific in defeat when missing by a nose to Caleb's Posse in the King's Bishop on Saturday at Saratoga. The Factor was even better when beating older horses in the Pat O'Brien (gr. I) the following day at Del Mar in a freakish performance. For a pair of supremely talented horses who were both Kentucky Derby favorites at one point or another earlier this season, it was good for the sport to see both of them return with such special efforts.
As far as Uncle Mo is concerned, I see no way that he does not make his next start in the one-mile Kelso Handicap (gr. II) Oct. 1 at Belmont, with the main goal now being the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs. (This, of course, is assuming that his blood work checks out OK and he stays in training.) Repole and Pletcher are both still leaving the door open for a possible start in the Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) and then the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), but when stablemate Stay Thirsty won the Travers and became the leader in the 3-year-old division, you would have to think that the plans changed.
As brilliant as Uncle Mo is, he is probably not best suited for 1 1/4 miles, especially given what he has overcome the past few months. Stretching him out to 1 1/8 miles in the Pa. Derby after the kind of effort he just gave and then pushing him to go further in the Classic six weeks later is asking a lot. What makes more sense is keeping Mo at one turn, where he is more comfortable, and at the same time taking on older horses for the first time. They can then point him for the Dirt Mile instead of having him race against Stay Thirsty in the Classic. It makes sense to keep them separated at this point, especially considering a BC Classic win for Stay Thirsty makes him the likely Horse of the Year. Do they really want these two facing off against each other with so much on the line? I don't think so.
Though no decision has been made, there is also probably a good chance that Mo will not race beyond this year, and if that is the case it is probably wise to try to win a couple of races at one mile, which would make him more attractive as a stallion.
Finally, the Kelso is in New York. The Pa. Derby is in Philly. Where do you think Repole wants to see Mo run? All things point in one direction.
If they do point for the Dirt Mile, maybe Mo will finally meet up with The Factor (and possibly Shackleford) in a race the whole sport would love to see. There is no other way to describe The Factor's comeback in the Pat O'Brien except for freaky. He rates off three-time grade I winner Smiling Tiger through a :22 2/4 opening quarter, takes the lead on the inside through a blazing :44 1/5 half-mile, puts him away at the top of the lane while running 1:08 3/5, and then holds off the closers to win in 1:21 2/5 on Polytrack in his first try against older horses? Wow. That is just not supposed to happen.
Obviously, Baffert has options with The Factor. He can either shoot for the BC Sprint or Dirt Mile. Both are around one turn and would be logical spots for a horse that can outrun just about anyone. The Dirt Mile might just hit The Factor between the eyes even more so than the Sprint, given that he can dictate pace but also carry his speed longer distances. We will find out soon enough which way Baffert is leaning.
Wherever these two wind up, they sure gave horse racing a much-needed shot in the arm last weekend.