This is one time logic should be thrown out the proverbial window. Yes, it makes more sense for Uncle Mo to point for the Kelso mile and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. But if he does go that route, then all one can say is, big deal.
Be honest now, can you name off the top of your head the four previous winners of the Dirt Mile? How about three or even two? If not, here you go – Corinthian, Albertus Maximus, Furthest Land, and Dakota Phone. Decent horses, but hardly a roster of champions.
Uncle Mo, after nearly winning the grade I King’s Bishop off a four-month layoff and a severe, lingering illness, should be at least given the opportunity to strive for greatness, even though the odds are against him being conditioned and battle-tested enough to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1 ¼ miles. Then why subject the horse to such an arduous task?
Because this horse has extraordinary talent and has true greatness in him. He was born with it and displayed it in his three starts last year, accomplishing amazing feats in all three races. And he's already run huge around two turns and ran well enough in the Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles this year, despite his illness.
Because going from the grade I King’s Bishop to the grade II Kelso and then the Dirt Mile, which would be a grade II race based on its previous winners, would do little to confirm his greatness. He would have to come back and win the Cigar Mile, a much more prestigious race and a much more coveted race to breeders looking for that special classy and brilliant horse at a mile.
Because if he runs in the Pennsylvania Derby and shows he is not up to two turns at this stage of his career, then he can always drop back to one turn and go for the Dirt Mile, no harm done. Yes, the Pennsylvania Derby also is grade II, but carries more prestige than the Kelso. Even if he wins the Pennsylvania Derby and Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole have a change of heart, they can still change course back to the Dirt Mile. But this gives them two ways to go.
Because if he runs off with the Pennsylvania Derby it would at least provide him with a good launching pad for the Classic. Even if he fails in the Classic he would at least prove an excellent compliment to his now well-established stablemate, Stay Thirsty, and could still come back in a month and run in the Cigar Mile and end the year in a blaze of glory. Then, if he and Stay Thirsty should remain in training next year, they can go their separate ways and attempt to leave their mark on the history books doing what they do best.
In short, the Classic could catapult Uncle Mo’s reputation into the stratosphere (even to a lesser degree if he finishes second or even a close third), while a victory in the Dirt Mile would be nothing more than a big win on that day and still serve pretty much as a prep for the Cigar Mile, his ace in the hole in case the Classic doesn’t pan out. If he wins the Cigar Mile against older horses, no one will hold a Classic defeat against him and he would go off to stud a red-hot stallion prospect if they do decide to retire him.
This is not meant to knock the Dirt Mile, a race which needs a big-time winner to establish its place on the list of prestigious stakes. But for now, it has not provided that or a rock-solid foundation after four years.
I realize that this opinion will incur mostly opposing views, but racing needs a spark right now, especially on the Classic scene, and may be provided with one should Havre de Grace win the Woodward impressively. I cannot argue with those opposing views. But when it comes to sparks, no horse this year has set off more of them than Uncle Mo, even when he was on the sidelines. Everyone has followed his progress on Facebook and his website. The majority of the media and fans are captivated by him, because they have seen what he is capable of when healthy. And let’s not forget, in his one victory this year, he did beat a horse who went on to finish second in the Travers.
The fact is, his performance in the King’s Bishop (kudos to Pletcher for having him that sharp) under the circumstances was extraordinary. He was nipped at the wire after going nearly five-wide by a classy one-turn closer in a race set up for a closer and galloped out five lengths clear of the winner. There is no place to go now but up. And that means competing at the highest level.
Remember, he still has escape routes if it doesn’t pan out, but we all know what that highest level is.