Comparatively Speaking - By Evan Hammonds


 (Originally published in the March 19, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan Hammonds The legend grows for Mike Repole’s Uncle Mo. His 2-year-old campaign and decisive 3-year-old debut against a marginal field of sophomores March 12 in the newly created Timely Writer Stakes continues to draw comparisons to that of mighty Seattle Slew.

Both Seattle Slew and Uncle Mo ran through brief but brilliant 2-year-old campaigns, with each making three starts. In the pre-Breeders’ Cup era, Slew’s 9 3⁄4-length cakewalk in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) was more than enough for him to be named champion juvenile male of 1976. Uncle Mo’s three afternoon appearances in 2010 made it pretty clear he’s head and shoulders above the competition.

Seattle Slew made his first outing at 3 March 9, 1977, at Hialeah, getting seven furlongs in 1:20 3⁄5; Uncle Mo finished his one-turn mile win in 1:36.56 with a fantastic :22 4⁄5 final quarter. Slew went on to win the Flamingo Stakes (gr. I) and Wood Memorial (gr. I) before being sent off the 1-2 favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Uncle Mo’s Timely Writer win brought to mind another champion’s Derby preparations from more than a quarter century ago: Chief’s Crown.

Carl Rosen’s homebred Chief’s Crown didn’t make his way through his 2-year-old season unbeaten but did win six of nine starts, and his victory in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) over Tank’s Prospect and Spend a Buck in November 1984 made him an easy choice for champion 2-year-old male.

A virus caused a minor setback in Chief Crown’s training in South Florida in early 1985 but the colt from Danzig’s first crop was tearing a hole in the South Florida wind in late February under jockey Don MacBeth, working six furlongs in 1:12, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:25. And as Todd Pletcher did earlier this season, trainer Roger Laurin found a brand new race in Gulfstream Park’s condition book—the Swale Stakes—and figured that was a good place to start.

While Gulfstream’s management created the $100,000 Timely Writer to fit Uncle Mo’s needs, in order to lure Chief’s Crown the pot for the Swale had to be sweetened from $30,000 to $50,000 for the March 2 race.

Chief’s Crown, like Uncle Mo, pulled away in the stretch for his 3-year-old debut against a “mediocre group.” That group, however, included eventual Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Creme Fraiche, whom Chief’s Crown beat by 31⁄4 lengths.

Elevated to first after finishing second to Proud Truth in the Flamingo Stakes (gr. I), Chief’s Crown got in his final prep for the trip to the Twin Spires with a 51⁄2-length romp as the 3-10 favorite in Keeneland’s Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), at the time run nine days before the Derby.

Chief’s Crown finished third as the 6-5 favorite in the Derby and holds the distinction of being one of three horses to be the beaten favorite in all three races in the Triple Crown. Eight years earlier Seattle Slew had torn through the competition to be the first unbeaten winner of the Triple Crown.

Uncle Mo seems to have added more distance between him and the rest of the pack, based on the results of the other two preps over the weekend at Tampa Bay Downs and Santa Anita. We’re rooting for Uncle Mo to join Slew’s exclusive club. We’ve always been more partial to the ’70s than to the ’80s.

Masters of the Obvious

Regarding the four-month investigation into the Life At Ten debacle during last year’s Breeders’ Cup (see page 729), it appears obvious to us that some sanctions should be brought against both jockey John Velazquez and John Veitch, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Despite the “chilling” implications predicted by Velazquez’ lawyer, Maggi Moss, it’s common sense for a jockey who comments on national television that his horse is not warming up correctly to mention that to the veterinarians on the racetrack.

In turn, following the exchange between Velazquez and ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey and Life At Ten’s subseqent last-place finish while showing no interest in running in the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I), it’s common sense the mare should have been sent to the test barn. The fact she wasn’t is inexcusable.

We’ll await the report from the state’s hearing officer and be interested in what recommendations—if any—are handed down in the way of penalties. For the sake of public perception, let’s hope the results make common sense.

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