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Tuesday, August 23, 2011
One 'Mo' time at Saratoga

By Bob Ehalt

For the last few weeks, trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole have uttered nothing but superlatives about the way Uncle Mo has been training for his return to the races in Saturday’s King’s Bishop Stakes.

But perhaps the most telling comment about Uncle Mo’s condition came last week from trainer Bob Baffert, when he said The Factor would be staying put in California and not shipping to Saratoga for the Grade 1 stakes.

It’s just a hunch, but it seems a logical conclusion that if Baffert sensed Uncle Mo was vulnerable, he would not have changed plans and targeted the Bing Crosby at Del Mar for The Factor’s first race since April, when an injury derailed his Triple Crown aspirations.

On a day when the seven-furlong King’s Bishop will be viewed with as much anticipation as the next race on the dazzling card, the featured $1 million Travers, we’ll soon know if all of the hopes and dreams Uncle Mo spawned this winter were merited.

Was he just a flash in the pan at two?

Or was he yet another great runner who fell victim to a Triple Crown jinx?

The King’s Bishop will not answer those questions once and for all, but it will be an excellent starting point.

If the Uncle Mo everyone marveled at last year in his Saratoga debut resurfaces in the King’s Bishop, all of the what ifs about the liver ailment that knocked him off the Triple Crown trail will give way to the promise of a wild fall with “Mo” trying to make up for lost time in an array of our most famous races.

Of course, not having The Factor in the field makes the King’s Bishop less of a litmus test, yet Flashpoint is a high quality rival who will make Uncle Mo work hard in his first start in more than four months. Caleb’s Posse, Cool Blue Red Hot, Dominus, Justin Phillip, Poseidon’s Warrior and Runflatout are also expected to start in a race that’s all about redemption.

A stunning third-place finish in the Wood Memorial tarnished the previously undefeated 2-year-old champ’s reputation and began a frantic search for a reason to explain why such an utterly unexpected loss happened in the first place.

Fingers pointed to a liver ailment, and now, with that a thing of the past, Uncle Mo will get a second chance at showing just how special a race horse he is.

And to think, that’s just the opening act on Saturday.

It looks like we have a memorable day of racing ahead of us. Don’t miss it.