The liver disorder is a thing of the past, the layoff is over and he has had a race to get the rust off and get him extra tight. Uncle Mo needs to win the Kelso on Saturday at Belmont and he needs to win it ultra impressively.
If he's still Uncle Mo, the horse who was so brilliant at 2 that he drew comparisons to Seattle Slew and had everyone dreaming of him becoming the sport's next big star, maybe even a Triple Crown winner, he will. But it's hard to know what you're going to get from this colt, and that's why his appearance in the Kelso will be the highlight Saturday, even on a day that includes the Jockey Club Gold Cup and an appearance by Horse of the Year contender Havre de Grace in the Beldame.
"The hype for Uncle Mo is very deserving," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "In my memory, I don't think any 2-year-old had a better year than he did."
But since the Juvenile he's done, really, nothing. Uncle Mo has won one race this year and that was an ungraded stakes at Gulfstream. He did come back after an illness to finish second by a nose in the Grade 1 King's Bishop, but he lost to a horse named Caleb's Posse. It was a good race for Uncle Mo, but Caleb's Posse is a horse the old 'Mo' would have trounced.
Still, no one is ready to give up on him.
Even when he won the Timely Writer in his 3-year-old debut, he didn't look like the same horse in what was a workmanlike victory. Next up was the Wood Memorial, and it was a disaster. As the 1-10 favorite he finished third and was soon thereafter taken off the Kentucky Derby trail.
Tests revealed that Uncle Mo had a liver problem, which explained why he started his 3-year-old season off on such a poor note. That's why he gets a pass.
After a 4½-month layoff he returned for the King's Bishop and was sent off as an 11-10 favorite. Though Pletcher almost always has his horses ready, especially when it comes to Grade 1 races, Uncle Mo ran well enough to suggest that he could improve off it and deliver an extraordinary performance the next time. Pletcher thinks he will.
"He's certainly training awfully well," he said. "I thought he trained really well for the King's Bishop and I thought he ran a very good race off the bench. His three subsequent breezes since the King's Bishop have been even more impressive than the ones leading into it, which were very good in their own right. We're coming back to Belmont, where he won the Champagne in a one-turn mile last year, and he's certainly training like a horse that is getting ready to run his 'A' race. We're going up against older horses for the first time, but I would expect him to go over there and run extremely well."
Will he deliver? I can see it going either way.
Though he will be facing older horses, Uncle Mo should obliterate his opponents in the one-mile Kelso. Should he, he will have immediately regained his status as the most exciting horse in racing and will be the likely favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic. To see him square off, hopefully, against Tizway, stablemate Stay Thirsty and maybe Havre de Grace and/or Blind Luck would make the 2011 Classic a classic.
Or he could be just OK, which is very much a possibility. Sometimes horses don't develop between their 2- and 3-year-old years and that could be the case with him. Or maybe the liver problem caused lasting problems that he may never shake off. Surely, the wiseguys will see him as a vulnerable favorite.
My betting dollars may not be on Uncle Mo Saturday, but I would love to see him win and do so in style. Not by a length or two, but by 10.
That would make the day and set the stage for an electric Breeders' Cup. The Kelso is slated for 4:33 Saturday afternoon at Belmont. I can't wait.
Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at email@example.com.