Classic showdown: 'Mo' vs. 'Grace'
ELMONT, N.Y. -- It's rare when three stakes races run on the same day at the same track but at different distances and for different genders can produce three starters for the same race. But that's exactly what happened Saturday at Belmont Park.
Uncle Mo, who dazzled in winning the Grade 2 Kelso at one mile, Havre de Grace, who rolled to an 8 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational for older fillies and mares, and Flat Out, who was solid winning the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Invitational, appear headed for a showdown in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs.
The Classic is something I've watched for 25 years; if I had the choice of Havre de Grace being in the race or not being in the race, I want her in the race.” --Owner Mike Repole
Though the 5-year-old Flat Out won the "traditional" prep for the BC Classic, the focus of the race will likely center on the 3-year-old Uncle Mo -- last year's juvenile champion -- taking on the 4-year-old filly Havre de Grace. Havre de Grace essentially clinched the Eclipse Award as North America's champion older filly or mare by winning the Beldame -- her third Grade 1 victory of the year -- while Blind Luck finished last in the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita the same day and is done racing for 2011.
Now, Rick Porter, owner of Havre de Grace, is hoping to make his filly Horse of the Year by beating the boys in the Classic. Porter said unless Havre de Grace is not training as well as she has previously, she'll face the boys in the 1 1/4-mile Classic."I'd say we're as close to 100 percent as possible to go in the Classic," Porter, whose filly beat the boys, including Flat Out, in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga, said Monday.
Porter expressed a healthy respect for Uncle Mo, who won the Kelso by three lengths over Grade 1 winner Jackson Bend. Uncle Mo ran a mile in 1:33.82 in the mud and earned a gaudy 118 Beyer Speed Figure for the performance.
"If that's the real Uncle Mo, and he improves, and he can get the mile and a quarter, he's going to be an awful tough horse to beat," Porter said.
Mike Repole, owner of Uncle Mo, said a meeting between his colt and Havre de Grace is what the Breeders' Cup is about, which explains why he is focusing on the Classic and not the $1 million Dirt Mile, a race for which Uncle Mo would be a heavy favorite. Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher also have Stay Thirsty to run in the Classic.
"I'm a racing fan, if I wasn't a racing fan, I'd run Mo in the Mile and be 1-2 and look pretty good in the Breeders' Cup," Repole said. "The Classic is something I've watched for 25 years; if I had the choice of Havre de Grace being in the race or not being in the race, I want her in the race. It'd be good for ratings, and it's what's best for the sport."
Both Uncle Mo and Havre de Grace were reported as having coming out of their races in excellent condition by their connections. Pletcher said Uncle Mo was to remain in New York for the next three weeks before shipping to Kentucky on Oct. 24.
Meanwhile, Havre de Grace shipped to Keeneland on Monday and will remain there as long as trainer Larry Jones feels she is doing well over the Polytrack surface. Jones said by going to Keeneland, he doesn't have to worry about inclement weather. Plus he feels the Polytrack might be kinder on his filly who has had a hard campaign this year.
"I can do what I want to, plus it'll be a little more forgiving," said Jones, who is moving virtually his entire Delaware Park-based string to Keeneland. "We'll be using a few different muscles than what we've been using all year."
Jones felt he got exactly what he wanted out of the Beldame for Havre de Grace -- a convincing victory and one in which she didn't have to totally exert herself. Havre de Grace was geared down at the wire, but still ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.39 and earned a 105 Beyer.
In winning the Kelso impressively, Uncle Mo displayed the form that carried him to the 2-year-old championship a year ago. He capped that season with a dominant victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. That race was at 1 1/16 miles. The Classic is at 1 1/4 miles.
"A mile and a quarter will be a question mark until he does it," Pletcher said. "If he's able to get into the same rhythmic stride he was in [Saturday], I don't see a mile and a quarter being an issue. But he's still got to do it."
Scooter Dickey, trainer of Gold Cup winner Flat Out, said his horse -- who ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.17 and earned a 107 Beyer -- answered the distance question Saturday.
"I know I can go a mile and a quarter, those others haven't proved yet whether they can or not," said Dickey, whose horse will ship to Kentucky by the weekend. "I'm one up on them in that sense."
Gold Cup runner-up Drosselmeyer is a candidate for either the Classic or the Marathon, Elliott Walden, president of WinStar Farm said Monday. Drosselmeyer, last year's Belmont Stakes winner, was to ship to WinStar this week before vanning to trainer Bill Mott's Churchill barn over the weekend or next week.
Speaking of Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer gave two thumbs up when told that Havre de Grace is pointing to the Classic against males. That's because his 3-year-old filly, Royal Delta -- beaten 8 1/4 lengths by Havre de Grace in the Beldame -- is still on schedule for the $2 million Ladies' Classic.
"Just the fact Havre de Grace going in the Classic, it even the fields up a little bit," Mott said.
The other female to shine Saturday was Stacelita, who won the Flower Bowl by two lengths, her second straight Grade 1 victory. Stacelita, who earned a 100 Beyer on Saturday, will remain at Belmont Park "for as long as possible" before shipping to Churchill for the Filly and Mare Turf, trainer Chad Brown said.
"I think she's proven she's the best U.S.-based turf mare right now," Brown said. "Time to see if she can show that she's the best in the world on Breeders' Cup Day; look forward to giving her a chance to prove that."
The Irish-based Cape Blanco won his third straight North American Grade 1 when he held off Dean's Kitten by a nose to win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. Unfortunately, Cape Blanco came out of the race with a slab fracture in a knee and has been retired, according to trainer Aidan O'Brien.
Owner Shivananda Parbhoo said that Giant Ryan came out of his half-length victory in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational in good order and confirmed he would be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Sprint for a fee of $100,000. Giant Ryan, who will take a six-race winning streak into the Sprint, will ship from Belmont to Churchill on Oct. 10.
Vexor, who won Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 Nashua Stakes by three-quarters of a length, will be aimed at the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, trainer John Kimmel said.
Shkspeare Shaliyah, who won the Grade 3 Pilgrim for juvenile males by one length, and Pure Gossip, who won the Grade 3 Miss Grillo for juvenile females by 6 1/2 lengths, would both have to be supplemented for a $100,000 fee to run in their respective Breeders' Cup races.
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