LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- What a difference one loss makes. Instead of a backstretch throng to greet him following a police escort from the airport -- the preferred treatment for a racing superstar – Uncle Mo was met by maybe a dozen cameramen and media members when arriving Monday at his Churchill Downs barn at precisely noon Eastern, about two hours behind schedule, in advance of the 137th Kentucky Derby.
"This is Uncle Mo," Michael McCarthy, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, announced quietly as he led the colt off the Brookledge horse van just outside Barn 34. Pletcher himself is expected to arrive at Churchill sometime tonight.
Uncle Mo became a solid early favorite for the Derby by ending an unbeaten 2-year-old season in spectacular fashion last fall in winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill. The colt has raced twice at 3, winning an overnight stakes in March at Gulfstream Park before finishing third at 1-10 in the April 9 Wood Memorial in New York. Uncle Mo was diagnosed afterward with a gastrointestinal infection, but his training schedule toward the May 7 Derby has not been seriously disrupted.
Uncle Mo was one of six Pletcher horses to make the trip from New York, with R Heat Lightning, the Kentucky Oaks favorite, being the other most notable shipper. Nick Zito also sent three horses here, including Morning Line, who will train but not race at Churchill in the coming weeks.
Two other horses on the flight, including Game On Dude, were scheduled to continue on to Arkansas to pick up more horses that raced at Oaklawn Park, then go on to Southern California. The plane was then scheduled to return overnight with another load of horses, possibly including Jaycito, the likely favorite for the Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, and Derby hopeful Twice the Appeal. The charter then was scheduled to stop again in Arkansas early Tuesday to pick up The Factor, Nehro, and others.
The Tex Sutton air charter ran behind schedule Monday after being diverted to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., for precautionary reasons after a warning light forced the pilot to have the plane checked out. After refueling, the flight resumed to Louisville International Airport, which is just a few miles from Churchill.
In other Derby travel news, Mucho Macho Man arrived ahead of schedule after the long van ride from south Florida, pulling into the stable area at 2:45 a.m. The colt was scheduled to make his first trip to the Churchill track Tuesday morning.
Several other Derby hopefuls are already here, including a pair who turned in separate half-mile works Sunday morning over a muddy track: Stay Thirsty, trained by Pletcher, went in 48 seconds, while Decisive Moment, with jockey Jesus Castanon up for trainer Juan Arias, earned a bullet by going in 47.40 seconds.