The only other athlete to put his liver through such distress and live to talk about it was Mickey Mantle.
The race set up wonderfully for Uncle Mo. Three horses blitzed through a half-mile in—gulp—44 4/5 seconds. Uncle Mo took command and bore in at a 45-degree angle that undoubtedly cost him the nose it would’ve taken to fend off Caleb’s Posse.
And what an effort. Let’s think about what happened here. Let’s go to the timeline:
Uncle Mo rates with Classic-style poise and draws clear of Boys of Tosconova to win by daylight. Mike Repole, at once, tells us that he’s going to get so drunk on vodka and Vitamin Water and, honestly, we all did. Okay, my friends and I did ... Okay, I did.
Uncle Mo’s already arrived. Now it was Repole’s turn to show us his personality, his kissing of Pletcher on the cheek, his knocking-down-the-doors-of-convention-and-refusing-to-wipe-his-boots-on-the-doormat attitude.
March 12, 2011
Gulfstream Park carded a race that, upon retrospect, produced at least one nice horse not named Uncle Mo. Rattlesnake Bridge finished second to Mo that day and would later finish second to another Repole-owned horse in Stay Thirsty in the Travers Stakes.
Uncle Mo looked ready to hold up his end of the deal and follow in the mighty path of Street Sense as the only other horse to pull the Juvenile-Derby Double.
Then came April Showers.
April 9, 2011
Mo sprinted to the front and set the pace in the Wood Memorial. Tom Durkin trumpeted that, pun intended, “The MO-ment of truth,” at the top of the stretch. Mo dug in on the fence. Arthur’s Tale and Toby’s Corner overtook Mo by a length at the wire. It wasn’t like Mo spit the freakin’ bit, but it caused momentary panic. Little did we know the havoc wreaked deep within his abdomen.
He wouldn’t race again until ...
August 27, 2011
Uncle Mo’s defeat wasn’t a loss. Think about what this horse overcame. This colt’s liver disorder could’ve killed him but he pulled a Lance Armstrong and hit the ground running. Most horses “need a race” after a layoff and if the race Uncle Mo “needed” was the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, then Churchill Downs better make a blanket of yellow and purple flowers for this son of Indian Charlie in the Dirt Mile or BC Sprint.
The disturbing moment came not from elation, but from a particularly weak moment from Repole. That nose at the wire made him tell Tom Pedulla of USA Today, “We're going to take our time. We're going to regroup," he said. "I wouldn't be shocked if this was his last race.”
Makes you wonder if he planned on pulling a John Elway or a Michel Jordan (the second time) if Uncle Mo returned to Grade 1 form off this layoff. Repole referred to this race as a “lower low” but something tells me that he’d like to have those words back. He finished second to a great horse in a Saratoga Grade 1 off a near five-month layoff.
The devastating low is far lower than placing in that spot. Just ask Larry Jones.
I’d hate to see Uncle Mo’s story end now. He’s got a chance to keep writing his history. Return him to the site of his Juvenile triumph. He deserves one more shot.
Though, if he's done, Mo will say so. Some horses don’t have to go out a winner to be victorious.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year." You can buy it here. "LIKE" the book here.