HRI's Triple Crown Power Rankings

The HRI Triple Crown Power Rankings is a consensus opinion of HorseRaceInsider's editorial staff compiled and written by executive editor John Pricci. It is an amalgam of achievement and opinion relative to the merits of the 2013 Triple Crown. The HRI Triple Crown Power Rankings will be adjusted each week following significant prep race developments.

Domination, Then Speculation

HALLANDALE BEACH, FLA., March 15, 2011--The first thing you need to realize is that the HRI Derby Power 10, Week 5 edition, is being penned on the Ides of March, so perhaps you need to take this with a thimbleful of hemlock antidote.

Uncle Mo - The One and Only
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Uncle Mo - The One and Only
Et tu Michael?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with a gecko, you’re probably aware that soon after his comprehensive victory in the Timely Rewriter, the chatter began regarding a conversation between Todd Pletcher and owner Michael Repole.

Should Uncle Mo remain in South Florida for the Florida Derby, or go to New York for the Wood Memorial, a plan that probably was hatched moments after Uncle Mo crossed the finish line first in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile?

Whatever the reason for all the chatter, that notion is intriguing, a facet that has created a rogue wave of speculation.

Pletcher’s wrapping him in cellophane, keeping him out of harm’s way, running on a racetrack he obviously loves, making it easier on the horse, goes one theory.

The Champ Enters the Ring
Photo by: Toni Pricci
The Champ Enters the Ring
He knows what he has, so why take the chance? The colt’s been here all winter. If he runs in the Florida Derby, he has another week of recovery time before the big dance, goes another. That’s a factor Pletcher has even acknowledged in print.

There’s got to be a hole in him, went the rumors long before the Timely Writer, even before his third workout, in which he was efficient, economical, classy and, of course, brilliant, early on a Sunday morning at Palm Meadows.

Further--and this did happen--an electronic media type came into the Gulfstream press box about 20 minutes after the Timely Writer was made official. "Three trainer friends of mine separately told me he came back sore."

Guess when there's a target on your back the shots just keep on coming.

"It will never happen; the Florida Derby’s coming up too tough," is yet another rationale.

One justification not mentioned is an obvious surmise. Repole is a Queens boy who bleeds orange and blue. How could there not have been conversations between Uncle Mo's owner and NYRA Vice President of Racing P.J. Campo, with a promise to come home for the Wood Memorial?

However, this really doesn't scan with "I'll say this. I'm not going to micromanage a trainer who's won five Eclipse Awards."

This leaves a crack in the door, one that Pletcher can push wide open if he decides that five weeks recovery time is in the colt's best Kentucky Derby interests. In Pletcher's training program, the over-under on recovery time is five weeks.

'Psst, I'm gonna win.  Watch this!'
Photo by: Toni Pricci
'Psst, I'm gonna win. Watch this!'
It's true. The Florida Derby is coming up tough. With Soldat, Dialed In and To Honor And Serve pointing that way, the Grade 1 with Uncle Mo would pit the top four members of the HRI Power 10 against each other.

It's not every day in the modern era that you see the best colts in training meet each other before May's first Saturday.

If Uncle Mo were mine, I'd tell my trainer to keep all his options open and the opposition off balance. Make your rivals rethink their strategy then, if that's the choice, drop Mo’s name in the Gulfstream Park entry box.

Or not, then go to New York a week later as originally planned.

If Mo were mine, I'd want to beat the best three-year-olds in the East right now, possibly limiting the size of the Derby field by keeping the pretenders in the barn, making the Derby more horse race than obstacle course.

The only thing left--and it's a big thing--is the 10th furlong, a hurdle they all must jump in early spring, not just Uncle Mo.

Repole gives Mo some love as Johnny V. celebrates
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Repole gives Mo some love as Johnny V. celebrates
Pletcher told Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman that running in the Wood was 80-20, maybe even 90-10. Uncle Mo could be back on the track for a timed workout in about a week to 10 days. It will be interesting to see what Pletcher asks the colt to do.

When it was known weeks ago that Uncle Mo would skip the Tampa Derby that could have been the place to run Dialed In. Then Nick Zito remembered the War Pass fiasco.

How likely is it Todd Pletcher has forgotten the aftermath of Eskendereya's Wood?

Should Uncle Mo enter the paddock for his next race, wherever that is, wearing front bandages for the first time, then what?

These are the things that rival owners and trainers think about. But not fans like those at Gulfstream Saturday, about 3,000 more than there were on a comparable Saturday in 2010, according to estimates.

They came early and lined up Saratoga-style from the breezeway passed the line for valet parking to get one of 2,000 Uncle Mo tee shirts made for the occasion, just like the raqce was.

Repole's 'Nonna', the inspiration for Thoroughbred Nonna Mia, and his Mom, Annie, the muse for Lights Off Annie
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Repole's 'Nonna', the inspiration for Thoroughbred Nonna Mia, and his Mom, Annie, the muse for Lights Off Annie
These fans brought money, too, with on-track handle up 46%, notwithstanding a 20% bump nationwide from all sources.

Judging by the cheering and applause as he entered the walking ring, it seemed clear that they wanted Uncle Mo to be "the big horse." So should an entire industry. And for a fifth consecutive week, Uncle Mo sits atop the HRI Power 10:

1. UNCLE MO (36) To return home for his final prep, or not to return home, that is the question. Whether it is nobler to honor the original commitment or act in what may be perceived as the best interests of a Triple Crown aspirant will either result in slings and arrows or the collection of outrageous fortune.

2. SOLDAT (27) Kiaran McLaughlin keeping him on edge with a recent half-mile breeze in :48 4/5. War Front colt has been outrunning his pedigree since his juvenile seasonal and has proven extremely versatile regarding surface and style. There’s another word for this: Classy.

3. DIALED IN (22) If for some reason Uncle Mo runs in the Florida Derby, the early pace can go from solid to fast in a heartbeat, which can only hope. Lost in his shocking defeat was the notion that he handled two turns well. It’s never easy for late runners to have that same kick given a slower pace and second turn. Mineshaft colt will never see a pace that soft again.

4. TO HONOR AND SERVE (18) Keeps working on his stamina over the demanding, safe Payson Park surface, where he recently breezed a soft half-mile in :51. With only one more scheduled prep, and coming off a soft-finish third in the Fountain of Youth, expect major improvement in the Florida Derby. He needs to run an "A-" race. The finishing touches will come later.

5. STAY THIRSTY (15) Wherever he winds up, most likely in South Florida, he's going to run very well. He was very good but still showing inexperience in the Gotham. But he will be sharper, stronger and should be a lot more focused next time out. Has every right to move forward--and will be in deep water if he doesn't.

6. PREMIER PEGASUS (13) Jumped into sixth position on the HRI Power 10 almost as fast as he ran passed his rivals on the turn in the San Felipe. Of course, the table was set for what he did. But that truly was a remarkable turn of foot on display last Saturday. Between his pedigree and recent equipment change, he’s become a legitimate player on the Derby stage.

7. ANTHONY'S CROSS (10) Another quiet week under the Harty shed which is very likely just the way he likes it. He's more than a speed horse; he's a courageous speed horse that loves a fight. Like Premier Pegasus, the removal of blinkers revealed another dimension. Must still prove he's this caliber in Santa Anita Derby.

8. MUCHO MACHO MAN (7) Risen Star hero right on time, working a solid five eighths in 1:00 4/5, galloping out another furlong in :13, on the morning of the Timely Writer. He will have his final serious drill for the Louisiana Derby Saturday and leaves for New Orleans a week from now. With six weeks to the Derby only two options make sense; a Gulfstream allowance race or a company work in the afternoon.

8. THE FACTOR (7) As all know, he's extremely fast, setting an extremely fast pace--fastest of his career--and still kept going to extend his record to 2-for-2 for the year. But those were sprints and he will be tested for adaptability in his two turn debut. Saturday's G2 Rebel will show how he handles two turns, then we‘ll consider the 10 furlong question.

10. GOURMET DINNER (6) Wind him up and he runs hard. The problem is he hasn't been wound since his Fountain of Youth placing, but that work should come very soon. Going East to West is daunting but if a horse can handle adverse circumstances, this is your colt. The Santa Anita Derby will tell a lot about him and the quality of the SoCal three year olds.

Written by John Pricci - Comments (8)


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