John Pricci executive editor John Pricci has over three decades of experience as a thoroughbred racing public handicapper and was an award-winning journalist while at New York Newsday for 18 years.

John has covered 14 Kentucky Derbies and Preaknesses, all but three Breeders' Cups since its inception in 1984, and has seen all but two Belmont Stakes live since 1969.

Currently John is a contributing racing writer to, an analyst on the Capital Off-Track Betting television network, and co-hosts numerous handicapping seminars. He resides in Saratoga Springs, New York.

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Uncle Mo vs. Boys At Tosconova in Battle of Juvenile Giants

ELMONT, NY, October 9, 2010--Since 1867, two-year-old colts have been running in the Champagne Stakes. Since 1946, however, only two horses have run faster than Uncle Mo did at Belmont Park yesterday.

One is named Devil’s Bag, the juvenile champion of 1983 who was timed a mile in 1:34 1/5. The second fastest clocking belonged to the juvenile champion of 1976, who won his Champagne in 1:34 2/5. Seattle Slew, of course, became Thoroughbred racing’s only undefeated Triple Crown winner.

Today at Belmont, Uncle Mo raced the Champagne distance in 1:34.51, which might even have been faster than Slew. Races weren’t officially timed in hundredths until 1989, so Billy Turner’s horse might not even run as fast as Todd Pletcher’s undefeated colt did yesterday over Big Sandy.

The point is that Uncle Mo put himself in some pretty good company on a picture perfect afternoon on Long Island. And the future? “The sky’s the limit,” said Pletcher in the winners circle. “I can’t imagine he won’t handle two turns.”

Breaking from the rail, a position which compromised the Pletcher trained Frizette favorite R Heat Lightning 30 minutes earlier--who had ducked in “halfway into the gap” immediately after the break, Pletcher said--Uncle Mo galloped up to the lead and was hounded down the backstretch throughout by longshot I’m Steppin’ In Up.

This is not an ideal situation for a horse making its second lifetime start over a different track than his maiden breaking effort, moving up in class from maiden special weight to Grade 1 company and stretching out from six furlongs to eight. As a matter of routine, this simply isn’t done.

After being hounded through a lively :22.41 and :45.92, Johnny Velazquez never changed his posture and allowed Uncle Mo to edge clear of his speedy rival as he hit the quarter pole, just before straightening away, in 1:10.47.

At that juncture, Uncle Mo showed some of his inexperience, indeed attempting to bear in three times before the rider gave him two light left-handed taps of the whip to straighten him, then hand drove him to the finish, a final quarter mile in :24.04.

In the end, Uncle Mo was 4-¾ lengths in front of Mountain Town, giving New York’s leading owner his first graded stakes victory of any kind.

“To have this happen in front of my grandmother, my wife and 40 friends was unbelievable. “I’m lucky, I’m blessed and I’ve got the greatest trainer in the world, bar none,” said an excited Michael Repole.

Repole will have both Uncle Mo and stablemate Stay Thirsty, scratched from the Champagne, in Louisville for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he will meet the uber talented Boys At Tosconova, the impressive Hopeful winner.

“Boys' ” trainer, Rick Dutrow, finished second to Uncle Mo yesterday with his second stringer, Mountain Town, a half brother to Bird Town. Dutrow claimed Mountain Town for $75,000 at Saratoga, for the account of Paul Pompa Jr.

“[Cornelio Velasquez] said he wants to go farther, so we’re happy,” said Dutrow pf the runnerup. “On top of the list [for the immediate future] are the Breeders’ Cup and the Remsen.”

Yesterday’s impressive effort by Uncle Mo sets up a titanic match in Louisville between the Pletcher and Dutrow juveniles. As it would be very premature, no one has invoked the names of Affirmed and Alydar yet. But that could all change by supper time on November 6.

BETS N’ PIECES: Uncle Mo grabbed a quarter during the running, doubtlessly sustained one of those times to attempted to bear in. It was very minor and he walked off in good order… The Indian Charlie colt was a model of composure in the paddock pre-race and is a well built individual, appearing scopey enough to grow nicely into his frame. He clearly seems to have all the tools…

Bob Baffert has done it again, winning an Eastern Grade 1 coming off the California synthetics with A Z Warrior, taking the Frizette mile beneath Alan Garcia in 1:35.68. By Bernardini from the Carson City mare, Carson Jen, she stalked the early pace comfortably, quickly opened a lengthy advantage and prevailed by 1-¾ lengths over the troubled R Heat Lightning…

Defending champion Gio Ponti was a facile winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile over Society’s Chairman with 2009 Mile runnerup Courageous Cat third. Gio Ponti was very confidently handled and Courageous Cat was cautiously handled. He appears sure to benefit from the effort... Kudos to Michelle Nihei, winning her first Grade 1 with bold finishing Prince Will I Am, the Jamaica Stakes for three-year-olds at nine furlongs.

Written by John Pricci

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