The 3-year-old picture is starting to look very much like each one of champion Uncle Mo's four career starts.
While virtually everyone behind him is jockeying for position, the unbeaten son of Indian Charlie is cruising along in front still in search of a major challenge.
Saturday delivered its share of surprises on the Kentucky Derby trail, with heavily favored Brethren getting beaten by a pair of long shots in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, and Premier Pegasus shaking up an already jumbled West Coast picture with his 73/4-length romp in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes.
One who remained above the fray was the brilliant Uncle Mo, who had his connections breathing easy after he won his first start of the year in what was essentially a paid workout in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream.
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On paper, the wheels would have had to come off in serious fashion for Uncle Mo to have lost this weekend — and one glance at him in the post parade pretty much confirmed that wasn't going to happen.
Truly good horses do exactly what they're supposed to, and Uncle Mo properly turned the 1-mile race into a glorified leg stretcher. Jockey John Velazquez barely moved on the colt throughout, and his only challenge was making sure he got enough out of his gallop-out to raise his heart rate.
Uncle Mo might not be providing much drama in his races, but the same can't be said about the West Coast crew. Every time it looks as if someone is poised to vault to the head of that class, a new horse throws a wrench into the mix.
Premier Pegasus was an impressive winner of the Grade III Hollywood Prevue in November but hadn't won beyond seven furlongs or on dirt before Saturday and was third behind The Factor in the Grade II San Vicente.
Not listed among the individual betting interests in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool, Premier Pegasus now looks like a dangerous contender. He relaxed perfectly in his first start without blinkers, showed an explosive turn of foot and finished like a horse who wants more distance.
Such a glowing report could not be given to Brethren in the wake of his third-place run in the Tampa Bay Derby. The son of Distorted Humor defeated race winner Watch Me Go by five lengths in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 12 and should have been able to hold off Watch Me Go and 86-to-1 shot Crimson Knight after getting a half in :48.20 Saturday.
Brethren has too much pedigree and potential to give up on him after one bad race. Unless something was amiss, though, it is hard to view his Tampa Bay Derby as anything but a major step back.
1. Uncle Mo: Looked every bit the champion he is in his debut. There was some talk about sending the son of Indian Charlie to the Grade I Florida Derby on April 3 instead of the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 9, but trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole stated Sunday that, for now, New York is still in the cards for the division leader. "If Todd tells me we're going to the Wood, Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby or Arkansas Derby, that's where we'll go," Repole said. "Right now he's saying Uncle Mo is going to the Wood, and Stay Thirsty is going to the Florida Derby, and that's the way things are working out. If they stay healthy, 99.99 percent that's the plan."
2. Soldat: Worked four furlongs in :48.90 at Palm Meadows Training Center on Sunday for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who suffered a tragedy in his barn when another promising 3-year-old, Fort Hughes, had to be euthanized after breaking down during a breeze at Belmont Park on Sunday.
3. Dialed In: Should have a lot more speed to run at in the Florida Derby, unlike his loss to 4-year-old stablemate Equestrio in an allowance race where he rallied admirably after chasing a tepid pace.
4. Mucho Macho Man: Covered five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Gulfstream Park on Saturday as he readies for the Grade I Louisiana Derby on March 26. The son of Macho Uno is a June foal, so showing so much maturation and ability in his seven career starts is a testament to his talent.
5. Premier Pegasus: Son of Fusaichi Pegasus had things go his way in the San Felipe with the quick fractions up front. However, considering he had won three of his previous four starts on or close to the lead, the fact he was able to take back well off the pace on Saturday and unleash the run around the final turn gives him major points. Santa Anita Derby should be up next.
6. Stay Thirsty: Not everyone was impressed with his win in the Gotham, as it was deemed too slow by some pundits. Considering the goal is to peak at Churchill Downs on May 7, not at Aqueduct on March 5, there is room for him to get fitter, faster and more mature during the next eight weeks.
7. To Honor and Serve: Will have little room for error if he returns in the Florida Derby because it appears there will be a stout lineup to contend with. Needs to win that one or at least put in a strong top-three effort to remain among the key contenders heading to Churchill. Worked four furlongs in :51 flat at Payson Park on March 7.
8. Santiva: Covered five furlongs in 1:02 at Palm Meadows on Saturday. The Louisiana Derby could be a good fit, style-wise, for the son of Giant's Causeway, but it would mean he'd be coming into the Kentucky Derby off a six-week layoff with only two preps this year to his credit. In terms of timing, the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on April 16 might be a better option, and Santiva has shown he can run well on that surface, finishing second in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity in October.
9. Jaycito: Did well to close from last in the San Felipe to finish second, and the fact it was his first start since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November means he legitimately has the "may have needed the race" excuse. He wasn't making a dent in Premier Pegasus' lead, though, and he did get fast fractions to work with. Another one whose next prep will go a long way in determining where he belongs in this group.
10. Gourmet Dinner: Son of Trippi has run at four tracks since October, so if his connections want to ship him out of Florida for his final Kentucky Derby prep, the strain of the travel is not likely to be an issue. He doesn't need the graded stakes earnings, so it wouldn't be the worst thing to seek out an easier spot than the Florida Derby.
11. Anthony's Cross: Had a hard-fought win in the Grade II Robert B. Lewis, so he doesn't need to be spent in his final Kentucky Derby prep. Is among those who seem to do best running on or close to the lead, so it will be interesting to see how the pace scenario shapes up for the Santa Anita Derby.
12. Brethren: Did make the lead in the Tampa Bay Derby sooner than his connections probably would have liked, but there was really no great excuse for him on the day. Has to prove he can get back on form and beat tougher company if he wants to remain in the Derby mix.
The next dozen: The Factor, Wilkinson, Silver Medallion, Archarcharch, J P's Gusto, Flashpoint, Sway Away, Watch Me Go, Toby's Corner, Sweet Ducky, Rogue Romance, Machen.