LOUISVILLE — For better or worse, Uncle Mo has always been the center of attention wherever he goes — a fact especially true whenever he is at Churchill Downs.
Despite battling an ailment that threatened his career and having run only two races since April, Monday's post-position draw for the Breeders' Cup World Championships this weekend showed how much clout the son of Indian Charlie still carries.
Rick Porter's multiple Grade I winning-filly Havre de Grace may be the headline story of this year's $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic but it was reigning juvenile champion Uncle Mo who was made the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the test after drawing post No. 12 in the 13-horse lineup.
"It gives (jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) so many options going into the first turn," Todd Pletcher, trainer of Uncle Mo, said of the draw. "I'm okay with it."
Havre de Grace, who is seeking to join Zenyatta as the only female runners to capture the Classic, was made the 3-1 second choice after drawing post No. 10.
"If Todd is happy with post 12, hopefully (Uncle Mo) will just lead us around there," said Larry Jones, trainer of Havre de Grace. "She has been doing very well after tough races back-to-back-to back. We were able to back off her training a bit, and she's feeling well right now."
Being deemed the horse to beat at Churchill is nothing new for Uncle Mo. Mike Repole's bay colt was the heavy favorite when he won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile here, and he was supposed to be the star of this year's Kentucky Derby, only to be scratched and diagnosed with a rare liver disease that caused him to drop about 200 pounds.
After returning to the races with a runner-up finish in the Grade I King's Bishop on August 27, Uncle Mo showed some of his old brilliance when he captured the Grade II Kelso Handicap on Oct. 1 in gate-to-wire fashion by 3 lengths.
"When we were here in the spring, the horse wasn't himself. He wasn't eating right, he didn't look right, his hair coat was off," said Pletcher, who will also saddle Travers Stakes winner and 12-1 pick Stay Thirsty in the Classic. "Since he's come back, he's continued to thrive and put on weight. I don't think there is a horse on the grounds who looks better than he does. We've come a long way since May.
"This is a difficult race to win. But I think Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty have as good a chance as anyone."
That Uncle Mo was made the favorite for the Classic speaks to just how wide open the signature race on the World Championships card is.
Havre de Grace, a 4-year-old daughter of Saint Liam, already has three Grade I wins this year, and she proved she could handle males when she recorded a 11/4-length victory over fellow Classic contender and 6-1 pick Flat Out in the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 3.
Flat Out made Havre de Grace's victory look better when he won the Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup over Drosselmeyer and Stay Thirsty on Oct. 1, but he will need a solid pace in the Classic from Game On Dude and Uncle Mo to set up his closing kick as he breaks from post No. 2.
The Classic carries the most prestige of the 15-race Breeders' Cup card, but the $2 million Mile has the potential to produce the most historic story line.
Champion and three-time defending race winner Goldikova was made the 7-5 favorite as she attempts an unprecedented four-peat, but she will have to break from the inside post No. 1 in the 13-horse field.
"She's got more of a chance this time than last year. It's a good position for her," Thierry Blaise, exercise rider for Goldikova, said through a translator. "(Jockey) Olivier (Peslier) feels he has a better chance having more horses on the outside of him to get a good start and get in better position."
The rail is often considered a detriment, but Jones said it is not as big an obstacle as in the Derby when the 20-horse field forces tighter quarters.
"With a 20-horse field, they use a second gate and the one and two spots are squeezed in toward the rail," he said. "With just one gate, the gate is moved out a bit from the rail, and the one hole is more like the three."
Goldikova is among a slew of overseas contenders who should be formidable in this year's Breeders' Cup. Despite having never started on dirt, multiple Group I winner So You Think was made the 5-1 third choice for the Classic, and fellow Group I winner Sarafina is the 5-2 favorite over Aidan O'Brien-trainee Await the Dawn and 2009 Filly and Mare Turf winner Midday in the $3 million Turf.
"I think it's a pretty strong bunch," Alastair Donald of the International Racing Bureau said of the European entrants. "The obvious strengths are in the turf races, but So You Think is a very interesting contender in the Classic. He is the X-factor."
Undefeated Union Rags was made the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the 11⁄16-mile Juvenile having drawn post No. 10, and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty was deemed the 2-1 choice over a field of nine others for Friday's $2 million Ladies' Classic.