Handlers still unsure if Uncle Mo will be healthy enough for Derby

Top contender dealing with gastrointestinal illness, though Baffert thinks he looks plenty healthy

May 05, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Mike Repole is the kind of guy who doesn't mind a little attention from the media, but he admitted Thursday he'd definitely prefer to be answering questions this week about how good it feels to have the Kentucky Derby favorite as opposed to questions about whether or not, his horse, Uncle Mo, will even run.

Repole took questions from reporters for nearly 15 minutes outside trainer Todd Pletcher's barn Thursday morning, but we still don't know whether or not Uncle Mo will be in the starting gate come Saturday as he tries to recover from a gastrointestinal illness.

Repole did, however, vow that he and Pletcher and their team of veterinarians will make a decision by Friday morning about Uncle Mo's status, either ending or confirming a week of speculation that the horse will be scratched before the race. The horse, who was the juvenile champion last year, is having blood work done as well as several other tests.

"When it's an external problem, everyone knows what's going on," Repole said. "But when it's internal, you just don't know. I've asked him, but he doesn't talk. You have to go by his energy, his appetite and his attitude, and all of those are up. But how do you know if he's 80 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent? You don't really know."

Repole has vowed that if Uncle Mo isn't 100 percent, he'll have no problem scratching him and focusing on the Preakness Stakes. He even went so far as to say that if all three equine veterinarians say Uncle Mo is cleared to run, but Pletcher doesn't feel comfortable doing it, then Uncle Mo will be scratched.

"We'll know by [Friday]," Repole said. "We owe to him, we owe to the fans, we owe it to the media. If he's not 100 percent [Friday], he's not going to be 100 percent on Saturday."

Zayat can't help but remember

Occasionally, Ahmed Zayat will watch a clip of the 2010 Wood Memorial and daydream.

Watching a horse as good as Eskendereya will do that to an owner. A year ago, after Zayat's horse dominated the Wood Memorial like few horses ever have, Eskendereya came to Louisville as a huge favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. But before the week even began, he was scratched with a leg injury, and he was retired shortly after.

"Every time I watch, with my son Justin, his Wood Memorial, the race gives me goose bumps," Zayat said. "The sheer dominance, the beauty and the majesty of Thoroughbreds. That was a horse that was once in a lifetime. In the bottom of my heart he would have won the Triple Crown."

Zayat, however, would be happy to forget about last year's race if he could get a little luck this year. He made it back to the Derby with Nehro, the Louisiana Derby winner, and his horse has flown under the radar a bit this week with all the focus on Uncle Mo and Dialed in. Nehro is currently listed at 6-1 odds, even though he's stuck in the No. 19 post position, a spot that has never produced a winner in the history of the race. Still, Zayat feels his horse has been training so well, he's good enough to overcome what he's facing.

"His energy level is unbelievable," Zayat said. "Believe it or not, I think he's actually gained weight. This horse keeps showing us every sign of a horse that is going to put in a big performance. He's giving every indication that he's getting better."

Baffert thinks Mo looks fine

After years of putting his foot in his mouth, Bob Baffert has come up with something he likes to call "The 10 Minute Rule."

He'll talk to the media about whatever they want, but only for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, he says, he tends to say stuff he later tends to regret.

But Baffert still couldn't resist saying a few things people may deem controversial, including that he isn't quite buying the mysterious gastrointestinal illness that has supposedly stricken Uncle Mo in recent weeks.

"Uncle Mo looks fantastic out there to me," Baffert said. "He's the best horse in the race. I don't care what rumors you hear. You can't throw him out. He's looked great to me. Everyone is talking about him being 50/50. I think [owner Mike Repole] is just trying to build a price for himself because it sounds like he likes to gamble."

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kvanvalkenburg

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