Uncle Mo scratched from Kentucky Derby

May 06, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Although it came as no real surprise when word leaked out Friday morning that Uncle Mo, the juvenile champion, would be scratched from the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, it was yet another reminder of just how fragile thoroughbred horses truly are.

The departure of Uncle Mo due to a gastrointestinal infection that has caused him to lose nearly 70 pounds in the last month marks the third consecutive year one of the top contenders was scratched during Derby week.

In 2008, I Want Revenge, the morning-line favorite, was pulled from the Derby the day of the race with a leg injury. In 2009, Eskendereya came to Louisville looking like a superstar and a potential Triple Crown winner, and he likely would have been a big favorite in the Derby, but he was scratched almost as soon as he arrived at Churchill Downs (and then retired) when doctors detected swelling in his lower leg.

Uncle Mo's scratch was less of a surprise than the previous two, considering rumors had been swirling around the track all week that trainer Todd Pletcher would never send him to the gate. Uncle Mo was undefeated as a 2-year-old, but a third place finish three weeks ago at the Wood Memorial sparked concerns that something wasn't right. Pletcher and owner Mike Repole tried to put a positive spin on things throughout the week, even pointing out that Uncle Mo "galloped like a monster" Friday morning, but ultimately the result was yet another somber press conference where both Pletcher and Repole expressed real concern about Uncle Mo's future.

Asked specifically if he thought Uncle Mo would ever run again, Pletcher didn't exactly offer a ringing endorsement.

“We'd like to think so," he said.

Although the diagnosis for the horse is still some kind of gastrointestinal infection, Pletcher and Repole admitted no one can say with any certainty what exactly is wrong with Uncle Mo, other than his appetite is lacking and his coat doesn't look right.

"We've got something going on inside that I don't know what it is," Pletcher said."The best vets in the world don't know what it is. When you don't know, that's when I get scared."

Pletcher said there are no plans to race Uncle Mo until doctors figure out what exactly is ailing him, which almost certainly rules out the Preakness Stakes.

"The next step is go get to the root of the issue," Pletcher said. "Right now, we have no race plans. Period."

Repole admitted he needed some time to let the news sink in when Pletcher told him on Thursday night. But by morning, after one final check up with his veterinarians, there was no way he was going to risk it.

"This horse has had every resource available trying to figure out what's wrong with him," Repole said. "And we still can't figure it out. It was an easy decision. I'm not worried about his racing career. Now we're really worried about the horse."

Pletcher -- who didn't speak to the media for two days as he tried to focus on getting Uncle Mo ready -- was fairly hard on himself during the press conference, calling it a "personal failure" that he couldn't get Uncle Mo healthy enough to run.

"We just ran out of time," Pletcher said.

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