Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Uncle Mo is the toast of Champagne Stakes

Listen to this — from a man who has trained many champions, and broken many records.

“The sky's the limit,” he said. “I don't see how a horse could start a career more impressively than he has. He's able to do things other horses can't.”

The subject of his admiration, one of the most dazzling maiden winners of the summer, had been fast-tracked to elite competition and won at his leisure.

But the colt's name isn't Frankel and nor is the trainer in question Henry Cecil.

No, this was Todd Pletcher, America's top trainer, talking about Uncle Mo, who won a historic Grade One race in New York over the weekend by five lengths.

Only one horse, 27 years ago, has ever won the Champagne Stakes in a quicker time. Uncle Mo is hot favourite for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs next month and his connections are already dreaming about returning next May for the Kentucky Derby itself.

On this side of the ocean, meanwhile, everyone is buzzing about the showdown between Frankel and Dream Ahead in the Jumeirah Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday — a race the official handicapper of juveniles, Matthew Tester, is unabashedly hailing as “the best in living memory.”

It would be hugely gratifying should Frankel, Dream Ahead and Saamidd even remotely approach their billing on the Rowley Mile. At the same time, however, it would be wrong not to heed the rebuke — on behalf of all thoroughbreds — implicit in the absence from the Curragh yesterday of St Nicholas Abbey.

Last winter Tester and his colleagues were endorsing the champion juvenile with a rating of 124, well above the recent average.

Bookmakers, meanwhile, were offering exactly the sort of Classic odds against St Nicholas Abbey as they are now quoting about Frankel. In the event, St Nicholas Abbey started even money for the 2,000 Guineas, finished sixth, and has not been seen since.

With hindsight, after all, St Nicholas Abbey would have had to justify the least realistic expectations of last winter to dominate Makfi, Dick Turpin and Canford Cliffs (all subsequent Group One winners at the trip) over a mile on fast ground in the Guineas.

If he does prove more of a middle-distance type then his Guineas “flop” could be revised as a perfectly creditable effort.

Either way, the sport will certainly look back and reproach itself for so excitably anointing an heir to Sea The Stars barely a fortnight after his retirement.

Handicappers love the fact that Frankel and Dream Ahead have already won big races by ten and nine lengths respectively. Uncle Mo, moreover, won his maiden in Saratoga by 14.

It was a lack of such extravagance in Sea The Stars, who tended to idle in front, that prevented them giving him a rating commensurate with his unprecedented CV.

But Frankel has yet to meet a colt even vaguely competent for an average Dewhurst, while Dream Ahead seemed to owe at least a degree of his superiority in the Middle Park to the soft ground.

There is an infectious tide of optimism and goodwill about Frankel, in particular, named as he is after one great trainer and nurtured by another.

And the Racing Post's Newmarket correspondent yesterday described his gallop on Saturday — apparently coasting some ten lengths clear of an older lead — as “explosive” and “awesome”.

But there is another colt, at another top stable, who has been getting similar reviews all year; one who simply cruised through the Middle Park, until faltering in the ground.

And if you would rather back Frankel for the Guineas now, at 2-1, than Strong Suit at 25-1, then you will probably want to make it a double with Uncle Mo in the Kentucky Derby the same weekend.

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