Uncle Mo & Brethren In Florida
Brethren seeks to remain unbeaten in Tampa Bay Derby
Juvenile colt champion Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie) was entered in Saturday's $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) as a precaution in case the Timely Writer S. at Gulfstream Park failed to draw sufficient entries, but it now appears Uncle Mo will be staying closer to his South Florida base while stablemate BRETHREN (Distorted Humor) will fly the flag for the Todd Pletcher barn in the 1 1/16-mile test at Tampa Bay Downs.
Elevated to a Grade 2 event this year, the Tampa Bay Derby has seen its significance as a classic prep rise in recent years, especially since Gulfstream Park was reconfigured from a one-mile course to 1 1/8 miles in the middle of the last decade. The Tampa Bay Derby has yielded two Kentucky Derby (G1) winners in recent years, Street Sense in 2007 and Super Saver, a half-brother to Brethren, in 2010.
Like his noted half-sibling, Brethren is a homebred campaigned by WinStar Farm. He enters the Tampa Bay Derby undefeated from three outings, including a four-length demolition of nine rivals in last month's Sam F. Davis S. (G3) over the Tampa Bay Derby course and distance.
The odds-on favorite in the Davis, Brethren had little trouble overcoming the widest post in a field of 10. Tracking in second to the far turn, Brethren launched his bid and had little trouble extending his lead to the wire under Ramon Dominguez, who will become the first jockey to ride Brethren in consecutive races.
Presuming no other defections other than Uncle Mo, Brethren would face eight others in the Tampa Bay Derby. Regardless of the number of actual participants. Brethren drew the widest post again Saturday and will seek to avoid a wide trip around the clubhouse turn.
Three colts who passed the wire after Brethren in the Davis -- TOO EXPERIENCE (Drewman), WATCH ME GO (West Acre) and BEAMER (Vindication) -- all return in the hope of making amends in the Tampa Bay Derby. With the exception of Watch Me Go, who rated in mid-pack, the other two attempted to rally from far back while chasing a moderate pace. Too Experience did the better of the trio, finishing a length clear in second, but only 1 1/2 lengths separated the three at the wire.
Making their stakes debuts in the Tampa Bay Derby are the Juddmonte Farms homebred STRIDING AHEAD (Empire Maker) and two-time winner FREE ENTRY (Tale of the Cat). A course-and-distance maiden winner by 6 3/4 lengths on February 5, Striding Ahead is trained by Bill Mott and hails from the family of Blue Grass S. (G1) winner Bandini and noted sire Stormy Atlantic. Striding Ahead's fourth dam was 1965 juvenile filly champion Moccasin, who was also named Horse of the Year by the Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Free Entry, meanwhile, is undefeated in two starts this season for Chad Brown. Fourth behind Uncle Mo in his Saratoga debut last summer, Free Entry captured a six-furlong maiden in January and a one-mile allowance the following month, both at Gulfstream.
The remainder of the Tampa Bay Derby field is composed of ECONOMIC SUMMIT (Malibu Moon), a Belmont maiden winner unraced since trailing the Nashua S. (G2) in November, and local prospects CRIMSON KNIGHT (Leroidesanimeaux [Brz]) and MOONHANGER (Malibu Moon).
PLUCK (More Than Ready), impressive winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) in November after making a sustained bid from near the back of the field, was entered in a $30,000 open allowance scheduled as the 7TH race at one mile on the turf. He was also cross-entered in Saturday's Palm Beach S. (G3) at Gulfstream, but has been confirmed for the Tampa allowance.
The Team Valor colorbearer stumbled badly at the start of the Juvenile Turf and averted near disaster when a rival slipped and fell in front of him entering the first turn. As much as 14 lengths down at one point, Pluck turned in an explosive rally to win going away by a length over subsequent Fountain of Youth S. (G2) winner Soldat (War Front).
Also winner last season of the Summer S. (Can-G3) at Woodbine, Pluck will make his debut on Saturday for trainer Graham Motion, who took over training duties from Pletcher over the winter. An overseas trip to either the French Two Thousand Guineas (Fr-G1) or Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1) is being considered for Pluck, who could have his final tune-up for either classic in the April 8 Transylvania S. (G3) at Keeneland.
Keertana will seek a fourth Grade 3 score in the Hillsborough (Melissa Wirth/Horsephotos.com)
A solid field of nine fillies and mares will contest the $150,000 Hillsborough S. (G3) at about 1 1/8 miles on the turf. KEERTANA (Johar), who dead-heated for the win in a January 23 Tampa Bay allowance, will cut back from 1 3/8 miles after posting a half-length score in The Very One S. (G3) at Gulfstream. The multiple Grade 3 vixen was a narrowly beaten third in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) to conclude her 2010 campaign.
ZAGORA (Fr) (Green Tune), a multiple Group 3 winner in her native France, will make her second stateside appearance in the Hillsborough. The chestnut made up nearly 12 lengths to nab second in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland in October, and will make her first start since joining the Brown stable.
Invading from the Miami area are ASKBUT I WON'TTELL (Horse Chestnut [SAf]) and CHEROKEE QUEEN (Cherokee Run). Askbut I Won'ttell has strung together three big efforts in recent months, winning the Cardinal H. (G3) and My Charmer H. (G3) before finishing second in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf last time. Cherokee Queen notched her first graded win last out in the Suwannee River S. (G3), winning by two lengths for Marty Wolfson.
Others of note here are Grade 3 winner and Suwannee River fourth IT'S TEA TIME (Dynaformer), Endeavour S. (G3) third DENOMINATION (Smart Strike), and the multiple Grade 2-placed GENERAL CONSENSUS (Giant's Causeway).
Saturday's 12-race program also features the $75,000 Suncoast S., which has supplanted the Florida Oaks as the meet's top test for three-year-old fillies on dirt. Mazarine S. (Can-G3) winner WYOMIA (Vindication), sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G2) when last seen, will make her seasonal and dirt debut but could be overshadowed in the wagering by a pair of sharp Gulfstream maiden winners, MISS SMARTY PANTS (Smarty Jones) and ROYAL DELTA (Empire Maker). Also expected to take plenty of betting action is DEVILISH LADY (Sweetsouthernsaint), who captured the Sandpiper S. and Gasparilla S. earlier in the meet before a sixth in the Forward Gal S. (G2).
Also in the lineup are the Grade 3-placed Florida Oaks third NIJI'S GRAND GIRL (Candy Ride [Arg]) and stakes winners HER SMILE (Include), THIRD CHANCE (Kafwain) and BLUE EYED SWEETIE (West Acre).
Uncle Mo tops five rivals in Timely Writer
Undefeated champion UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie) will make his highly anticipated three-year-old debut on Saturday against only five rivals in the $100,000 Timely Writer S., a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park. Originally scheduled to return in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), the colt's connections -- owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher -- changed course in February and began building up a Timely Writer bid instead.
"The Gulfstream Park surface is very similar to the surface that Mo's training on every day at Palm Meadows," Pletcher explained in late February. "There's also the advantage of a 20-minute van ride to Gulfstream as opposed to a four-hour ride to Tampa Bay."
Uncle Mo has been entered in both races on Saturday, but is almost assured to line up against the likes of Sapling S. (G3) winner MADMAN DIARIES (Bring the Heat) at Gulfstream.
The bay is the class of the field, breaking his maiden by 14 1/4 lengths, capturing the Champagne S. (G1) by 4 3/4 lengths and running away with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) by 4 1/4 lengths in his three lifetime starts. He's earned nothing but triple-digit BRIS Speed and Late Pace ratings during that time, and should have an easy time in taking his seasonal bow from the rail post under John Velazquez.
Madman Diaries is the only other runner in the field with prior stakes experience. The Wesley Ward charge broke his maiden then triumphed in the Victoria S., both at Woodbine, by a combined 19 lengths last year. He followed that with a runner-up performance in the Colin S., but returned to the winner's circle when trying dirt for the first time in the Sapling at Monmouth Park.
Fourth when making his turf debut in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) in November, Madman Diaries had no run in the February 26 Hutcheson S. (G2) over the track to finish seventh, but could move forward in his second start following the layoff. Regular rider Jeffrey Sanchez has the call.
The rest of the Timely Writer field is made up of maiden and allowance winners. RATTLESNAKE BRIDGE (Tapit) turned heads with a nice maiden win at Gulfstream on February 12, while ROCKING OUT (Include) finished third in his first start of the year against allowance rivals one day later. GALLANT DREAMS (Bernardini) posted his first win when last seen going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park in October, and SCHOOLYARD CAT (Catienus) is returning here off a nine-day break after being well beaten in his past two on turf.
A pair of graded events share Saturday's card with the Timely Writer, and another Breeders' Cup winner in the form of Juvenile Turf hero PLUCK (More Than Ready) is also taking the Gulfstream/Tampa Bay Downs route. Entered in both the 7TH race at Tampa Bay and the nine-furlong Palm Beach S. (G3) over Gulfstream's turf on Saturday, the dark bay colt would have faced off against nine rivals if his connections had opted for the latter race, but is expected to go in the Tampa Bay Downs event.
"I am sure that this will look funny to some people," said Graham Motion, who has taken over the training of Pluck from Pletcher. "Here we are, the favorite for a Grade 3 at Gulfstream, running instead in a lowly allowance race at Tampa, but I think this is the right race for Pluck to start off in. He should prefer the more lush Tampa turf over the harder surface at Gulfstream Park and he definitely will enjoy the mile rather than the mile and an eighth."
That leaves MASTER DUNKER (Imperialism) as the top draw in the $150,000 Palm Beach. Second by a head in the Hallandale Beach S. last out before being placed first via disqualification, the David Fawkes pupil also ran third in the Dania Beach S. to start the year. He'll keep Luis Saez, aboard for both of those races, in the saddle on Saturday.
A fourth in the Hal's Hope is all that separates Tackleberry (inside) from a seven-race win streak (Jim Lisa Photos)
The final stakes on the card, the $300,000 Gulfstream Park H. (G2) at a mile, drew a contentious field of eight, and RULE (Roman Ruler), TACKLEBERRY (Montbrook), DUKE OF MISCHIEF (Graeme Hall) and SOARING EMPIRE (Empire Maker) have been knocking heads in their past few races.
Soaring Empire held Rule off by 1 1/4 lengths in the Hal's Hope S. (G3) on January 8, but was no match for Tackleberry when second to that rival in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G2) on February 12. Tackleberry ran fourth in the Hal's Hope, but has been unbeatable since while taking the Sunshine Millions Classic in addition to the Sprint Championship. Second in the Sunshine Millions Classic was Duke of Mischief, and Rule returned in his next race to finish third in the Donn H. (G1).
Also entered in the Gulfstream Park 'Cap is multiple Grade 1-placed stakes winner JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil), who has been unable to find the winner's circle since taking the In Reality division of the Florida Stallion S. series in 2009. The chestnut did place in the Preakness S. (G1) and Wood Memorial S. (G1) last season for trainer Nick Zito, but will make his four-year-old bow back under the tutelage of trainer Stanley Gold, who campaigned him to a successful juvenile campaign.
TIZWAY (Tiznow), a five-length winner of the Kelso H. (G2) last year, is also making his seasonal debut in this spot following a fifth-place run in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
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