LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — There’s plenty for trainer Todd Pletcher to like in budding 2-year-old star Uncle Mo.
The bay colt is athletic. He’s smart. He’s aggressive. He’s won his first two races, including the Champagne Stakes, by a combined 19 lengths.
Yet there’s one trait Pletcher loves about his youngster above all.
“He runs reallllly fast,” Pletcher said with a wry grin.
Uncle Mo will probably have to in order to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Hopeful Stakes winner Boys At Tosconova has been just as impressive in two starts for Rick Dutrow. He broke his maiden with a 12-length romp at Belmont in July then had little trouble dispatching the field in the Hopeful at Saratoga in September, despite a rough start in which he was bumped breaking out of the gate.
The dark bay has run so easily, jockey Ramon Dominguez hasn’t had to lay so much as a hand on him in either race.
“His stride is overwhelming and he’s got all the speed you would ever want to have in a horse,” said Dutrow, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness two years ago with Big Brown. “You put those things together and you have everything.”
The winner will have the inside track on being named the champion 2-year-old and become the early favorite for next year’s Derby.
It’s the path Street Sense used four years ago, winning the Juvenile under the twin spires in 2006 then coming back six months later to capture the Run for the Roses.
Dutrow has no trouble envisioning Boys At Tosconova — who is the second choice at 5-2 behind solid 7-5 morning-line favorite Uncle Mo — doing the same.
“It’s easy for me to imagine,” he said. “Then again, I have a pretty big imagination.”
It doesn’t take much of one to imagine either Boys at Tosconova or Uncle Mo heading to the paddock at the track next May.
Uncle Mo’s rise is validation for owner Mike Repole. The co-founder of Glaceau, maker of soft drinks Vitamin Water and Smartwater, sold his business to Coca-Cola Inc., for $4.1 billion in 2007.
Becoming a billionaire was a thrill. Yet it didn’t compare to the surge of adrenaline the 41-year-old enjoyed when he watched Uncle Mo’s breakthrough in the Champagne.
Repole, who grew up going to race tracks around New York, has dabbled in horses for several years but never won a graded stakes until his star outdueled Mountain Town to win by 4¾-lengths.
“Usually I get caught at the wire and end up depressed with 50 of my family members,” Repole said. “When he crossed the wire, it was elation, relief.”
And a trip to Churchill, a place he hopes to return to on the first Saturday in May. He’s got a couple of shots, as stablemate Stay Thirsty joins Uncle Mo in the Juvenile. Stay Thirsty, sired by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini, was a strong second to Boys At Tosconova in the Hopeful in his last start.
“You would think he’s dying to stretch out,” Pletcher said.
Neither Pletcher nor Dutrow is concerned about their youngsters getting the two-turn, 1 1/16th-mile distance. Dutrow thought the same thing a year ago when he brought sprinter D’Funnybone to the Juvenile. Instead, the colt ended up finishing last in the 13-horse field.
He has no plans on waiting that long to see Boys at Tosconova hit the wire on Saturday. As solid as he was in the Hopeful, it was what Boys at Tosconova did after hitting the wire that impressed Dutrow. He clipped the line and kept right on going.
“We haven’t had a baby train like him or run like him,” Dutrow said. “I hope there’s many more like him to come. I’ll be sitting in a pretty good spot if that happens.”
Spoilers could include J.B.’s Thunder, who pulled away for a win in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last month. This is his first start on dirt, though trainer Al Stall Jr. believes his quickly maturing horse is game enough to handle one of the deepest Juvenile fields in recent memory.
“He’s never been tested in his life,” Stall said. “He’s always just won with straightforward ears. I keep saying, ‘He just out-athleted them,’ if that’s a word.”
The going will get significantly tougher on Saturday, even for a horse Stall calls “old school.”
Boys at Tosconova is the only one who will be traveling over familiar ground. He finished second in the Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill last April before he was transferred to Dutrow’s barn.
“I don’t see two turns being a problem,” Dutrow said. “We’re all good.”