Uncle Mo tabbed as Breeders’ Cup chalk

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Uncle Mo is back at Churchill Downs as the early 5-2 favorite in a field of 13 for Saturday’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, nearly six months after he was knocked out of the Kentucky Derby on the eve of the race with what was later diagnosed as a life-threatening liver disease.

The colt was the second favorite for the Derby. Now all eyes are back on Uncle Mo to see if he can complete his comeback with a season-ending victory in North America’s richest race.

“Uncle Mo has never looked better, has never trained better,” owner Mike Repole said. “This is the Uncle Mo we thought we’d see the whole 3-year-old season. For him to make this comeback in just four months from being diagnosed is amazing.”

Uncle Mo lost 200 pounds while sidelined with the illness that initially puzzled veterinarians and trainer Todd Pletcher. He returned to the races in August and lost the King’s Bishop by a nose before winning the Kelso Handicap by three lengths this month.

“He’s doing as well as he can be doing,” Pletcher said. “We’ve come a long way since May, and we’re hoping we can get all the way there.”

Uncle Mo and John Velazquez will break from the No. 12 post in the 1¼-mile race.

“It gives Johnny some options going to the first turn,” Pletcher said.

Uncle Mo will run against an accomplished field that includes stablemate Stay Thirsty, filly Havre de Grace, Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out and Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude.

Pletcher and Repole will have two shots at winning the Classic, with Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty. Repole owns both colts.

Havre de Grace drew the No. 10 post and was installed as the 3-1 second choice for the Classic. She is 5-for-6 this year, with one win against the boys in the Woodward. Havre de Grace is following the path taken by Zenyatta, who beat males in the 2009 Classic and was edged by a nose in last year’s Classic to end her career with a 19-1 record.

“The fillies have run very well,” trainer Larry Jones said, citing Rachel Alexandra’s win against males in the 2010 Preakness Stakes. “Why not?”

Uncle Mo, Havre de Grace, New Zealand-bred So You Think at 5-1 and Flat Out at 6-1 were the only Classic runners listed at single-digit odds.

Another female will look to share the spotlight Saturday when Goldikova goes for a record fourth consecutive victory in the $2 million Mile. She was made the 7-5 favorite and will break from the No. 1 post in the turf race.

“That’s what we were hoping for, the rail, to cover the least possible ground,” said Regis Barbedette, assistant trainer to Freddy Head.

Undefeated Union Rags is the 2-1 favorite in Saturday’s $2 million Juvenile for Michael Matz, who trained 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

The 15 races to be run Friday and Saturday are worth $26 million.

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