LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Uncle Mo won’t run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby because of a puzzling internal ailment that has reduced his appetite and energy. The loss of the biggest name in a field already short on star power makes the race even more wide open.
Owner Mike Repole announced the decision to scratch the colt Friday morning, about 40 minutes before Derby wagering opened. Uncle Mo was the 9-2 second choice on the morning line.
His absence reduces the field for the Derby to 19 horses. Dialed In is the 4-1 early favorite. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia was expected to revise the morning line later Friday.
In 2009, favorite I Want Revenge was scratched on the morning of the Derby with a career-ending leg injury. A week before last year’s Derby, heavy favorite Eskendereya dropped out with a bad ankle.
“It shows how tough our business is and how unfortunate it is, too,” said Dialed In trainer Nick Zito, superstitiously knocking on a wood sign on his barn. “We all would have liked to see him run. It’s devastating.”
The Derby dreams of Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher aren’t completely dashed. Repole owns and Pletcher trains 20-1 shot Stay Thirsty, but their biggest hopes rested with Uncle Mo.
“Uncle Mo is a franchise player,” Pletcher said. “Our confidence level with a healthy Uncle Mo would have been pretty high.”
Repole has 100 family and friends in town for the race.
“He had tremendous pressure on him,” said Robert LaPenta, owner of Dialed In. “He’s not only feeling bad for himself, he’s feeling bad for all of the people who had such high hopes.”
Jockey John Velazquez, who is 0 for 12 in the Derby, lost his mount on Uncle Mo. He was then named to ride Animal Kingdom, replacing Robby Albarado, who broke his nose in a spill earlier this week. Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Stay Thirsty.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert empathized with Pletcher, having lost two of his other Derby contenders, The Factor and Jaycito, on the road to the Derby.
“You’re never safe until you put that saddle on because anything can happen,” said Baffert, who will saddle Midnight Interlude. “Everybody says there’s no woofing in your sport. That’s because we don’t want to jinx ourselves. You woof afterwards, when you win.”
Pletcher, who trained Eskendereya, still won his first Derby last year with long shot Super Saver.
“Honestly, I’ve never had a horse as good as Uncle Mo,” he said. “To not make it here is a big letdown. I take it as a personal failure.”
Uncle Mo’s illness, which began as a gastrointestinal inflammation, was discovered after he was upset as the heavy favorite in the Wood Memorial on April 9. He led most of the way before finishing third, beaten by a length.