March 21, 2011

The Next Seattle Slew?

Uncle Mo wins the Timely Writer (Stuart Browning/Eclipse Sportswire)

     Shortly after The Factor cruised home with a 6 ½-length win in the Rebel Stakes, the debate started all over the internet about whether he was the real deal.  The conversation then quickly devolved on places like Twitter into a vehement argument attacking the credentials of The Factor or Uncle Mo and just about every other Kentucky Derby contender.

Mucho Macho Man wins the Risen Star (Jonathan Bachman/ESW)
     At first glance, the resumes of both horses are solid. Uncle Mo is the reigning Horse of the Year in the Juvenile Division. The Factor set one track record and came within a breath of two others while increasing his distances this year.  Depending who the source is, they are likely to occupy the #1 and #2 spots in Derby Top Ten lists of most pundits.
     Then you have the rest of the top contenders in the likes of Mucho Macho Man, Soldat, Flashpoint, Anthony’s Cross, Riveting Reason Premier Pegasus and Stay Thirsty.  To parse out which horse is better this time of year is downright confusing.  Every horse is barely three years old – some a little more, some a little less. They are all developing at different rates and have the potential to be vastly different animals later in the Triple Crown trail.
The Factor wins the Rebel Stakes (Bob Mayberger/Eclipse Sportswire)
     Can anyone really prognosticate this, now?  Is there a point to doing it beyond having something to write?  The only real story is which twenty horses end up in the starting gate on May 7th.  If recent Derby’s have proven anything, the race is open to the best horse for that day, in those conditions, in a race that develops in that particular way.
     All one needs to do is look at Mine That Bird. He won, but it had little to do with the horse.  That was a superior ride, practically a theft, by Calvin Borel. Look at Lookin’ At Lucky last year.  Based on the rest of his three-year-old campaign and the trip he had in the Derby, it can easily be argued he was the best horse and should have won – but the inside post killed him. So, the best horse doesn’t always win. What happens if Uncle Mo gets the 1-box and The Factor gets the 20-box? What then?
     The part of all of this that should make race fans happy is that there is a debate. These are very nice horses that look to be peaking at the right time. They are running solid races in fast times.  Their performances are so outstanding many have even likened Uncle Mo to Seattle Slew. That is rarified air.
Stay Thirsty wins the Gotham Stakes (Sue Kawczynski/Eclipse Sportswire)
     As race fans look at what 2011 will hold, in a year without Zenyatta or Rachel, is it not comforting to know there just might be a big story brewing in the thoroughbred world? Maybe not a Triple Crown. Maybe a great rivalry. Maybe The Factor and Uncle Mo are BOTH that good? Maybe Premier Pegasus can run like his dad?
     At least people are talking, even fighting, to say how good these horses are. Racing needs animated discussion like this to invigorate the fan base, bring in new fans.  Let’s keep these non-fans talking. Maybe we can bring a few news fans into the sport wondering about Uncle Mo or The Factor or whoever. The debate is good.


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