LOUISVILLE — With the Kentucky Derby less than two weeks away, getting a good night's sleep has become a thing of the past for Mike Repole.
So when the owner of 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo got word his Grade I winner was going out at the crack of dawn for his penultimate pre-Derby work at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, he wasn't exactly in danger of nodding off while waiting for the news.
"(Trainer Todd Pletcher) called me at 5:15 a.m., not that I was sleeping anyway," Repole said during a national teleconference. "He actually put his phone on speakerphone and gave me the fractions while Mo was working. I'm not sure how many owners would be dumb enough to want to be on that call."
What Repole heard on the other end of the line was nothing but positive news, however, as Uncle Mo breezed an easy 5 furlongs with stablemate Calibrachoa in 1:014⁄5 over a sloppy Churchill track.
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The second-to-last work is a key one for any would-be Derby contender, but Tuesday's breeze carried added significance for the connections of Uncle Mo.
The move was the first for the bay son of Indian Charlie since he ran third in the Grade I, 11⁄8-mile Wood Memorial on April 9 — his first loss in five career starts — and was subsequently diagnosed with a gastrointestinal-tract infection.
Although Pletcher planned to work Uncle Mo after the renovation break at 8:30 a.m., he opted to take advantage of the temporary lack of rain in the morning and the pristine condition of the track.
The result was what Repole termed a "very Mo-like" move, with jockey John Velazquez up, that left the colt's connections thinking they were one step closer to having a horse that was 100 percent ready for the biggest test of his life.
"I was pleased. It seemed like he handled the surface real well," Pletcher said. "The time was sort of within the range we were looking for. He had a good gallop out, came back well, so everything went according to plan.
"Each day seems to be a little better, and this morning's work was a key ingredient to the whole process," Pletcher continued. "But the way he handled it this morning, I'm encouraged. If he comes out of it and his appetite continues to go our way and he has another good week of training before his next work, I'm optimistic we're getting back to the Uncle Mo we saw in the Timely Writer and the Breeders' Cup and all those races."
The weeks since the Wood Memorial have been tumultuous for the Uncle Mo camp as the most popular bandwagon this season suddenly saw a lot of deserters.
The chatter about whether the current version of Uncle Mo is as good as the horse who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in spectacular fashion at Churchill last November isn't getting to Repole so much as the rumors floated recently about the colt's soundness.
"It seems like the media knows more about Uncle Mo than both Todd and I," Repole said. "The last couple of weeks, I heard that he was retired and what stallion farm he was going to and what his stud fee would be. I've heard that in the Wood Memorial, he came in with a wheelchair, crutches and a cast.
"To me, there is a confidentiality between a vet, a trainer, and an owner. But I promise you, I will never put a horse out there that is not safe, sound and healthy. As badly as I want to run in the Kentucky Derby and as badly as I want to win the Kentucky Derby, I will never sacrifice a horse's health for my ego."
Pletcher said Uncle Mo probably would have his final work either Sunday or Monday. Neither Pletcher nor Repole would make any guarantees about Uncle Mo's Derby status, but they both said they were just being mindful of past history.
"I would say, right now, he's 50-50 (to start in the Derby) but, if you asked me about the other 19 horses, I would say they're all 50-50," Repole said. "We all know what happened to I Want Revenge, to Eskendereya (both missed the Derby because of injury). But I feel much better today than I did a week ago."