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Breeders’ Cup: Classic fave Uncle Mo comes back from the near-dead

Updated: December 6, 2011 8:20AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Horses only get one shot at the Kentucky Derby, but the Breeders’ Cup is Uncle Mo’s second chance at Churchill Downs months after his owner wondered if the 3-year-old would live this long, never mind run again.

The favorite in May’s Run for the Roses was a late withdrawal because of a mysterious ailment, but Uncle Mo has found new momentum and is the 5-2 favorite to win Saturday’s 28th annual $5 million, 1¼-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The richest card in thoroughbred racing will send 179 horses after 15 championships and $26 million in prize money Friday and Saturday and much of the attention will be on Uncle Mo.

It took three veterinarians, plus specialists, to determine that Uncle Mo did not have ulcers or stomach cancer, but a rare liver disease called cholangiohepititis that sounds as much like a mountain in the Himalayas as a diagnosis.

“I didn’t know if I would ever see him again,” said owner Mike Repole during the horse’s examinations.

It was weeks before it was apparent the illness wasn’t life-threatening and Uncle Mo could train. That was Todd Pletcher’s job and the horse notched a superb victory in the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park in October.

“For him to come back this quickly to race, it’s amazing,” Repole said. Uncle Mo has gained nearly 190 pounds to 1,250 in recent months by eating, yes, like a horse.

If Uncle Mo falters, Repole’s own Stay Thirsty or Havre de Grace, a winner of $2.2 million, could contend. Havre de Grace, victor in the Woodward Stakes, will make the race co-ed, going against the boys.

Female horses are major players here. Plum Pretty, winner of the Kentucky Oaks in May and trained by Bob Baffert, is entered in the 11/8-mile $2 million Ladies Classic on Friday.

And 6-year-old mare Goldikova, a legend in France, competing for the final time in Saturday’s $1 million Dirt Mile, will try to add to her nearly $7 million in earnings. Goldikova is pursuing an unprecedented fourth consecutive Mile victory.

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