It wasn’t the Derby that connections thought of when Mo Town won the Remsen (G2) at this time last year, but the Coolmore principals, Team D, and trainer Tony Dutrow will happily take his renaissance as a turf horse in Saturday’s $301,380 Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar. Swooping fast and late for Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the 2-1 chance got up by a length over fellow East Coast shipper Channel Maker and the locally based Big Score and 7-5 favorite Sharp Samurai.
Only the most optimistic of observers could have foreseen such an end-of-season coup after Mo Town’s troubled spring campaign. The Uncle Mo colt shipped to Fair Grounds as the 3-2 favorite for the Risen Star (G2) and uncharacteristically wilted to fifth. He was even worse back in New York for the Wood Memorial (G1), where he was virtually eased in seventh of eight.
The following week, Mo Town was diagnosed with equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), as Dutrow revealed in a press release published in Thoroughbred Daily News:
Mo Town has been sent back to Ashford Stud and was immediately evaluated by their medicine specialist who found him to be suffering from EPM. Diagnosis is unfortunate, but we are happy to find the cause of his recent poor performances. The colt is gone on immediate intense treatment and we are hopeful of a quick recovery so he can return to training as soon as possible.
For whatever it’s worth, Dutrow made no mention of this diagnosis in his postrace quotes to Del Mar publicity or in Jay Privman’s recap for Daily Racing Form.
Mo Town was back on the worktab by the end of June, and ready to return in an early August Saratoga allowance. After a comeback fourth, and a better third next time at Belmont Park, Dutrow switched him to turf, and he was a revelation. Mo Town trounced them by 6 1/2 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile allowance on the Belmont inner, recording a career-best 104 Brisnet Speed rating. Although the initial idea was to consider Aqueduct’s Gio Ponti S. on Friday, he warranted a bigger spot, and the cross-country trek to Del Mar was on.
Velazquez also made the trip to ride Mo Town, who capped a weekend Grade 1 double for the Hall of Famer. On Friday, his 46th birthday, Velazquez guided Seeking the Soul to a breakthrough victory in the $500,000 Clark H. (G1) at Churchill Downs, and the celebrations continued Saturday.
Off a beat slow from post 7, Mo Town wound up farther off the pace than envisioned, which ended up working out well for him in a stop-start race. Longshot Ritzy A. P. scampered through an opening quarter in a solid :23.34 for the 1 1/4-mile trip, but then eased off the throttle at the half in :47.67.
In response, Souper Tapit and Sharp Samurai took closer order, and as a result, the pace picked up again through the middle stages. Souper Tapit grabbed a slim lead at the six-furlong mark in 1:11.19, and Sharp Samurai was likely too aggressive in throwing down his challenge on the far turn.
Trying to give the field the slip with that move, Sharp Samurai established separation briefly, but the closers were massing as he reached the mile in 1:34.57. While the favorite appeared to be holding his first assailant, Big Score, dangers were looming left and right.
Mo Town was motoring fastest of all down the outside to finish 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.36, a stakes record in the old Hollywood feature’s transplanted home. According to Trakus, he had the second-widest trip in the race, yet still polished off his final eighth in a field-best :11.49.
Channel Maker, who saved the most ground throughout, got through on the inside to grab second by a nose from Big Score, who edged Sharp Samurai by the same margin. Bowies Hero was next across the line, followed by Ritzy A. P., Ann Arbor Eddie, Souper Tapit, and Just Howard.
Mo Town now sports a mark of 9-4-1-1, $509,600. A promising second in his unveiling at Saratoga last summer, he romped at Belmont by seven lengths to stamp himself as an exciting prospect. That attracted the attention of the Coolmore partners – Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith – and the fact that sire Uncle Mo stands at Coolmore’s North American arm, Ashford Stud, didn’t hurt. They purchased a share in the colt, with Team D retaining part ownership. He provided a quick return in the Remsen, and his emergence as a budding turf star opens up whole new worlds for him.
Bred by John D. Gunther and Eurowest Bloodstock at their Glennwood Farm in Kentucky, Mo Town sold to Team D for $200,000 at Keeneland September. The bay is the first registered foal from the Bernardini mare Grazie Mille, who never raced again after her brilliant win second time out. Mo Town’s second dam is Grade 3 victress Molto Vita, and his fifth dam, stakes-placed Keeneland track record-setter My Sister Kate, is a full sister to Raise a Native.
Quotes from Del Mar
Winning rider John Velazquez: “So I got to try something different with this horse today. I’ve been trying to get him to settle. He broke slow, so I didn’t panic with him. I let him settle and run right along. Then when I asked him he responded. He responded very well.”
Trainer Tony Dutrow on Mo Town: “My first trip to Del Mar and the people out here are so nice I can’t wait to get back some day. It was a Grade 1 race and our horse had a chance and I just felt like we had to be here. The race itself? I don’t know how this turf course plays, but I knew at the top of the stretch Mo Town had a lot of work to do and I’m glad he was up to it.”
Jockey Javier Castellano on runner-up Channel Maker: “I saved all the ground. Then I cut the corner and there was some room on the rail. He ran huge. The winner got the jump on me.”
Flavien Prat on his trip aboard third-placer Big Score: “A good trip and a good try by this horse. He tries hard every time. You can’t want more than that from him.”
Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens on Sharp Samurai, fourth as the favorite: “He’s had a great year. He ran another good one. No excuses or complaints from me.”