July 14, 2024

Uncle Heavy nabs El Grande O in Withers

Uncle Heavy wins the Withers S. (Photo by Coglianese Photography / Credit to Susie Raisher)

El Grande O appeared to have victory in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3) in his grasp, until Parx shipper Uncle Heavy stayed on late to nip him at the wire at Aqueduct. Ridden by regular pilot Mychel Sanchez, the Butch Reid trainee banked 20 points in his first appearance in a Road to the Kentucky Derby scoring race.

Michael Milam’s Uncle Heavy, last seen defeating fellow Pennsylvania-breds in the Dec. 27 Wait for It S., went off as a 9-1 outsider in the Withers. Bettors preferred Brad Cox’s invader from Oaklawn Park, the 1.15-1 Lightline, while El Grande O, runner-up in the Jerome S. over this oval, ranked as the 4.10-1 second choice.

El Grande O was prominent on the inside throughout the 1 1/8-mile test. A half-length up through an opening quarter in :24.14 on the muddy track, he let Seminole Chief go ahead and duke it out with Khanate through the half in :49.49. When Seminole Chief gave way, Khanate inherited the lead, but El Grande O re-engaged passing six furlongs in 1:14.44.

Putting Khanate away at the top of the stretch, El Grande O opened up by three lengths with just a furlong to go. But he began to tire late, just as Uncle Heavy was finding his best stride.

Uncle Heavy, who had been well placed in the stalking group early, improved into third turning for home. At that point, however, he was outpaced by El Grande O and Khanate as they spurted clear of the field, and third place loomed as his likely result.

The further they went, the stronger Uncle Heavy grew, and the more his stride lengthened. As the final furlong elapsed in a slow :13.62, he ultimately threw his weight around to deny El Grande O by a nose in 1:53.79.

“I thought the whole way around I was going to have a lot of horse to finish up,” Sanchez said of Uncle Heavy, who returned $20.60. “Usually, I’m a little far back but I was closer to them the whole way around. I was tracking them and just had to wait and hope he would finish like he always did.

“It seems like at the three-eighths, when they sprint from him, they got away from him a little bit. He’s a big horse, he doesn’t have that quick reaction. Once he got fully going, he made up all the ground and made it look easy.

“He kept digging in, and we get closer and closer and once we saw the wire I said, ‘I think we’re going to get it.’”

El Grande O added 10 points, for a total of 15, in a heartbreaker.

“He ran a good race, you know,” jockey Kendrick Carmouche said. “I wish I didn’t have to take that much pressure going down the backside, but there’s nothing you can do. I thought he ran a better race this time than he did last time (in the Jerome).

“You wouldn’t think he would make the distance, but today he did.”

Lightline churned on another 2 1/2 lengths back in third, good for six points, followed by fourth-placer Deposition (four points). Khanate picked up two points in fifth, bumping his total to five. Next came Speed Runner; Mission Beach, who lost all chance with a sluggish start; Society Man; and an eased Seminole Chief.

Uncle Heavy’s scorecard stands at 4-3-0-0, $293,580. The bay broke his maiden at first asking in a six-furlong dash Oct. 23 at Parx, but wound up a troubled fifth in the Nov. 28 Pennsylvania Nursery. He rebounded when stretching out to two turns in the Wait for It, in keeping with his trainer’s expectations.

“I have always felt all along with this horse, the further the better,” Reid said. “He certainly proved that today. A mile and an eighth was obviously well within his grasp. He actually missed one of his breezes, and a few days of galloping due to the inclement weather, so for him to go ahead and do that is quite a testament to the horse’s staying ability.

“He looked like he was just hitting his best stride about fifty yards from the wire. He really started stretching out nice.

“He’s a great-dispositioned horse, too. He’s a laid-back fellow and he’s a big, strong young dude. We like him a lot.”

Bred by Reid’s sister-in-law, Barbara Reid, and named for the trainer’s brother, Mark “Heavy” Reid, Uncle Heavy became the first graded winner sired by Social Inclusion, the third-placer in the 2014 Preakness (G1) and Wood Memorial (G1). His dam, Expect Wonderful, is by the Tiznow stallion Tiz Wonderful.

Uncle Heavy will try to win the Wood that eluded his sire. The April 6 renewal, now a Grade 2, is on the agenda.

“It’s a short ship (from Pennsylvania),” Reid said, “and there’s a lot of big money up here.”