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Uncle Mo solid, but The Factor is out of Derby

The Associated Press. John Velazquez rides Uncle Mo to victory during the Juvenile race at the Breeder's Cup on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky.

The Associated Press. John Velazquez rides Uncle Mo to victory during the Juvenile race at the Breeder's Cup on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Uncle Mo looks good to go. The Factor is good to go home.

A dozen days before the Kentucky Derby, two of the top contenders are headed in opposite directions.

Uncle Mo appeared right at home on the dirt at Churchill Downs on Tuesday, leaving trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole optimistic he'll be ready to run under the twin spires on May 7.

The Factor, meanwhile, will be a non-factor. The Sam Vincente and Rebel Stakes winner is out of an increasingly wide-open Derby following throat surgery.

Chalk it up to another chaotic day in a series of them leading up to the big race.

A semblance of sanity, however, may have returned following Uncle Mo's steady five-furlong workout under the lights in the pre-dawn darkness.

The 3-year-old colt clocked the distance in 1:01.80 under the lights early Tuesday morning, his first major training move since a gastrointestinal infection was discovered following a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial on April 9.

Pletcher called the move ''an indication that he's in good form.''

Repole, who cautioned his horse is still ''50-50'' for the Derby, was even more effusive.

''The work was very Mo like,'' Repole said. ''We couldn't have been more pleased. It's been a really tough 17 days after the Wood. Haven't had much sleep in the last 17 days.''

Uncle Mo was originally scheduled to work around 8:30 a.m. but Pletcher decided to send him out just before 6 a.m. to avoid another line of storms that have pummeled the track in recent days.

The reigning 2-year-old champion looked at ease in the muck, easily finding his way over the surface under regular rider John Velazquez.

''When he was pulling up on the backside a couple of gallopers went by him and he got in the bridle again,'' Pletcher said. ''He seemed really, really good this morning.''

Uncle Mo was the prohibitive Derby favorite until his puzzling run in the Wood, where he led briefly in the stretch only to tire in the final yards to finish third behind Toby's Corner to suffer the first loss of his career.

A series of postrace tests revealed the infection. Uncle Mo will continue to be treated for the condition, though Pletcher and Repole are encouraged by the way the horse has bounced back since returning to the track where he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile going away last November.

''I feel like, especially in the last 96 hours, we're seeing signs around the barn that he's back to his old self,'' Pletcher said. ''Right after the Wood Memorial his appetite was depressed and he wasn't eating the way he normally was and I think that the treatment we have him on, he's responding favorably, too.''

Pletcher cautioned, however, that there's still a long way to go before Uncle Mo makes his way to the starting gate on May 7.

He should know. The five-time Eclipse Award winner came to Churchill Downs last year with heavy Derby favorite Eskendereya only to withdraw the horse from consideration six days before the race due to a leg injury.

Pletcher went on to win his first Derby with Super Saver and has two shots this year in Uncle Mo and stablemate Stay Thirsty, also owned by Repole. Stay Thirsty will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez in the Derby, Repole said. Three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel worked Stay Thirsty on Sunday. Borel remains without a Derby mount with less than two weeks to go.

When Uncle Mo walked off the van a week ago he ''needed to have 19 good days'' to race, Pletcher said.

So far, so good.

''I think every day is critical for every horse that's here,'' Pletcher said. ''We're pleased with every day that he's had here. We're pleased with every day Stay Thirsty has had here, but still, while it's getting close, there's still a long way to go.''

Uncle Mo will have one more workout early next week before a final decision is made.

''I feel much better today than I did a week ago, and I definitely feel better today than I did two weeks ago,'' Repole said.

The same can't be said for trainer Bob Baffert. The Factor became the second Baffert-trained horse in as many days to be pulled from Derby consideration.

A day after Jaycito was taken off the Derby trail with a bruised foot, Baffert confirmed The Factor is also out of the Derby while he continues to recuperate from throat surgery after finishing seventh in the Arkansas Derby on April 16.

''I just feel like the window is closing on him,'' Baffert said. ''I'd hate to rush him into this thing.''

The Factor appeared to be an early Derby favorite after winning the San Vincente and Rebel Stakes. But he never fired in the Arkansas Derby, fading badly in the stretch behind winner Archarcharch.

A postrace examination discovered a flipped palate, leading to minor throat surgery. The procedure, combined with The Factor's preference to run from the front, left Baffert wary of how his horse would handle the Derby distance.

''We want to get him really right and the mile and a quarter has always been in the back of my mind,'' Baffert said. ''He's going to want to go too fast and it's crazy. He's not a true mile and a quarter horse.''

The Hall of Fame trainer will still saddle Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude in the Derby. Midnight Interlude worked six strong furlongs at Churchill Downs on Tuesday.

The defection of The Factor and struggling J P's Gusto opened the door for Shackleford and Twinspired to make the Derby field.

The race is limited to 20 horses, with spots going to those with the most graded stakes earnings.