Kentucky Derby Huge Test for Lightly Raced Outwork

Outwork quickly rose to Kentucky Derby contender in the Wood Memorial. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

Making the Grade, which will run through the 2016 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at Outwork, winner of the $1-million Wood Memorial Stakes on April 9 at Aqueduct.


Bay Colt

Sire (Father): Uncle Mo

Dam (Mother): Nonna Mia, by Empire Maker

Owner-Breeder: Repole Stable (Ky.)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Kentucky Derby Points: 120 (Ranked No. 4)

Outwork impressed in his career debut in April 2015 at Keeneland Race Course, where he became both the first starter and first winner for his sire, Uncle Mo, but he was sidelined because of minor injuries for the rest of his 2-year-old season. The homebred of Mike Repole had a ton of ground to make up (and quickly) to be in position to compete in the 2016 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, but he succeeded to solidify a spot in a race that his brilliantly fast, champion sire missed in 2011. Can Outwork give Uncle Mo and Repole a Kentucky Derby victory?    

Ability: Fast and precocious, Outwork outclassed five opponents in his debut going 4 ½ furlongs on April 23, 2015. He used his natural speed to dictate the pace and streaked to a 2 ¼-length win that earned him a 90 Equibase Speed Figure.

Outwork subsequently was sidelined with injuries that Repole described as minor and did not make his next start until February of his 3-year-old season. On Feb. 13, Outwork won a three-quarter-mile (six furlong) sprint by 4 ¼ lengths at Tampa Bay Downs. With only three months to the Kentucky Derby at that point and a little more than 1 ¼ miles total traveled in two lifetime races, Outwork looked like the longest of longshots to be a contender on the Triple Crown trail, but this was a colt who had generated plenty of buzz in his career and clearly had a ton of natural ability. Trainer Todd Pletcher sent him to the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby and Outwork set the tempo again and battled gamely in the stretch with stablemate Destin before yielding grudgingly late. That runner-up finish at 1 1/16 miles, however, showed that Outwork could carry his speed around two turns and stamped him a legitimate contender on the Triple Crown trail.

Outwork was even better in his second start on the Derby trail in the Wood Memorial. With a two-turn race under his saddle, Outwork was better equipped for a battle in the stretch of the 1 1/8-mile race and fought off Trojan Nation on the muddy track to prevail by a head. He earned a career-best 102 Equibase Speed Figure for the Wood win, but the fact that he was fully extended to hold off a maiden (a runner who has never won a race) raised some legitimate questions about the quality of the Wood Memorial field and the victory. But I believe Trojan Nation will eventually prove to be a very nice racehorse — his dam (mother) is 1996 champion 2-year-old filly Storm Song — and I expect Wood Memorial favorite Shagaf will bounce back after finishing fourth on a track he clearly did not relish. Given the muddy track conditions, don’t be too hasty in dismissing Outwork’s Wood Memorial win. My hunch is it’s much better than many think, especially considering it was only Outwork’s fourth career start.

Running style: Outwork is a naturally fast racehorse who can go to the front or race just off the pace and make his move on the final turn, nearing the stretch. That asset is extremely valuable in the Kentucky Derby because theoretically it allows Outwork to put himself in good position ahead of most of the potential traffic trouble and give him first crack at the pacesetter. It feels like there are more deep closers than usual this year, so Outwork could be in an ideal spot, however, the probable looking presence of unbeaten champion Nyquist (also by Uncle Mo) is a bit of a concern. Unbeaten in seven starts and battle-tested with a terrific foundation, Nyquist presents a daunting challenge to the lightly raced Outwork should the two make their moves at the same time in the Kentucky Derby. Sure, it’s premature to think that far ahead, but when looking at Derby hopefuls with similar running styles, it’s tough to look past Nyquist when assessing the runners who should be on or near the pace.

Connections: Mike Repole is the owner and breeder of Outwork. Repole, who sold his company Glaceau, maker of Vitaminwater and Smartwater, to Coca-Cola for $4.1 billion in May 2007, is perhaps best known as the owner of 2010 champion 2-year-old male Uncle Mo. After winning all of his starts at two, Uncle Mo missed the 2011 Kentucky Derby with a liver disease that could have been the cause of a disappointing third-place finish — his first career defeat — in the Wood Memorial Stakes. Outwork provided Repole with some vindication in the Wood Memorial and now Uncle Mo’s first winner has a chance to deliver Repole his first win in a U.S. Triple Crown race.

“It’s really satisfying to know that with Outwork, I owned Uncle Mo, I owned Nonna Mia, they were both stakes horses. Uncle Mo was a champion and now I have the baby,” Repole told Thoroughbred Racing Commentary. “The whole family is part of Repole Stable, so it’s cool to open a program and see breeder Repole Stable, owner Repole Stable. It was special for us that I got the first winner for Uncle Mo and it was at Keeneland with Todd Pletcher and [jockey] Johnny Velazquez for Repole Stable. He’s going to have a lot of winners in his life, but to know I had the first is very special for me.”

Repole and his family in the Wood Memorial winner's circle

In addition to Uncle Mo and Outwork, Repole has raced Grade 1 winners Stopchargingmaria, Overanalyze and Stay Thirsty.

Outwork is trained by eight-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, whose lone Kentucky Derby win with 43 starters came with Super Saver in 2010. Pletcher also won the Belmont Stakes in 2007 with Rags to Riches and 2013 with Palace Malice.

A former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher led all North American trainers by purse earnings from 2010 through 2015 with his career-best total of $28,116,097 coming in 2007. Pletcher has nine victories in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and ranks as the all-time leader among North American trainers by purse earnings with more than $314.6 million.

Hall of Famer John Velazquez is the regular rider of Outwork. Velazquez earned his first victory in a U.S. Triple Crown race aboard Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes and recorded his first Kentucky Derby win in 2011 on Animal Kingdom. Velazquez, who also won the 2012 Belmont Stakes on Union Rags, is a two-time Eclipse Award winner who ranks first among North American jockeys by all-time purse earnings with more than $343.5 million.

Pedigree: As previously mentioned, Outwork was the first winner from the first crop of champion Uncle Mo, who was the leading freshman sire of 2015. With Florida Derby winner Nyquist, Outwork and Lecomte Stakes winner Mo Tom expected to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Uncle Mo has a great chance to add to the great start he has gotten off to at stud.

As a racehorse, Uncle Mo was as fast a 2-year-old as we’ve seen in a long time and he was able to carry that speed around two turns. His best runners thus far have possessed that potent combination of speed and stamina.

Outwork’s dam (mother) is Grade 1-placed winner Nonna Mia, by 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. Nonna Mia finished third in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes and Grade 3 Tempted Stakes, both at one mile, as a 2-year-old in 2009. Nonna Mia is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to multiple graded stakes winner Cairo Prince, who was a highly regarded contender on the Triple Crown trail in 2014 before he was sidelined with an injury.

Outwork’s granddam (maternal grandmother) is stakes-winning sprinter Holy Bubbette, by 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull.

I think Outwork has a fantastic pedigree for 1 1/16 miles or even 1 1/8 miles, but I’m a little skeptical about a top performance at 1 ¼ miles. Of course, that’s the case with most of the horses in the field, all trying this distance for the first time. From a pedigree standpoint, seeing Empire Maker and Holy Bull on the bottom half makes me feel a bit more confident, but I prefer to see just a bit more stakes success from the female side in longer races.

Outwork is clearly a gifted individual with a world of potential. With only four starts, however, and coming off a career-best performance, I think he’s in tough in the Kentucky Derby. On the positive side, he’s a gutsy runner who doesn’t quit with natural speed and a nice pedigree. He also should be in ideal position to strike turning for home.

Who knows, maybe Outwork is just getting good at the perfect time. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see this year’s Derby winner come from the first crop of Uncle Mo, but at this point Nyquist looks like the more likely victor.

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