Taking Stock: Mo Donegal Has Character of Crawford


Mo DonegalSarah Andrew


Affable Iowan Jerry Crawford, a longtime client of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, runs the successful racing partnership Donegal Racing, which was established in 2008 with the specific goal of winning the Gl Kentucky Derby. That may have sounded like wishful thinking at the time, but Crawford's stable has made it to Louisville on average every three years or so, with live runners, and with horses that haven't been purchased for exorbitant sums: Paddy O'Prado (El Prado {Ire}), a $105,000 Keeneland September purchase and among the first yearlings bought by the fledgling stable, was third in 2010; Dullahan (Even the Score), a $250,000 Keeneland September buy, was third in 2012; and Keen Ice (Curlin), who was purchased for $120,000 at Keeneland September, was seventh in 2015.

Despite Derby losses, all three nevertheless became Grade l winners at 10 furlongs, which is what the meticulous Crawford seeks in prospective yearling purchases; simply put, he's not interested in yearlings that could potentially become stakes winners at sprint and mile distances, and he's passed on several that have gone on to do so in order to find ones that can get the Derby trip.

That's the ethos that defines Crawford, and he's back to the Derby this year with another serious contender in Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo), the Gll Wood Memorial winner who was purchased for $250,000 at Keeneland September. Like the others noted above, Mo Donegal is bred for the distance and appears to be peaking at the right time for trainer Todd Pletcher.

It just so happens that come-from-behind types, or at least horses that come mid-pack from off the pace, happen to characterize the Donegal runners. You won't find Donegal silks on the front end or attending the pace from the get-go. Mo Donegal runs from off the pace. It's how Paddy O'Prado, Dullahan and Keen Ice ran. It's how Grade l winner Finnegan's Wake (Powerscourt {GB}), a rare Crawford homebred, ran. The same is true for Donegal Grade l winners Arklow (Arch) and Carrick (Giant's Causeway). Donegal's Gll Remsen S. winner O'Prado Again came from off the pace in 2011 to win the same race in the same style that Mo Donegal did last year.

The Remsen at nine furlongs late in the year is as far as 2-year-olds are asked to race in this country, and it's a race suited for horses with stamina. Unfortunately, the winners of this race are asked to come back as early 3-year-olds on the Classics trail in shorter races against faster horses, and this doesn't suit all of them. Frequently some go wrong after cutting back in distance, while others get injured. O'Prado Again, for example, was on the shelf for 10 months after his Remsen.

Coolmore America's young stallion Mo Town (Uncle Mo), who is bred similarly to Mo Donegal (both are out of A.P. Indy-line mares), won the Remsen in 2016 but never got back on track until late at three, when he won the Gl Hollywood Derby at Del Mar in November.

Darby Dan's Modernist, who like Mo Town is from a Bernardini mare, won his first stakes race at three, the Gll Risen Star S. at nine furlongs, and his second, the Glll Excelsior, at four. Current Derby contender Un Ojo, who is by the late Uncle Mo horse Laoban from an A.P. Indy mare, won his first and only stakes race at three this year, the Gll Rebel S.

Recently, Jerry and I had a discussion about Mo Donegal's pedigree and its aptitude for stamina and later development, after he'd read an article that suggested Mo Donegal had more speed in his makeup than what he's shown on the track. With Jerry's permission, I'm reproducing here my unedited email response to him, which came after Mo Donegal's rallying third-place finish in the Glll Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream over 1 1/16 miles.

I wrote: “It's a very positive piece, obviously. Your horse is training well, and if there were ever a year to get the Derby, this is it. However, when Uncle Mo and AP Indy are crossed in pedigrees, what usually results is more of a stamina horse than a speed horse; that means a horse that could win at 2, but late in the year, and this is what Mo Donegal showed. Moreover, winning the Remsen at 2 demonstrated his stamina, because 9F at 2 is as far as horses that age run in the US.

“In my opinion, he actually shows more stamina at this stage of his career than what's optimum for him, and when you cut back to 1 1/6 miles at 3, it was too sharp for him. However, White Abarrio and Simplification have proven to be good horses, and likewise, the two that beat Zandon are the same, which points to a lot of class. The danger, as I pointed out years ago to you after winning the Remsen with O'Prado Again, is keeping these types sound enough to make the Derby.

“Country Grammer is a good example. He, too, won at 9F at 2, but he came back at 3 at 1 1/6 and finished off the board. It took too much from him, and he didn't win his first stakes race until the summer, and at 4 he won his first GI at 10F.

Mo Town, bred on same cross as Mo Donegal, also was a late 2yo winner at 8F, then won the Remsen at 9F. He was 5th in the Risen Star at 3 in his debut at 3. He didn't win his first GI race until the Hollywood Derby late at 3.

“I think Mo Donegal fits the profile of these types, but if he can get into the Derby, he will have a great chance this year. However, his best should come in the second half of the year and at 4.”


Coolmore America's Uncle Mo is one of the best stallions in the country. Trained by Todd Pletcher, he was a man among boys at two, both physically and by racing performance, winning all three starts impressively. Injury and illness abbreviated his 3-year-old campaign, but he certainly has enough stamina markers in his pedigree–his dam was sired by Arch–to stay 10 furlongs on paper.

Of course, it's not a theoretical exercise anymore; he sired a Derby winner in his first crop in Nyquist, whose dam was by the fast Forestry and came from a family that produced a lot of speedy types, even by sires with stamina, and this underscores the stamina that Uncle Mo frequently imparts.

Mo Donegal's dam is Callingmissbrown, a Pulpit mare who won two of her four starts, both from off the pace at sprint distances.

Combining Uncle Mo and A.P. Indy, in this case through Pulpit, adds a fair bit of stamina to this pedigree, as noted earlier, but the female family itself contains more stamina within it as the pedigree unfolds. Callingmissbrown's dam is Gl Acorn S. winner Island Sand, a daughter of Gl Preakness and Belmont S. winner Tabasco Cat. Island Sand also won the Gll Delaware H. at 10 furlongs and was second in the Gl Kentucky Oaks. The next dam is by Travers winner Forty Niner, and the fourth dam, by Nureyev, produced Niigon, a colt who won the Queen's Plate at 10 furlongs.

This is the type of pedigree that Crawford mines, and it looks like he's hit another mother lode with Mo Donegal, who, true to the Crawford form, will be running late in the Derby. Hopefully for him, it will be in time to win the race he's been seeking.

   Sid Fernando is president and CEO of Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., originator of the Werk Nick Rating and eNicks.

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