Purchased for a modest sum of $20,000 in Keeneland’s September 2015 Yearling Sale, Uncontested is an early favorite for all the Derby prep races at Oaklawn Park this spring. In mid-January, the Wayne Catalano-trained colt made the first start of his 3-year-old campaign in the Smarty Jones Stakes. He dazzled the Oaklawn Park crowd, producing a stakes record-breaking time of 1:36.32 in sloppy conditions. He received a 96 Beyer Speed Figure (BSF) for his effort in the two-turn, one-mile race.
To put this performance in perspective, compare Uncontested’s final time in the Smarty Jones with American Pharoah’s one-mile split in the 2015 Rebel Stakes (also run over a sloppy track at Oaklawn Park), and you’ll find that Uncontested ran 3.44 seconds faster than the Triple Crown winner!
Uncontested is not a horse that came out of nowhere. As a 2-year-old, Uncontested made two starts and showed plenty promise early by breaking his maiden in his very first start, a 6 ½-furlong race at Keeneland.
In his next start, the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs, he led for six furlongs before slipping to fourth at the finish. In watching the replay of this race, I attribute most of his fading finish to having to overcome the far outside 12 post position. He was also trying a distance of ground for the first time. The bad post draw along with the increase in distance is a bad combination for any 2-year-old making the second start of their career.
His owner, Harry Rosenblum, has gone on record to say that Uncontested is more mature, has a longer stride and better numbers than his two previous Derby contenders: Far Right and Whitmore. In 2015, Far Right won both the Smarty Jones and Southwest Stakes, finished second in the Arkansas Derby and 15th in the Kentucky Derby. Last year, Whitmore finished second in the Rebel Stakes, third in the Arkansas Derby and 19th in the Kentucky Derby.
As a juvenile, Uncontested’s sire, Tiz Wonderful, was undefeated in three starts. He produced a 99 BSF in his maiden victory at Saratoga, a 97 BSF in the Iroquois Stakes (GIII) and a 101 Beyer in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII). Unfortunately, he was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail in January of his 3-year-old campaign due to a right tendon injury. His grandsire Tiznow won two Breeders’ Cup Classics. His grandsire on his dam’s side, Lil E. Tee, won the 1992 Kentucky Derby. So he has winning pedigree that suggests he will like the added distance.
Overall, coupled with his pedigree and recent performances, Uncontested rates as a serious Kentucky Derby contender and one to keep a very close eye on. He will still need to prove that his Smarty Jones performance in the slop wasn’t a fluke. I have very little concern, as he displayed more stamina in the Smarty Jones than he did in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His next start is slated to be in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 20.