Connections of Uncle Lino happy under the radar

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The formal portion of the post-position draw just wrapped Wednesday night and a massive crowd gathered a little more than an arm’s length from the table of Gary Sherlock. The group swarmed to the connections of Nyquist – trainer Doug O’Neill, owner Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez – and with good reason, he’s the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness Stakes favorite after all.

Sherlock, who will make his classics debut when he sends Uncle Lino to the post in Saturday’s 141st Preakness, was mostly ignored by the recorder- and camera-wielding contingent and perfectly content as he answered a smattering of questions from a few reporters and pondered the evening’s dinner plans.

Uncle Lino is 20-1 on the morning line to upset the 3/5 favorite Nyquist, the undefeated Derby winner and last year’s champion 2-year-old male. Uncle Lino, like Nyquist a Kentucky-bred son of champion Uncle Mo, is one of seven Preakness entrants listed at 20-1 or higher on the early line. He needs to improve significantly from his last two starts in graded company, a fourth in the San Felipe and a third in the Santa Anita Derby, but again, Sherlock likes his chances.

“I think he’s a good horse,” said Sherlock, sitting with his son Michael and longtime friend and fellow horseman Kip Elser and his wife Helen.

Sherlock thought Uncle Lino could be a good horse from the moment he bought the colt at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale. He through the $52,000 he spent for the colt out of the unraced Orientate mare Haysee was value then and now and he celebrated the purchase with Elser over fried chicken at the Merrick Inn in Lexington.

“When I bought the horse it was so funny, I was wondering how I got him so cheap,” Sherlock said, scrolling through his phone to show pictures of the then yearling Uncle Lino standing just outside the Darby Dan Farm consignment in Barn 10 at Keeneland. “He didn’t do anything wrong, was a little long in the pasterns at the time and up in the withers, but basically that’s what I bought.

“I always take the evidence way back. There he is when I bought him and this is what he is now.”

Uncle Lino now is a two-time winner – the victories coming late last November in a maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar and the 1 1/16-mile California Chrome Stakes in track-record time last time out April 30 at Los Alamitos – with a pair of graded-stakes placings. He’s one of four sons of Uncle Mo in the Preakness, along with Nyquist, Laoban and Abiding Star.

Uncle Lino races for the partnership of Sherlock, Tom Mansor and Jim Glavin’s Purple Shamrock Racing. Fernando Hernandez Perez, the only rider to sit on Uncle Lino’s back in the afternoon, will also make his Preakness and classics debut Saturday.

“I turned down a lot of money for this horse early on,” Sherlock said. “It was kind of hard, but I had a lot of confidence in him. Now it’s OK, but after he broke his maiden they offered a half a million and then they came back and offered more. I said no. It was a tough decision, but I’m glad we kept him.”

Uncle Lino trained for the first time at Pimlico Race Course Thursday morning, after shipping from Santa Anita Park Tuesday and walking the shedrow Wednesday. He gave Michael Sherlock, who works on the starting gate crew in Southern California, plenty to handle Thursday morning on his way to and from the racetrack.

“He’s on it; probably because all he did was walk yesterday,” Sherlock said as he snapped a shank on the bay colt after he galloped 1 mile and started his walk back to the stakes barn.