By Dick Jerardi
Five years ago, Butch Reid went to Florida with the most talented 3-year-old from Parx since Smarty Jones. The Kentucky Derby trail did not work out for Maximus Mischief, but Reid gets enough good 2-year-olds in his barn that it felt like just a matter of time until he got another one good enough to get on the trail.
Uncle Heavy was brilliant in his October debut at Parx, incredibly unlucky in the November Pennsylvania Nursery and then a powerhouse winner of the Wait For It Stakes at Parx two days after Christmas.
Big and strong, Uncle Heavy, named for Parx Hall of Famer Mark Reid, the 1972 ACC Heavyweight wrestling champion from the University of Maryland, and trained by his Parx Hall of Famer brother, had proven his worth against Pennsylvania breds. So it was time to see if the colt belonged on the Derby trail.
Uncle Heavy was sent to Aqueduct Saturday for the Grade III $250,000 Withers Stakes, 20 Derby points to the winner. The colt, owned by Mike Milam and ridden by Mychel Sanchez, who won the 2023 Parx title, was in mid pack and wide early in the 1 1/8-mile race. But as he did in his two Parx wins, Uncle Heavy, sent off at 9-1, started to move near the end of the backstretch, passed horses on the turn and just kept coming, relentless even when it looked hopeless as 4-1 El Grande O opened what looked like an insurmountable lead with 200 yards to go.
But Sanchez kept riding and Uncle Heavy kept running, making up ground with every stride. But could the colt really get there? Yes, he could – on the final stride, by a nose, the 20 points and a place on the Derby trail secured.
“That was exciting, especially the last 50 yards,” Butch Reid said. “He can long, this guy, no question about that.”
So how did Uncle Heavy get from Mark and Barbara Reid’s Chester County farm to the winner’s circle at Aqueduct and possibly a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate for Derby 150?
Well, Mark trained the colt’s mother, Expect Wonderful. He always had high hopes for her, but it was always one issue after another. He could never get her quite right.
Owned by Dan Ryan’s Smart Angle LLC, she won her maiden in a $14,000 claimer in October 2018 at Laurel Park. Her final race was on Dec. 29, 2018 at Laurel, a non-winners of two life $5,000 claimer. She finished far back.
Reid, however, continued to believe in Expect Wonderful, brought her home and ran her through a sale at Timonium. When nobody else believed (the bidding stopped at $1,700), Reid asked Ryan if he could buy her for the $1,700. Ryan agreed.
The Reids bred her to The Factor. The resulting foal, eventually named Roan Burgundy, was sold for $6,000 and then resold for $70,000. The horse, with 15 starts and three wins, now races for trainer Jamie Ness and blew away a field in a Laurel race on Jan. 7.
The Reids bred Expect Wonderful to the good race horse and stallion Social Inclusion, third in the 2014 Preakness and Wood Memorial and sire of Parx standouts Flor de Sombra and Gordian Knot. They eventually sold the foal to Milam. That would be Uncle Heavy.
The Reids are partners with Ryan in a 2-year-old colt by Peace and Justice out of Expect Wonderful. The horse is in training at Sharp Farm in Delaware. His name? Beyond Expectations.
They bred Expect Wonderful two years in a row to Weigelia, the sire whose sons and daughters have run so well for so long for Butch. She did not get in foal either year.
Now, with Uncle Heavy doing what he is doing, the Reids are sending Expect Wonderful to Kentucky’s Spendthrift Farm in a week where she will be bred to Eclipse Award winning sprinter Mitole, the leading 2023 first year sire just edging out, yes, Maximus Mischief for the honor.
Butch Reid kind of knew what he had even before Uncle Heavy’s debut.
“He was just a big strong guy, showed amazing agility for a horse that big,” he said. “He could have just been a big, lumbering clod. He’s just not that way. And he’s got a great head on his shoulders. He doesn’t worry about anything.”
Which gives Reid the confidence to dream about the Derby. The questions are: how do you get there, one race or two?
Reid is thinking of one race and he is between the March 23 Louisiana Derby and the April 6 Wood Memorial. He likes the 1 3/16 mile La. Derby distance and the six weeks to the Ky. Derby. The Wood obviously is an easier ship and will be run over the same track where Uncle Heavy just won.
If Uncle Heavy would finish in the top three of either of those races, he would have enough points to be a cinch to make the Derby field. And Reid is thinking if he is not good enough to finish in the top three, he probably should not be going anyway.
So is Uncle Heavy good enough?
To be determined, but the early returns are all positive.
For Reid to be back with another chance five years after Maximus Mischief?
“It means everything, especially with my new grandson this year,” he said. “Family’s in the area, so it’s been quite an exciting year in a lot of ways. To be back on the trail is really exciting.”
Indeed it is. And Uncle Heavy’s stablemate Maximus Meridius could find a spot on the trail too depending on how he does in the March 2 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. And there is also the Parx-based Deposition, owned and trained by the upset man himself, Uriah St. Lewis. The colt, sent off at 71-1 under Dexter Haddock, was a rallying fourth in The Withers, good for four Derby points.
The Derby is three months away. The dreams are not far away at all.