LITTLE ROCK — The $6,000 late fee to nominate Jake Mo for the Triple Crown was processed days before the Rebel Stakes, shooting down the theory that the colt's connections scrutinized the running of the race and decided that their horse had done enough to deserve a chance to compete with the best 3-year-olds.

LITTLE ROCK — The $6,000 late fee to nominate Jake Mo for the Triple Crown was processed days before the Rebel Stakes, shooting down the theory that the colt’s connections scrutinized the running of the race and decided that their horse had done enough to deserve a chance to compete with the best 3-year-olds.

The assumption was that Jake Mo had infected his owner with Derby fever, a common malady when a thoroughbred owner who is relatively new to the game has a 3-year-old with promise. Turns out the failure to nominate by the early deadline was much more mundane; owner Stephen R. Brown simply forgot about writing a $600 check prior to Jan. 21.

Told about the supposition that prompted a phone call, trainer Allen Milligan laughed. “If you knew my owner, you’d understand,” he said. “You know that saying, ‘He’s not here for a long time, he’s here for a good time.’” That, he said, accurately describes Brown, who is in the oil business in Midland, Texas.

Brown was apologetic about the oversight and didn’t bat an eye about writing the four-figure check. The owners of 19 other 3-year-olds did the same thing. That makes a total of 418 horses nominated for the Kentucky Derby-Preakness-Belmont and only 15 have graded earnings of $188,000 or more. A year ago, the 20th and final horse to secure a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby had $120,000 in graded earnings. The year before, it took a record $218,750 to qualify.

Second in one division of the Southwest at Oaklawn Park and fourth in the Rebel a month later, Jake Mo is sitting on $85,000. Milligan figures the $100,000 for finishing third in the Arkansas Derby on April 14 would be good enough.

So far, Jake Mo has outperformed his odds and early expectations.

Milligan’s brother, Eddie Jr., operator of a training center in Athens, Texas, prepared Jake Mo for the races. He thought the colt had some talent, but didn’t believe he was more than a sprinter.

“He was the first one to call me when the horse run second in the (one-mile) Southwest,” Allen said. Prior to the 1 1-16-mile Rebel, Milligan promised that Jake Mo would show more early foot than he did in the Southwest. Instead, there was a bit of traffic on the first turn and Jake Mo was as far back as seventh at one point. At the wire, he was about four lengths behind the winner, Secret Circle.

Milligan and jockey Cliff Berry agreed Jake Mo should have been closer to the lead early in the race. “When he kinda had to steady him, it took us out of the game plan,” Milligan said. “What’s so encouraging is we got close and had to come from off the pace.”

Milligan is a third-generation trainer. Before he was school age, he tagged along with his father, Eddie, on his trek from Texas to Hot Springs to saddle horses.

In his mid-40s, Milligan has begun to emerge on the national scene. He won the Oaklawn training title in 2009, was second to D. Wayne Lukas in 2011, and is one winner ahead of Steve Asmussen with 11 days remaining. He started his first horse in the Kentucky Oaks in 2010 and Jake Mo was his first starter in a Breeders’ Cup race, finishing fifth in the Juvenile Sprint last November.

Now that he is eligible for the Triple Crown, Jake Mo could be Milligan’s first Derby starter.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.