One race after owner Mile Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher suffered the disappointment of watching their champion Uncle Mo miss by a nose in the Foxwoods King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I), the connections were all smiles when Stay Thirsty took over turning for home and held off Rattlesnake Bridge to win the $1 million Travers Stakes (gr. I) by 1 1/4 lengths Aug. 27 at Saratoga (VIDEO).
The 1 1/4-mile Travers, which included four of the top-ranked sophomores in the country, was billed as a race that would determine the division leader, and 2-1 favorite Stay Thirsty did just that under Javier Castellano. Five years after his sire, Bernardini , pulled off the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II)-Travers double, the dark bay/brown colt did the same in definitive fashion. It was the first grade I victory of his career and his fourth win in 10 starts overall.
Bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther and John Darren Gunther, Stay Thirsty is out of the Storm Bird mare Marozia. Pletcher bought him for Repole for $500,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training in 2010. He was consigned by Scanlon Training Center, agent.
“It’s a roller-coaster game, it’s a bipolar game,” Repole said. “What we just saw in the last half hour for Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole was the low, the highest high, all within 30 minutes. It’s a tough loss with Uncle Mo and probably the best win of my life here with the Travers.”
Stay Thirsty raced closer to the front than he normally does, and in fact held the lead after a :23.45 opening quarter before the expected pacesetter, Preakness Stakes (gr. I) Shackleford , took over under Jesus Castanon. Shackleford showed the way through a half-mile in :47.63 and six furlongs in 1:11.91 while Stay Thirsty stalked him, and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Ruler On Ice and Moonshine Mullin stayed close.
Shackleford was expected to stay longer, but he was done by the time they reached the quarter-pole and left Stay Thirsty (one mile in 1:36.74) to inherit the lead. Stay Thirsty held a 1 1/2-length advantage with a furlong remaining, and only had to survive a mild threat from a closing Rattlesnake Bridge to secure his career-defining win. The final time for the distance on a fast main track was 2:03.03.
Rattlesnake Bridge, sent off at 14-1 under John Velazquez, finished 1 1/2 lengths clear of third-place J W Blue, who hit the board at 32-1 with Cornelio Velasquez in the irons. Ruler On Ice was fourth in the field of 10.
Shackleford tired to finish eighth, while second choice Coil, the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner, was never involved and finished last.
“I didn’t expect to be on the lead,” said Castellano, who won the Travers a year ago with Afleet Express. “He gave me a little bit of a hard time for the first part of the race. He settled down and I was able to put him outside.
"I think that was the key to winning the race. I had a lot of horse. At some point, he was going to respond to me. He ran huge today. He showed he’s the best 3-year-old in the country, and I’m so happy with the way he did it.”
Stay Thirsty won for the third time in four starts at Saratoga. He broke his maiden there and romped by four lengths in the July 30 Jim Dandy. His only defeat at the Spa came when second in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) as a juvenile.
The colt began his 3-year-old season with a win in the March 5 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, and after two dull efforts began to round into form when a close second in the June 11 Belmont Stakes. He has now earned $1.4 million.
“We’ll look at the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I, Oct. 1 at Belmont Park); we know he likes Belmont and he likes 1 1/4 miles,” Pletcher said. “We need a bridge between here and the Breeders’ Cup (Classic, gr. I), and that’s the most likely one.”
Stay Thirsty paid $6.80, $4.40, and $3.40. Rattlesnake Bridge returned $10.80 and $7.60, and filled out a $78 exacta (9-2). The trifecta (9-2-8) was worth $1,312 with J W Blue, who paid $11.40 to show.