Odds-on Stay Thirsty made a successful 3-year-old debut, taking over from pacesetter The Fed Eased in mid-stretch and rolling to a 3 1/4-length victory in the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) March 5 at Aqueduct.
It was the first stakes win for Stay Thirsty, a $500,000 2-year-old purchase for Mike Repole. Graded stakes placed as a juvenile, Stay Thirsty has been in the shadow of stablemate Uncle Mo since his career began, but proved he belongs in serious discussions as one of the season’s top Triple Crown contenders.
Ramon Dominguez guided to the Bernardini colt to victory for trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the third stakes win of the day at Aqueduct for that duo, as they also scored in the Fred “Cappy” Capossela Stakes with Sensational Slam and Tom Fool Handicap (gr. III) with Calibrachoa. Repole is the owner of Calibrachoa as well.
Stay Thirsty, bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther and John Darren Gunther, is out of the Storm Bird mare Marozia.
His last race a fifth-place finish in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last November, Stay Thirsty raced in fourth in the early going of the 1 1/16-mile Gotham after recovering from a poor break. Recent maiden winner The Fed Eased set the pace under Jose Valdivia Jr., carving out easy fractions of :24.79 and :49.18 with 47-1 Norman Asbjornson and Starship Caesar pressing the pace.
The Fed Eased continued to lead through six furlongs in 1:13.47 and still held a narrow lead in upper stretch, but Stay Thirsty, in a perfect three-wide psotion entering the lane, finally wore down the stubborn leader approaching the sixteenth-pole. Norman Asbjornson was between horses and made Stay Thirsty work every step of the way, while Nacho Saint was still in with a chance along the inside and Toby's Corner came with a late rush from off the pace. But Stay Thirsty overcame it all while edging away late.
Stay Thirsty hit the wire in 1:44.78 on the fast main track. Norman Asbjonson and Julian Pimentel settled for runner-up, a length in front of Toby’s Corner, who was sent off as the 8-5 second choice after winning three straight races.
Pletcher was pleased with the performance.
“I thought he ran huge," he said. "He’s coming in off only five breezes, going a mile and a sixteenth, and he hasn’t run since Nov. 6. It was very encouraging. I was a little concerned when he broke just a step slowly, sort of tossed his head at the break, but he recovered real quickly and put himself in a good spot. I was very, very pleased with the way he finished up. Ramon said he was very handy and was there every time he called on him. He was impressed, as we all were.”
Dominguez was especially happy with how his mount ran, especially after his poor start.
“At the very last second he threw up his head and missed the break," Dominguez said. "On the second jump I barely got after him and he got into the race pretty good, but he was also very relaxed at the same time. That’s always a concern after they break like that; after you encourage them to get into the race they might get too rank.
"Turning for home he was drifting in slightly, but there was barely any contact. I was very happy with him. He gave me whatever I asked him, and he galloped out very strong, too.”
Pimentel claimed foul on Dominguez after the race but it was quickly dimissed by stewards.
Earlier in the week, Repole said Stay Thirsty would be pointed for either the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) or Florida Derby (gr. I) for his next race.
Stay Thirsty broke his maiden at second asking last August at Saratoga and was second in the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) the following month. Based at Palm Meadows in Florida this winter, he has been working stride-for-stride with Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite Uncle Mo in preparation for his season debut.
Improving to 2-2-0 from five starts, Stay Thirsty has now earned $300,000.
The winner paid $3.80, $3.30, and $2.10. The exacta (5-8) returned $94.50 and the trifecta (5-8-4) was worth $174.50.
Nacho Saint finished fourth, followed by The Fed Eased, Isn't He Perfect, and Starship Caesar.
Norman Asbjornson's trainer Christopher Grove hinted that his charge could return for the Wood Memorial (gr. I) next month, while Graham Motion said Toby's Corner is less likely.