Stay Thirsty has been preparing for his 2011 debut at Palm Meadows.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Stay Thirsty has been preparing for his 2011 debut at Palm Meadows.
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Joseph DiOrio

Stay Thirsty Solid Gotham Choice

The Bernardini colt seeks his first stakes win March 5 at Aqueduct.

Stay Thirsty  has been living in the shadow of his stablemate Uncle Mo  ever since their racing careers began last summer, and that probably won’t change no matter the outcome of the $250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III) March 5 at Aqueduct.

But while a victory in the Gotham won’t leapfrog Stay Thirsty past Uncle Mo in most Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) polls, it will solidify the son of Bernardini ’s status as a major player on the Triple Crown trail and further strengthen the already strong hand of owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Stay Thirsty was installed the 9-5 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Gotham, which drew a mostly unheralded field of nine and is the local prep for the  $750,000 Wood Memorial (gr. I) April 9. Whirlaway winner Toby's Corner was pegged as the 5-2 second choice, while impressive allowance winner Norman Asbjornson will share top weight of 120 pounds with Stay Thirsty.

Repole owns undefeated champion Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty, and Pletcher trains both colts as well as Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) winner Brethren —all three of them considered major Derby candidates. Even if Stay Thirsty wins the Gotham, he is not likely for the Wood because Uncle Mo is being pointed for that race after his debut in the March 12 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

The April 3 Florida Derby (gr. I) or April 16 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) are the two most logical races for Stay Thirsty after the Gotham, according to Repole.

Stay Thirsty has been working stride-for-stride with Uncle Mo since arriving at Palm Meadows Training Center in January, including a bullet work Feb. 27 when both colts were clocked going five furlongs in 1:00 3/5. Pletcher has been very pleased with the way Stay Thirsty has returned to training this year after a successful juvenile campaign that saw him break his maiden at Saratoga, finish second in the Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), and fifth in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), which was won in dominating fashion by Uncle Mo.

“I think when Stay Thirsty gets into the starting gate Saturday, he’s going to look to his left, look to his right, and have a big smile on his face when he sees Uncle Mo isn’t there,” said Repole. “You know how passionate I am about horse racing, and I’m always happy for the horse whether it’s a $7,500 claimer or Uncle Mo. But if ever there was a horse I’m going to root for, it’s Stay Thirsty. I really want to see him win this race.”

Stay Thirsty will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, who will be aboard for the first time. They will break from post 5.

“He’s been on an identical schedule as Uncle Mo, and in the three breezes he’s had with him he’s held his own,” said Pletcher. “He’s handled each assignment we’ve given him.”

Dianne Cotter’s homebred Toby’s Corner rides a three-race win streak into the Gotham, including his impressive two-length score in the Feb. 5 Whirlaway on a sloppy Aqueduct  track. The son of Bellamy Road  broke his maiden last winter and won an allowance race to begin his 3-year-old season—both one-mile races at Laurel Park. He is based at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland with trainer Graham Motion.

Motion sent Toby’s Corner out for just one work for the Gotham, that coming Feb. 24 when he went five furlongs in 1:02 2/5. Eddie Castro will stay aboard.

“I think each of his races has been somewhat of a progression,” said Motion. “He kind of got to gawking at the eighth pole in the Whirlaway, as he had in his previous race, but he got it together and kind of won nicely. Every race is a step up, and I hope he shows he belongs with these caliber horses.”

Also back from the Whirlaway is third-place finisher Preachintothedevil from the barn of Gary Contessa. The New York-bred son of Pulpit was beaten nearly six lengths in that race, one month after winning an overnight stakes at Aqueduct.
Pennsylvania-bred Norman Asbjornson took five tries to break his maiden but did so in style Dec. 8 at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, romping by five lengths at one mile. In his season's debut, the Real Quiet colt went wire-to-wire to win a two-turn allowance event at Parx Racing by 2 3/4 lengths.
Based at Bowie Training Center for Christopher Grove, Norman Asbjornson will be ridden by Julien Pimentel.
A pair of recent maiden winners are worth consideration since they should be part of the pace. Nacho Saint was runner-up in the grade II Sanford Stakes as a juvenile and came back off a lengthy freshening to break his maiden Jan. 28 going one mile at Aqueduct. The Kelly Breen trainee went wire-to-wire in that race as the odds-on choice.
The Fed Eased, from the barn of Rick Violette, is even quicker from the gate. The Montbook colt ran a half-mile in :46.60 Jan. 29 in a six-furlong maiden special weight race before finishing up in 1:10.74 in his 7 1/4-length score. In his debut three weeks before, The Fed Eased ran second to Crossbow.
One closer to keep an eye on is Steve Asmussen trainee Dawly, who came from off the pace to score in a six-furlong starter handicap Feb. 6 in the Aqueduct mud. The Awesome Again  gelding was claimed out of his Dec. 17 maiden win for $50,000 by Michael Dubb.

$250,000 Gotham Stakes (gr. III, Race 10, 5:12 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Furlongs (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. The Fed Eased (FL), J Valdivia Jr., 116, R A Violette Jr.
2. Nacho Saint (KY), J Bravo, 116, K J Breen
3. Starship Caesar (FL), E R Da Silva, 116, B Parboo
4. Toby's Corner (FL), E Castro, 120, H G Motion
5. Stay Thirsty (KY), R A Dominguez, 116, T A Pletcher
6. Isn't He Perfect (KY), J Rodriguez, 116, D Shivmangal
7. Preachintothedevil (NY), J Alvarado, 116, G C Contessa
8. Norman Asbjornson (PA), J Pimentel, 120, C W Grove
9. Dawly (KY), C H Velasquez, 116, S M Asmussen