With a powerful thrust and parry early in the Saratoga stretch, Stay Thirsty became the temporary toast of the 2011 three-year-olds with a convincing score in the Mid-Summer Derby. Including the Travers, Stay Thirsty had already won three graded stakes in New York, along with the Gotham and Jim Dandy, and looked like the horse ready to snatch the Eclipse Award away from the injured Animal Kingdom. That was then, this is now. Stay Thirsty has not won a race since and enters Saturday’s prestigious Woodward Stakes just over twelve months later as the somewhat forgotten horse.
In fairness, the four-year-old son of Bernardini has only raced four times in the past year for trainer, Todd Pletcher. Two were good performances, a 3rd place finish in his first try against older in last fall’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, and a 2nd place finish in this year’s seasonal debut against Trickmeister. The other two races, however; have left even devoted fans of the Mike Repole runner wondering if he is really the horse they believed he was last summer at the Spa. A fade job in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic left him with no hope for an Eclipse Award, and a disappointing 5th place finish in July’s Suburban now has him off the current radar of America’s top older horses. With that last race on his past performances it may be hard to like the way Stay Thirsty is coming up to Saturday’s big race … or is it?
In his most recent tightener at Saratoga, Stay Thirsty worked “as well as he’s ever worked,” according to Pletcher.
This report of being in fine fettle, coupled with the fact that the multiple graded stakes winner loves Saratoga, gives many, including this writer, the belief that Stay Thirsty is on the verge of running a big rebound race in the Woodward. Not only did he sweep the Jim Dandy-Travers last summer, but he also ran two very good races there as a Juvenile, with an easy maiden win, and a solid 2nd in the Grade 1 Hopeful.
Pletcher went on to comment, “Since then [the Breeders’ Cup Classic], by design, he’s had a freshening pointing him toward a late-summer and fall campaign. He ran very well first time back and got out-footed by a quicker horse and then, unfortunately, the Suburban fell on a very hot day he and a number of horses didn’t really respond very favorably to. So, we’ve regrouped and freshened for this, and I like the way everything’s coming together.”
So whether you take the word of one of the top conditioners in the business, subscribe to the ‘ready to roll third race off the layoff’ theory, like the way he has been training for his next race, or just believe that Stay Thirsty is a big ‘horse for course’ at Saratoga, it would appear that there is every reason to believe that he will run a much better race than his last, come Saturday.
The question remains whether all that will be good enough to win the Woodward over the likes of Mucho Macho Man and To Honor and Serve. Personally, I like his chances.