This is the third in a series of six preview articles for the six graded stakes that will take place this coming Saturday at Belmont Park.
Check back later for previews of the Beldame Invitational (G1), the Kelso Stakes (G2), and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1). And check the Fast Times at Belmont Park archives for previews of the Flower Bowl Invitational (G1), and the Vosburgh Initational (G1)
Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole have both been extremely prominent on The New York Racing Association circuit throughout 2011. If it seems like they’ve made their collective presence felt on so many of New York’s premier races this season, it’s because they have. Team Pletcher/Repole runners have hit the board this season in the Wood Memorial (G1), Met Mile (G1), Belmont Stakes (G1), the Jim Dandy (G2), the King’s Bishop (G1), and the Travers (G1). Arguably, in terms of prestige, those races all rank among the top ten contested in New York annually.
Given their attendance record in these elite races this season, it is only fitting that the dynamic duo will have a horse entered in the richest race remaining on the 2011 NYRA calendar. And given their performance record in these races, it wouldn’t at all come as a shock if that horse ends up having a major say in the outcome.
A 3-year-old son of Bernardini, Stay Thirsty has been taking it easy, for the most part, since winning the Travers. But that doesn’t mean that Todd Pletcher feels that the horse won’t be ready when the bell rings.
“Stay Thirsty is on a maintenance program,” Pletcher told NYRA press personnel. “Obviously he’s been in a lot of races that are 1 ½ miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 ¼ miles, so we’re just trying to keep him ticking over and he seems to be maintaining his form really well.”
Pletcher said this five days ago, following a work in which Stay Thirsty went four furlongs in a seemingly solid 47 seconds. His stablemate, Uncle Mo, went on, however, to make Stay Thirsty’s workout seem positively glacial, as he went the same distance in an eye-popping 46:2. Repole, however, took his cue from Pletcher, and maintained that he was pleased with the work.
““There are a lot of distractions [on the training track] so Thirsty wasn’t as focused to begin the work,” Repole explained. “But down the lane, [jockey] Javier [Castellano] just gave him a little tick, and all of a sudden you can just tell he looked good, and his gallop out was amazing.”
Beyond looking good, Stay Thirsty will need to be feeling good, and running good, in order to take the measure of a horse that has been beaten by only the very best in the Classic division, of late.
Gauge. Stepping stone. Measuring stick. Any of these terms would probably describe how most people feel about Flat Out.
He’s a good horse, make no mistake about it. A hard knocking type, who dances every dance (it has become increasingly rare for a horse to start in the Whitney, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, which all take place within a nine-week span). He absolutely toyed with the field the last time he raced at Belmont, winning the Suburban (G2) by 6¼ lengths. He is to be respected.
But when facing the horses considered to be at the top of the division, he has come up just a bit short. Whether it’s Tizway, or Havre De Grace, Flat Out just hasn’t quite been able to get there. He hasn’t disgraced himself by any means. He just hasn’t distinguished himself either.
Trainer Scooter Dickey is hoping that the 5-year-old son of Flatter will change that perception come Saturday. Should he do so, it would stand as, without question, the signature win in the 44 year training career of the affable Kansan. And it would help him shed a similar reputation, of being a conditioner of the good ones, and not the great ones.
The Jockey Club Gold Cup has produced the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner in two out of the last four years. Curlin won both races as part of his magnificent 2007 campaign. Blame did not win the Gold Cup last year, but this didn’t stop him from capturing the Breeders’ Cup Classic over Zenyatta five weeks later.
In this year’s Gold Cup, however, you get the feeling that, for the connections of the top two horses, it’s as much of a destination as it is a launching pad. For an owner who was born and raised just a few miles from Belmont, and for a trainer who has spent over four decades in search of a Grade I, winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup would be a nice enough way to end the 2011 season. A win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic would just be icing on the cake.