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Second-String No More: Stay Thirsty Takes Travers

To go from twelfth in one big race in May to first in another big race in August— 3 months’ time— feels seemingly impossible in a logical sense. Perhaps Stay Thirsty just needed some time to grow up, as his pedigree would suggest. Or perhaps it wasn’t thirst— up until now, he just wasn’t hungry enough.

An overcast sky and a threatening wind storm of epic proportions did nothing to sway the team of Stay Thirsty and Javier Castellano, who were co-favorites with Haskell winner Coil going to the post. The field broke hodgepodge, with Stay Thirsty stumbling out onto the track but managing to pick it up in time to contest the lead with Shackleford. The Bernardini colt was eventually reeled in before the half mile point, made in a calm :47 1/2. 

In an unexplainable turn of events, Shackleford let go of the lead by the mile mark, tiring far back into the pack as Coil trailed as caboose. Stay Thirsty rolled on the turn, opening up enough of a gap between himself and the pack that Castellano merely gave a casual backwards glance. Longshots Rattlesnake Bridge and J W Blue rallied well, the former coming close to Stay Thirsty on the outside, but could not push faster. Stay Thirsty was crowned the obvious winner as the rest of the three-year-old titans seemed to fall apart around him: Coil finished last, Shackleford second-to-last, Ruler On Ice fourth.

Javier Castellano celebrated his second year in a row of winning the Travers, which he also won with Stay Thirsty’s sire Bernardini in the same Jim Dandy-Travers double.

However, it was only politics that made this is a remotely exciting Travers. The other horses finished so poorly it begs the question as to how well the track held up, as I noted Shackleford bouncing a bit higher than usual in his gallop down the backstretch. Even Stay Thirsty looked like he was struggling to open wide coming for home. Also, I’m curious to know if Bob Baffert is still suspect of the course as he was in the past couple weeks, seeing as his horse (and my favorite) failed to show any sort of power. And shame on Mike Repole of all people, who despite winning his first Travers— a hallmark of excellence— still managed to darken the day more than the clouds above Saratoga:

It’s a roller-coaster game, it’s a bipolar game. 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.

I’m starting to feel that this man doesn’t deserve to own a horse like Thirsty, who is now arguably the country’s best three-year-old, arguably because out of all 12 Grade I races for three-year-olds, a different horse has won each of them.

Stay Thirsty, according to his trainer Todd Pletcher, is looking at a possible Jockey Club Gold Cup (I) start with hopes to enter the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I), both super races I agree he’ll like quite a bit. Stay hungry for those wins, Thirsty! 

Point Given snatched the Haskell-Travers double in 2001, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his first Haskell in the process. Can his son Coil accomplish the same feat with the same trainer ten years later?

Point Given snatched the Haskell-Travers double in 2001, giving Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his first Haskell in the process. Can his son Coil accomplish the same feat with the same trainer ten years later?

The faces of today’s Travers Stakes

The faces of today’s Travers Stakes

In 2006, Bernardini completed the Jim Dandy-Travers Stakes double and became Three-Year-Old Male of the Year. His son, Stay Thirsty, is attempting the same feat five years later. 

In 2006, Bernardini completed the Jim Dandy-Travers Stakes double and became Three-Year-Old Male of the Year. His son, Stay Thirsty, is attempting the same feat five years later. 

The Travers Field Heats Up

With heavy rain and wind in the northeast forecast (thanks a lot, Irene), the Travers Stakes may or may not be the definitive three-year-old race we were all hoping for. There are four horses here who could snag year-end honors with just this win, while the rest are largely considered underdogs looking for experience or seeing if they’re Grade I company or not. 

$1 million Travers Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: 5:45 pm on Saturday August 27. Travers coverage on NBC starts at 4pm.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics. All carry 126 lbs]

1) Bowman’s Causeway - Ramon Dominguez, Chad Brown - Lost the Prince of Wales Stakes by a narrow nose, an improvement from his Queen’s Plate fourth place finish. The distance is just right, but can he step up his game in this field?

2) Rattlesnake Bridge - John Velazquez, Kieran McLaughlin - The lone gray in the field, this colt has been improving like clockwork since his sophomore debut against Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer, where he finished second. Since then he’s been warmed up extensively with up front finishes, capped by a win recently in the Long Branch Stakes (III). He can rate off the pace and seems to do better as the distance gets longer. He could upset a few horses here with Johnny V, a Saratoga pro, in the irons.

3) Moonshine Mullin - Emma-Jayne Wilson, Reade Baker - I felt he got a lot of flak in the Jim Dandy, and he wound up showing the moves capable of a Canadian invader by finishing a hot second ahead of Dominus. A very good horse. If any of the outsiders could spring an upset, keep an eye out for his black blinker hood.

4) Ruler On Ice [pictured] - Jose Valdivia, Kelly Breen - 3-for-5 and never off the board in his career, “Ice” finished third in the Haskell and showed he’s a great slop horse when he won the Belmont. This horse is the one to watch for— sits right off the pace and relishes the distance. Watch your back, Thirsty!

5) Malibu Glow - Rajiv Maragh, George Weaver - Falling short in stakes company, Malibu Glow showed Weaver his stuff in a 3/4 length allowance win in late July at Saratoga. The longest shot of them all here. Weaver’s put him in based on good workouts and good stats (i.e. Ragozin numbers). Not counting on it.

6) Raison d’Etat - Eddie Castro, Bill Mott - An up-and-coming A.P. Indy son, he’s been slow to progress but is getting there slowly. His worst performance was a fourth in his debut, and he recently came in second in the 1 1/8 mile Curlin at Saratoga. A proven horse at the track and getting to that distance, but he’s probably still too inexperienced to seriously challenge this field.

7) Coil - Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert - Coil’s on a roll this year, unleashing a fantastic 4-for-5 wins with one close second. He was absolutely fantastic in his Haskell win last month where he came to win off his usual position and off a rocky start. He should like the distance and is the best horse here, in my opinion. The thing that might trouble him though is the rain, since he’s never run in the slop before.

8) J W Blue - Cornelio Velasquez, Tony Dutrow - Second in the Barbaro Stakes at Delaware, Jay-dub wins my mini award for favorite pedigree: by Sky Mesa and out of a Dynaformer daughter. He’s the blue-collar guy in this field— not impressive, but he’s getting to be a better closer bit by bit. He may find himself outclassed here.

9) Stay Thirsty - Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher - Slow to improve, but an awesome distance horse who obviously just needed a bit more time to blossom. He ran second to Ruler On Ice in the Belmont and won the Jim Dandy Stakes last month in dominating fashion. A great and tenacious competitor who relaxes quickly and moves when asked. He has established he loves Saratoga, so he’ll win in dominating fashion again should racing luck prevail.

10) Shackleford - Jesus Castanon, Dale Romans - The most consistent three-year-old all year, “Shack Attack” has been relentless, winning the Preakness and coming up second to Coil in the Haskell. He’ll be out on the lead first, as he likes it. He tries hard, which is his greatest attribute. But, I strongly feel 1 1/4 miles is still overshooting his capabilities in a highly able field like this, and from the far outside he’ll have to spend more energy early on. He’ll finish third or fourth most likely.

You did it! Colonel John (Tiznow x Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman) eyes the camera after winning the 2008 Travers Stakes.

You did it! Colonel John (Tiznow x Sweet Damsel, by Turkoman) eyes the camera after winning the 2008 Travers Stakes.

Street Sense [left] and Calvin Borel hold off Grasshopper and Robby Albarado to win the 2007 Travers Stakes

Street Sense [left] and Calvin Borel hold off Grasshopper and Robby Albarado to win the 2007 Travers Stakes

Martin Garcia gives Coil a pat on the neck after their emphatic win in the Haskell Invitational. He was confirmed for the Travers this morning after a quick bullet work at Saratoga.

Martin Garcia gives Coil a pat on the neck after their emphatic win in the Haskell Invitational. He was confirmed for the Travers this morning after a quick bullet work at Saratoga.

The whole crowd went “Aww” when Kent Desormeaux gave Summer Bird a big hug following their win in the 2009 Travers Stakes.

The whole crowd went “Aww” when Kent Desormeaux gave Summer Bird a big hug following their win in the 2009 Travers Stakes.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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