Since finishing second in the Hopeful S. (G1), STAY THIRSTY (Bernardini) has been better known as the workmate for celebrated stablemate Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie), the early Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite, but the Todd Pletcher-trained colt won't have to share the spotlight when he lines up for Saturday's $250,000 Gotham S. (G3) at Aqueduct. The Repole Stable colorbearer is the likely favorite among nine rivals in the 1 1/16-mile inner-track event.
Stay Thirsty rolled to a 5 1/2-length maiden victory in his second career start at Saratoga and ran well in defeat in the seven-furlong Hopeful, putting away the other speed on the front end before grudgingly giving way to Boys at Tosconova (Officer) in the stretch. With his pedigree, Stay Thirsty figured to appreciate the stretch out to longer distances, but the dark bay colt was sidelined two months before making his two-turn debut in a difficult spot, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). His lack of recent activity showed as Stay Thirsty struggled home a well-beaten fifth behind 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," Repole said. "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."
In advance of the Breeders' Cup, Stay Thirsty trained at Churchill Downs with Uncle Mo, and he returned to the official worktab this year with the undefeated two-year-old champion, posting their first moves at Palm Meadows on January 30. Both three-year-olds have recorded five workouts this year, and Stay Thirsty appears to be training forwardly in preparation for the Gotham, including a sharp five-furlong drill in 1:00 3/5 on February 20. Uncle Mo went in 1:01 2/5 the same afternoon.
"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," Pletcher said. "He's handled each assignment we've given him."
Stay Thirsty will break from post 5 Saturday with new rider Ramon Dominguez.
TOBY'S CORNER (Bellamy Road) exits a convincing two-length score in the February 5 Whirlaway S. that netted him a field-best 103 BRIS Speed rating. The chestnut colt rated off the pace in the 1 1/16-mile event before launching an eye-catching move off the far turn, and he probably would have won by more if he had switched leads earlier over the muddy track in his stakes, and New York, debut. The Graham Motion trainee will bring a three-race winning streak into the Gotham, capturing a maiden special weight and an allowance/optional claiming event at Laurel Park prior to the Whirlaway. Eddie Castro will retain the mount.
"I think each of his races has been somewhat of a progression," Motion said. "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."
NACHO SAINT (Yes It's True) will return to stakes company following a 4 1/4-length win over maiden special weight rivals at Aqueduct on January 28. That marked the 2011 bow of the Kelly Breen-conditioned chestnut, who recorded a second in the Sanford S. (G2) and a fifth in the Sapling S. (G3) last year while still a maiden, and Nacho Saint will look to keep improving off the confidence-building victory. Joe Bravo rides.
THE FED EASED (Montbrook) will step up to face stakes rivals for the first time following a 7 1/4-length maiden romp at the Big A on January 29, and NORMAN ASBJORNSON (Real Quiet) invades from Pennsylvania following a pair of easy tallies over maiden special weight and allowance rivals at Penn National and Parx Racing, respectively. DAWLY (Awesome Again) and STARSHIP CAESAR (Repent) will each bring a two-race winning skein into their stakes debuts, winning starter allowance events most recently at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park, respectively.
New York-bred stakes winner and Whirlaway third-placer PREACHINTOTHEDEVIL (Pulpit) is also entered, and maiden winner ISN'T HE PERFECT (Pleasantly Perfect) rounds out the field.
The race lost an expected starter in Crossbow (Bernardini), who had been scratched from last Saturday's Hutcheson S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park in favor of the Gotham. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin announced Wednesday that the colt will undergo surgery to remove an ankle chip.