STAY THIRSTY (Bernardini) wasn't spectacular in Saturday's Gotham S. (G3), but he won going away and looked good doing it. Trainer Todd Pletcher got what he wanted with a positive performance to build upon for the Kentucky Derby (G1).
DIALED IN (Mineshaft) faltered Sunday in an allowance at Gulfstream Park, sustaining his first loss with a non-threatening second, but trainer Nick Zito was able to find a silver lining: the 1 1/8-mile event had no pace and the lightly-raced Dialed In needed a two-turn race for foundation. The late runner is eligible to improve off the setback.
We have a big weekend up ahead, with unbeaten champion juvenile UNCLE MO (Indian Charlie) returning in the Timely Writer S. at Gulfstream as well as the San Felipe (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
The Derby is eight weeks from Saturday.
The Gotham wasn't a fast race (1 1/16 miles in 1:44.78) and the winner received only a 95 BRIS Speed rating, but I liked what I saw from Stay Thirsty. A three-year-old doesn't need to run fast times, with huge Speed ratings, to win the Kentucky Derby; they need to be able to sustain their run over 1 1/4 miles. Stay Thirsty looks like a top contender in that respect.
After hitting the gate at the start and stalking a slow pace on the front end, Stay Thirsty was asked at the top of the Gotham stretch by jockey Ramon Dominguez. He rallied to win easily, drawing clear by 3 1/4 lengths as he found his best stride in deep stretch, and wanted more ground than 8 1/2 furlongs, galloping out strongly past the finish line. Stay Thirsty netted a 106 BRIS Late Pace rating.
Stay Thirsty gets plenty of stamina from his female line and figures to keep improving at longer distances. Despite having some bottom at two, with a runner-up effort in the Hopeful (G1) and a well-beaten fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), he was still a raw prospect entering the Gotham, in need of a confidence-building win in only his second start since the Hopeful. The Gotham served as the perfect building block, providing him with $150,000 in graded earnings and his initial stakes victory, and he'll step up to face deeper company next time, most likely in the April 3 Florida Derby (G1).
I'm excited about Stay Thirsty, but it's still early.
Dialed In made his third career start Sunday in a 1 1/8-mile allowance that served as a learning experience. He was closer than usual to the slow pace and didn't appear comfortable racing between horses down the backside. His stablemate got the jump on him, opening a sizable advantage in upper stretch, and Dialed In wasn't making up much ground in the final furlongs.
The winner, the four-year-old Equestrio (Elusive Quality), tried to give the race away, suddenly veering out as he neared the finish line, but saved the win in his two-turn debut. The final half-length margin of victory was deceiving.
Dialed In didn't display the same ferocious stretch kick from his one-turn races and it was easy to come away disappointed with the loss, especially given the suspect competition. But it's probably best not to read too much into the setback.
Dialed In received much-needed seasoning and Zito could care less about winning or losing a race like this; he needed a two-turn prep for the Florida Derby. That race will tell us much more about the colt's Derby chances. Dialed In needs to offer a rally similar to the Holy Bull (G3) next time to avoid being labeled as a late-running miler.
Anything other than a complete annihilation will be a disappointment in the Timely Writer. That's too harsh, but a lot is expected from Uncle Mo. He was at least five lengths better than any member of his crop last year, and Saturday's competition leaves a lot to be desired, as only one opponent, MADMAN DIARIES (Bring the Heat), has previous stakes experience. He exits a seventh-place drubbing in the Hutcheson (G2).
RATTLESNAKE BRIDGE (Tapit) turned in an eye-catching debut performance last time, closing rapidly to win going away on February 12, and the gray colt could turn into a good one for Kiaran McLaughlin. Look for him to fill the runner-up slot as Uncle Mo wins for fun.
The Tampa Bay Derby doesn't offer much betting appeal either with a likely odds-on BRETHREN (Distorted Humor). I expected a much tougher test following his impressive win in the Sam F. Davis (G3), but he'll avoid any proven rivals Saturday. I'll take a stab at a straight exacta with STRIDING AHEAD (Empire Maker) on the bottom.
It's significant to see his usually conservative connections (Juddmonte Farms/Bill Mott) take a shot here following a maiden win. The royally-bred Striding Ahead turned in a superb effort over the course and distance on February 5, striding clear by 6 3/4 lengths, and he's trained forwardly all winter at Payson Park. Mott's probably thinking Belmont S. (G1) with his promising colt, but Striding Ahead could move into the Derby picture with a strong showing.
The San Felipe will be held at 1 1/16 miles, and trainer Bob Baffert will run two of his leading Kentucky Derby prospects, JAYCITO (Victory Gallop) and AWESOME PATRIOT (Awesome Again), for the first time in 2011. I like the future prospects for both colts, especially at longer distances, but expect to see them both come up a little short on Saturday.
Impressive maiden winners ALBERGATTI (Unbridled's Song) and RUNFLATOUT (Flatter) will look to make an impact in their stakes debuts, and Grade 1 hero COMMA TO THE TOP (Bwana Charlie) cuts back to a more favorable distance following a tightener in the El Camino Real Derby (G3). Late runners SURREY STAR (Ire) (Dubawi) and BENCH POINTS (Benchmark) offer some appeal in the speed-laden field.
There are plenty of ways to go in the San Felipe, but PREMIER PEGASUS (Fusaichi Pegasus) is my top selection.
A front-running winner in his first three starts, Premier Pegasus was forced a couple of lengths off the pace in the San Vicente (G2) and battled gamely throughout the seven-furlong test. That experience should serve him well in the San Felipe, as jockey Alonso Quinonez settles a couple of lengths off the early pace, and I love the stretch-out in distance with his pedigree. Premier Pegasus is one of only two members of the field with a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating to his credit, and he could pop at a nice price.
Enjoy the racing.