09/29/2011 3:31PM

Belmont Park: Stay Thirsty has versatility going for him in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Stay Thirsty won the Jim Dandy coming from off the pace, then won the Travers racing near the lead.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Major League Baseball’s Fall Classic begins Oct. 19, but the march to it began Friday night with the divisional playoffs, including one series at Yankee Stadium. Nineteen miles away at Belmont Park, preparations for Thoroughbred racing’s version of the World Series – the Breeders’ Cup Championships on Nov. 4-5 at Churchill Downs – are set to take place on a Super Saturday program that may actually live up to the billing.

BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Racing schedule, replays, and past winners »

Six graded stakes races, all which are part of the Breeders’ Cup’s Win and You’re In program that awards automatic berths into their respective Breeders’ Cup events, are scheduled Saturday at Belmont on an 11-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. It may say something about the quality of the races when the supposed marquee event – the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup – could be the third or fourth-best race of the day.

The Gold Cup features Stay Thirsty, bidding to become the leader of the 3-year-old division, against a modest group of older horses led by Suburban winner Flat Out. But the remainder of the card includes older filly and mare division leader Havre de Grace against top 3-year-old filly Royal Delta in the $350,000 Beldame; defending sprint champion Big Drama against would-be challengers to the throne Euroears and Trappe Shot in the $350,000 Vosburgh; the Irish-based, but two-time North American Grade 1 winner Cape Blanco in the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic against defending Hirsch winner Winchester; and Beverly D. winner Stacelita against the royally bred Deluxe and improving Emerald Beech in the $500,000 Flower Bowl.

And then there’s Uncle Mo, last year’s 2-year-old champion, seeking his first important win of 2011 against Grade 1 winners Jackson Bend and Jersey Town in the Grade 2, $200,000 Kelso Handicap.

About the only major East Coast-based horse in training absent from the proceedings is Tizway, the Met Mile and Whitney winner who contracted a fever last week that forced him to miss the Gold Cup.

Tizway’s defection made Stay Thirsty’s task a bit easier in his first start against older horses in the Gold Cup, which awards a berth into the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. Both races are 1 1/4 miles. Stay Thirsty put himself at the forefront of the 3-year-old division by winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga after finishing second in the Belmont Stakes. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, feels the horse has thrived since the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 12th behind Animal Kingdom.

“He’s moved forward from the Derby, he continues to move forward each time we run,” said Pletcher, who has never won the Gold Cup. “The good ones do take their races well and keep coming back.”

What Pletcher likes about Stay Thirsty is his versatility. In the Jim Dandy, Stay Thirsty sat fourth early and made his move on the turn. In the Travers, Stay Thirsty, after stumbling at the start, was on the pace or within a length of the lead for virtually the entire race.

“It’s nice to have a horse you don’t have to worry about post position or tactics and he can make the race for himself,” said Pletcher, whose horse will break from post 3 under Javier Castellano.

In the Gold Cup, Stay Thirsty should have some pace to stalk with Rodman and Birdrun in the field. Rodman, second in the Met Mile from off the pace, is going to the lead from post 2 under Rajiv Maragh, according to trainer Mike Hushion.

“That’s the plan,” Hushion said. “I love the post position. We’ll put him on the lead and see if he’s good enough to get the distance.”

Birdrun, who owns the Belmont track record at 1 1/16 miles (1:39.38), is the other potential speed in the race. He is 3-3-0 from 6 starts at Belmont, including a 3 3/4-length victory over stablemate and fellow Gold Cup entrant Drosselmeyer, the 2010 Belmont Stakes winner, in the Grade 2 Brooklyn here in June.

Birdrun will be coupled with Flat Out, the Suburban winner and runner-up in the Whitney Invitational and Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, as both are owned by Preston Stables.

Bill Mott trains Birdrun and said his horse is not in there as a rabbit, or pacesetter, for Flat Out. Instead, Mott is trying to get Birdrun to the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon.

“Those words never came out of anybody’s mouth,” Mott said about Birdrun being used as a rabbit. “Frankly, my understanding was if Birdrun won they would be just as happy as if the other horse won it.”

The other horse is Flat Out, who returns to the scene of his best race, a 6 1/2-length victory in the Suburban here on July 2. The Gold Cup will be Flat Out’s first try at 1 1/4 miles, but trainer Scooter Dickey doesn’t see that as an issue.

“We thought it’d never be a problem. He loves to run, he’d like to just keep running,” Dickey said. “He never gives up.”

A.U. Miner, a two-time winner of the Greenwood Cup at 1 1/2 miles, is an intriguing longshot. His trainer, Clark Hanna, chose this race over the Hawthorne Gold Cup – race he finished third in last year – as his final prep for the BC Marathon. The horse has fired fresh in the past and figures to be charging late under Calvin Borel.

The Gold Cup will go as raced 10 and be the final leg of an all-stakes pick four that has a guaranteed pool of $500,000.

The Gold Cup, along with the Beldame and Kelso, will be broadcast live on ESPN Classic during a three-hour telecast beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. TVG and HRTV will both show the races, and HRTV will provide on-site coverage co-hosted by Carolyn Conley and Richard Migliore.

Jockey Club Gold Cup Field



Flat Out 
ML: 7-5
A. Solis 
126 Lbs
C. Dickey


ML: 7-5
J. Velazquez 
126 Lbs
W. Mott


Ice Box 
ML: 12-1
C. Nakatani 
126 Lbs
N. Zito


ML: 8-1
R. Maragh 
126 Lbs
M. Hushion


Stay Thirsty 
ML: 8-5
J. Castellano 
122 Lbs
T. Pletcher


ML: 6-1
J. Lezcano 
126 Lbs
W. Mott


A. U. Miner 
ML: 10-1
C. Borel 
126 Lbs
C. Hanna