08/28/2011 1:25PM

Saratoga: Pletcher would prefer to keep Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty separated

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Barbara D. Livingston
Owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher will discuss their next-race options for Travers winner Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo, the runner-up in the King's Bishop.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.-  Hurricane or no hurricane, trainer Todd Pletcher was back at his desk in his stable office early Sunday morning, a little more than 12 hours removed from coming within inches of sweeping all three Grade 1 races on Saturday’s card at Saratoga.

Pletcher captured the Travers with Stay Thirsty and the Ballerina with Hilda’s Passion here Saturday. The one that painfully got away was the King’s Bishop, when Uncle Mo was picked up in the final jump by the lat- striding Caleb’s Posse.

Pletcher reported Sunday that both his star 3-year-olds, Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo, appear to have come out of their races in good order. Such was not the case with Hilda’s Passion, who sustained  a non-displaced condylar fracture of her right front leg that will require surgery.

Pletcher said he couldn’t be prouder of Stay Thirsty’s performance in the Travers.

“I was really impressed by the way he ran,” Pletcher said. “He took the worst of it all the way around. He stumbled at the start, was a little eager around the first turn trying to ease off Shackleford, then played bumper cars down the backside when Emma Jayne’s horse [Moonshine Mullin]  came alongside him. It was really a monster effort, all things considered.”

Pletcher said he is pleasantly but not totally surprised by Stay Thirsty’s late emergence as the current leader of the 3-year-old division.

“If you look at his pedigree, the way he is bred, we always thought he’d be a better horse late at 2 and at 3, and that everything he did up here last summer was a bonus,” said Pletcher, referring to Stay Thirsty’s maiden win and second-place finish in the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga a year ago. “He’s really gotten better and better since the spring. Watching him leading up to the Belmont was when I thought he began to train at his highest level, which I think is simply attributed to natural maturity.”

Pletcher said he and owner Mike Repole talked about a couple of  possibilities for Stay Thirsty’s next start, with the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 1 the most likely option at this point.

“At the moment, we’re managing two horses and we want to keep them split up for now,” said Pletcher. “The Pennsylvania Derby could be an option as well.”

The second horse Pletcher was alluding to is, of course, Uncle Mo, who returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff after being sidelined by a liver ailment only to suffer a heart-wrenching setback in the King’s Bishop.

“I thought he ran a great race,” said Pletcher. “Originally when we drew post seven I felt it gave us a big edge, but in retrospect it did not, since the racetrack was playing kind to speed and the inside and he wound up having to be positioned four wide all around. It’s hard to be disappointed in his effort, I’m just disappointed for him considering all he went through, how sick he was, to run so hard and then just get beat. He was in front a jump ahead of the wire and a jump past the wire. He just didn’t see that other horse to engage him and fight back until it was too late.”

Repole was quoted immediately after the King’s Bishop saying the race might be Uncle Mo’s last, but such did not seem to be the case on Sunday, according to Pletcher.

“I think what Mike was saying is that as long as the horse is healthy he’ll continue to run, although you always fear a relapse from something like he had,” said Pletcher. “So far, there is no indication of that and we have a couple of avenues to look at, although, as I said earlier, we’d like to keep Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty apart for now.”

Pletcher also narrowly missed winning the Victory Ride on Saturday with Maple Forest, who survived an early speed duel only to be caught by Hot Summer in the final yards of the Grade 3 sprint  for 3-year-old fillies.

“I thought she ran great, she just got nailed late,” said Pletcher. “She’ll probably run against older fillies next. We’ll see.”

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said his Travers runner-up Rattlesnake Bridge came out of the race in “great shape” and that he couldn’t have been more pleased with his horse’s effort behind Stay Thirsty on Saturday.

“He ran great, we had no excuses,” said McLaughlin. “He [John Velazquez] rode him great. I thought we were going to get him [Stay Thirsty] at the quarter pole. But I’m very pleased being second in the Grade 1 Travers. He did everybody proud.”

Like Pletcher, McLaughlin is also considering the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Pennsylvania Derby for Rattlesnake Bridge’s next start.

Trainer Dale Romans was still scratching his head Sunday regarding the performance of Preakness winner Shackleford in the Travers. Shackleford retreated badly after contesting the pace for less than a mile, ultimately finishing eighth, more than 22 lengths behind Stay Thirsty.

“He seemed to come out of the race okay, we checked him out and cannot find anything wrong this morning,” said Romans. “At this point we have no excuses. It was a lot like the Fountain of Youth all over again. We’ll just take him home and regroup.”

Romans had a more definitive answer for why Sassy Image bore out so badly and finished sixth while beaten almost 27 lengths by Hilda’s Passion as the 7-5 favorite in the Ballerina.

“She grabbed a quarter pretty badly coming out of the gate,” said Romans. “At least we have a reason for why she bore out like that and it’s an easy fix.”

Like Romans, trainer Bob Baffert had no tangible excuse for Haskell winner Coil’s dull effort in the Travers. Coil was never a factor, finishing 10th and last, more than 41 lengths behind the winner.

“He came back okay,” Baffert said by phone from Del Mar on Sunday. “I think he should have been forwardly placed early. Martin [Garcia]  tried to ride him like he did in the Haskell, but when he pushed the button, there was no button. He just lost interest back there and scrambled. He was never comfortable. The racetrack played kind of weird yesterday and he just threw in a clunker,  that’s all. I was never really happy with the way he went over that track and I probably should have just brought him home. But it’s just so tempting to be there and the Travers is a great race to be in. We were having fun until the gates came open.”

Baffert said Coil would return to California on Monday.