08/29/2011 4:22PM

Stay Thirsty makes his case to top 3-year-old class with Travers win

Barbara D. Livingston
Stay Thirsty put himself in contention for the Eclipse Award as top 3-year-old with his win in the Travers Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – While most people would probably agree that Stay Thirsty moved to the head of the 3-year-old division with his impressive victory in the Grade 1 Travers on Saturday afternoon at Saratoga, not everybody is ready to make that concession.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Monday that he believes Stay Thirsty deserves to sit atop the division.

“The Travers brought together every 3-year-old still in training who had already accomplished something this year,” Pletcher said. “They put them all on the racetrack together, and Stay Thirsty finished first, making him the first member of the division to really take control and win back-to-back important races. To my thinking, that puts him at the top of the list at the moment.”

Stay Thirsty, a Bernardini colt, won the Grade 3 Gotham in March and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy earlier this month.

Graham Motion, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, however, was not ready to concede division honors to Stay Thirsty just yet.

“From what I see, we’re still the leading money-earning 3-year-old, and we won the Kentucky Derby, which is the race everybody wants to win and carries the most prestige,” Motion said. “Of the horses in training, I realize Stay Thirsty has risen to the top of the group, but we beat him fair and square in the Kentucky Derby. Until he beats older horses or wins another Grade 1, I don’t see why his credentials are any better than ours.”

Animal Kingdom underwent surgery to repair a slab fracture in his left hind leg after the Belmont Stakes and will be out of action for the remainder of the year.

Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form ’s national handicapper who compiles the weekly Watchmaker Watch ratings, still has Animal Kingdom in the top position.

WATCHMAKER WATCH: National handicapper Mike Watchmaker's divisional rankings »

“At this point in time, I still believe that Amimal Kingdom’s wins in the Kentucky Derby, Spiral Stakes, and a second in the Preakness are a little bit better than Stay Thirsty’s wins in the Travers, Jim Dandy, Gotham, and a second in the Belmont,” Watchmaker said.

Trainer Dale Romans, whose Preakness winner Shackleford finished a disappointing eighth in the Travers, said that Stay Thirsty deserved to be the current leader.

“He might have inched ahead of us on Saturday, but he’s only got one Grade 1 win, too,” Romans said. “There’s still a lot of year left, and we’re still right in the thick of things.”

Pletcher said he couldn’t be prouder of Stay Thirsty’s performance on Saturday. Stay Thirsty earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, and his effort may have been better than the final 1 1/4-length margin over Rattlesnake Bridge might indicate.

“He took the worst of it all the way around,” Pletcher said of Stay Thirsty. “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 [Wilson] horse [Moonshine Mullin] came alongside him. It was really a monster effort, all things considered.”

Pletcher said the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 1 is the most likely option for Stay Thirsty’s next start.

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

The second horse Pletcher referenced is Uncle Mo, who suffered an excruciating nose defeat Saturday in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop. Uncle Mo was returning from a 4 1/2-month layoff after being sidelined by a rare liver ailment. Uncle Mo earned a 106 Beyer in the King’s Bishop.

“I thought he ran a great race,” Pletcher said. “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.”

Mike Repole, who owns both Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo, the 2-year-old champion of 2010, said Stay Thirsty has earned the division’s top spot.

“If you take in all the leading 3-year-olds’ full body of work this year, then I think Stay Thirsty put himself way out in front on Saturday,” Repole said.

Repole was still agonizing over Uncle Mo’s narrow defeat in the King’s Bishop and said had the photo gone the other way, Uncle Mo also would have to rank high on the list of current 3-year-olds.

“You can’t put a horse who has only a win this year in the Timely Writer on that list,” Repole said. “But if he were to win a graded stakes in his next start and the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I think he has to be at least considered for a championship depending upon what Stay Thirsty and the other members of his class do the rest of the year.”

Repole also clarified the comment he made immediately after the King’s Bishop, that the race might have been the last one of Uncle Mo’s career.

“Right now, he appears fine, but with him it’s not so much how he looks physically but how he’s doing internally,” Repole said. “He’s already fooled us once in that regard, and we can’t go through what happened before the Derby again.”

– additional reporting by David Grening