But timing is everything and Stay Thirsty’s timing could not have been better. With the possible exception of the Kentucky Derby, or a horse good enough to win the Double Crown, late season wins seem to count a little more than early season victories, kind of like college football.
In the absence of a Derby winner who comes back to dance in many dances in a representative manner after winning the race everybody wants to win, it‘s the late summer and fall when titles are won; in New York or Kentucky or in California or in a Breeders’ Cup event.
Right now, Stay Thirsty, second in the Belmont, first in the Jim Dandy, and first again in what some people consider the Fourth Leg of the Triple Crown, is the top three-year-old in America.
And he did it the hard way.
Not when he was strung out three wide on the first turn between rivals, Preakness winner Shackleford taking forever to clear him from a position further outside, while Belmont winning Ruler On Ice kept him engaged from along the fence.
Eventually, Javier Castellano, who was winning his second straight Travers and third overall--his first on Stay Thirsty’s father, Bernardini, five years ago--was able to throttle his mount down, conceding the lead to Shackleford, and took an attending position.
Just as it appeared Stay Thirsty would get a chance to catch his breath, Moonshine Mullin, second to Stay Thirsty in the Jim Dandy, loomed up on the outside in a middle-move tack, keeping the pressure on the winner.
Stay Thirsty was committed to stalk the Preakness winner, which he did while in close attendance, and when the two leaders made the bend into the far turn, and as Moonshine Mullin made a serious bid for the lead, Castellano was compelled to step on the gas in earnest. He needed to make his winning bid leaving the five-sixteenths pole.
By then, Shackleford was tired. Stay Thirsty took the lead, opened ground, when Rattlesnake Ridge surged with a little over a furlong remaining, looming a possible winner but for only an instant.
Leaving the furlong grounds, Stay Thirsty found more, Rattlesnake Ridge finishing 1-¼ lengths behind, farther back at the finish that he appeared to be at the eighth pole.
“He ran a really, really huge race,” said Pletcher. “Shackleford took a longer time to clear than we anticipated, then Emma-Jane Wilson [on Moonshine Mullin] made a move outside.
“He had nothing handed to him at any point. He ran from the gate to the wire, a mile and a quarter, every step of the way.”
Considering he attended a very solid pace at the distance--:23.45, :47.63 and 1:11.91, his final time was a respectable 2:03.03, getting the final quarter mile in 25.71.
“I was a little more concerned about the first quarter than the last quarter. I was concerned that he was a little fresh and pulling a little harder than I would like in a mile and a quarter race. But he just kept finding more. This was a really courageous effort.”
A championship effort?
“There’s no doubt he won the three-year-old championship right here,” said his optimistic owner. “All the best horses were in this race.”
And the narrow defeat of Uncle Mo?
“It’s a roller-coaster game,” Repole said, a bi-polar game. The low, the highest high, all within 30 minutes. It’s a tough loss with Uncle Mo and probably the best win of my life here with the Travers.”
Valiant In Defeat
There are races in which horses earn more respect in defeat than victory. Think Seattle Slew’s Jockey Club Gold Cup and, to a certain extent, Zenyatta in the gloaming of the last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
But fans will be talking about Uncle Mo’s Grade 1 King’s Bishop, for a while anyway, because he ran an extraordinary race under the circumstances.
Six workouts, even his two most recent bullets, were enough to get him racing fit, but when the speed burners are rolling, what is needed is heat and grit.
The grit was there; the edge you get from competition wasn’t, making the effort all the more extraordinary. Uncle Mo has the speed and talent to outrun any horse.
Even if that weren’t the game plan, he was a little farther back than we anticipated. But it was also surprising how he was able to attack the hot pace with a vengeance.
“This wasn’t about the King’s Bishop,” said Todd Pletcher, who was Uncle Mo’s nose shy of sweeping the three Grade 1 races on the card.
“I don’t want to sound greedy,” said a humble, almost contrite Pletcher, “but we really wanted to win with Uncle Mo and we were a little unlucky.
“He hopped up at the start and pulled off his right hind shoe. I thought the track was a little speed favoring, favored the inside a little and we were stuck out in the 4-path.
“Johnny said that when he drifted in [soon after taking the lead] he may not have seen Caleb’s Posse out in the middle of the track.
“This was emotional. We wanted him to come back and redeem himself. He ran as good as you can run without winning.”
“With Uncle Mo it’s day by day, hour by hour,” said owner Mike Repole. “He might have two more races, five more races, or he might have run his last race. We’ll micromanage him.”
If Repole’s remarks on the NTRA conference call Tuesday are a measure, the sense is that had he won King‘s Bishop, it might have been his last race.
The Todd Team will do right by Uncle Mo; they’ve proven that over and over, so the horse will dictate to them.
But you might have noticed that these are two pretty competitive guys who just happen to love this race horse. I’m sure they’d love to see him go out a winner.
In a League of Their Own
An employee who works for one of the vendors was told in mid-afternoon: “Don’t bother to show up tomorrow.” One of employee paid by the NYRA was told: “Come in tomorrow for four hours,” the presumption that either there will be racing or the bui8lding must be manned in either case.
One report had top end winds maxing out at 39 mph Sunday, but with gusts to 45 and 50. And it’s those gusts that jockeys fear most as you can lose control when a horse is being pushed hither and yon.
What would be good is if there were some, any transparency that goes into the decision; “what is your weather model telling you, what kind of feedback are you getting from the horsemen and the community?” Something, anything.
But, no, the announcement about whether the weather will have a bearing on racing Sunday is to come. Good. We’ll probably be somewhere in the middle of the three Grade 1 stakes.
Saratoga: Racing Capital of the World. Management: Bush League.
There will be no simulcasting at Belmont Park or Aqueduct Sunday, New York City is virtually shut down already, the local weathermen are saying that the winds--lowest estimate I heard was 60 mp; jockeys don't ride when winds reach 40 mph--yet the New York Racing Association, while food, as we speak, is disppearing off the shelves at Price Chopper and there's not a battery left in town, will wait until later today to announce whether or not there will be racing tomorrow.
How's that for customer service?
Although I could swear I was awakened by a clap of thunder at 5:56 a.m., the fact is that as of now, and resportedly as of post time for Travers 142, all will be clear and fast.
The bulk of the rain, projected at between 5 and 10 inches, is to appear tonight and all through the day Sunday, making tomorrow less than an even money proposition for racing at the Spa.
Monmouth Park, which sits hard by the New Jersey shoreline will not host racing today or Sunday. I have not seen reports vis a vis the rescheduling of these dates.
Between the fast track, a tremendous card of 13 races beginning 11:35 a.m., no competition anywhere in the Delmarva area, chances are that an all-time Travers Day handle record will ber set.
Stay tuned. We will be back throughout the day.