Talking Track: Stay Thirsty Wins Travers – Caleb’s Posse Wins King’s Bishop
Two questions were being asked coming into Saturday at Saratoga. How would Uncle Mo come back from injury, and who would step up to take control of the three-year-old division? Well, both were answered in a loud way. Uncle Mo would come back with a huge, albeit second best effort, and Stay Thirsty staked his claim as the best of his class.
It was an unbelievable day at the Saratoga Race Course. The sun was hot and so was the racing. An exciting undercard flew by. Before you knew it, it was time for Uncle Mo to enter stage right and show us that he’s the super horse that he’s been boasted as. The King’s Bishop set up as a grueling test of speed, with five of eight horses running legitimate speed horses. The question for me was whether or not these speed horses would have enough left in the tank to hold off the closer, Caleb’s Posse – and of course, what would Uncle Mo look like?
Early in the race you couldn’t be sure. Uncle Mo got off to a rough start. The speed horse who had dominated sprint races from the front was mid-pack, well off the lead. Flashpoint and Poseidon’s warrior were on the front of what was a steaming pace with fractions as suicidal as you thought they’d be. The opening half mile went in forty four seconds and change – an unbelievable pace. Into the turn the horses started to come together, and the Todd Pletcher trained Uncle Mo began to make a move.
Uncle Mo would strike the lead at the top of the stretch just as Caleb’s Posse and Rajiv Maragh emerged on the outside of the pack – still last. Down the stretch Uncle Mo ran huge, holding off all comers…until Caleb’s Posse found his stride. An emphatic run from thunder deep in the field would put the two neck and neck to the wire, a finish that would have to be discovered on the photo. Caleb’s Posse had come late and from deep in the field and won by…what’s less than a nose? A Nostril? A hair? You get my point. It was close. A great win for Caleb’s Posse but a huge effort from the sentimental favorite Uncle Mo. Back from the jaws of death, and without the help of his right hind shoe – which he threw at the start – Uncle Mo had gone to the wire and lost to a fantastic horse by less than a nose. Excellent performance from Lazarus…I mean Uncle Mo.
The race was unbelievable, but a mere prelude to what would come next – the 142nd running of the Travers Stakes, the crown jewel of summer racing. The talk coming into the race was about which of the horses could win the race and become the frontrunner for champion three-year-old. The attention in the paddock was going to Stay Thirsty, the Repole/Pletcher colt that won the Jim Dandy – Shackleford, the Preakness winner – and Coil, the Bob Baffert trained Haskell Invitational winner. Most thought that one of these three would be the one to take the Travers. But who would it be? We’d get the answer on the track.
When the gates flew open to the roar of a huge, though late arriving, Saratoga crowd it was the Stay Thirsty who took the immediate lead. He was quickly joined and overtaken by the more conventional front runner, Shackleford, who took us through the first turn. Coil had dropped toward the back of the pack, a clear departure from the Baffert plan which had him within five lengths of the lead. With Shackleford on the lead the question became would someone press the Preakness winner, or would he be allowed to run a slow pace and come alive at the end?
Someone had to do it, and the job of keeping Dale Romans’ horse honest, which I had originally pegged to be Coil’s, had fallen to Javier Castellano and Stay Thirsty. The Dandy winner sat just off of Shackleford as he took the field into the backstretch. The presence of Stay Thirsty on Shackleford’s heels kept the Preakness winner from slowing down and saving a run for the front stretch. The pace was honest, with a half in forty seven and change, and three quarters in 1:11. Shackleford trainer Dale Romans had said before the race that he’d love the half mile to go in forty nine seconds. A pace this slow would have allowed Jesus Castenon to conserve energy and take the race wire to wire.
As they took to the turn you could begin to see the pace wearing on Shackleford. He yielded the lead to Stay Thirsty and began the shuffle to the back of the pack. J W Blue, Moonshine Mullin and Rattlesnake Bridge all mustered menacing challenges, but they were no match. With a few flicks of the whip Stay Thirsty opened on the field and held off all comers to capture the 142nd Travers Stakes. Rattlesnake Bridge was second, JW Blue was third and Belmont winner Ruler On Ice rallied for fourth.
And pandemonium erupted at the Repole box. After the disappointment that was Uncle Mo’s injury and absence from the Triple Crown and the largely invisible presence of Stay Thirsty in it (despite the 2nd in the Belmont), he finally had that signature win. Stay Thirsty, a horse who’s emphatic Jim Dandy win had been almost dismissed, had come through and staked his claim as this year’s best three-year-old horse – and he had done so with a fantastic ride from Javier Castellano. It was the exact race that I thought would come from Coil, who was irrelevant in this race. Castellano positioning Stay Thirsty second, just off of Shackleford was the perfect race. Pressing the Haskell Invitational runner-up and keeping him from conserving energy gave Stay Thirsty all the advantage he needed to get the win, get those Repole colors painted on the infield canoe and earn himself a top spot in the division.
Of Stay Thirsty, Mike Repole said after the race, “He separated himself by far. There’s no doubt in my mind, he’s the best horse of the year.” Jockey Javier Castellano has said the he’s a “great horse.” He said that Stay Thirsty has been training well, and has been improving into and after the Jim Dandy – sentiments which are echoed by trainer Todd Pletcher. Whether the horse is really the best three-year-old in the country I’m not sure. Frankly, I think it may be Uncle Mo, and I would love to see the two race each other in the Breeders Cup Classic. Regardless of my humble opinions though, Stay Thirsty is Travers champion, and as of now, the best of his division.
For well over a century now the Saratoga Race Course has treated it’s patrons to some of the best horse races you can find in the world. Today, it delivered two stellar renewals of that tradition in The King’s Bishop, which featured Uncle Mo, who came up just short in an amazing race that was taken by the late charge of Caleb’s Posse, and the Travers Stakes, which was more of a proclamation than a race. What’s next for Uncle Mo no one is sure, but we do know that Stay Thirsty is on his way to the Breeder’s Cup Classic. As for Saratoga, racing will resume just after the storm to end all storms passes – if we’re all still here.
Check back here for another edition of Talking Track and check out any old editions listed below. For now though, congratulations to Caleb’s Posse, impressive winner of the grade one King’s Bishop, and Stay Thirsty, Travers Champion and favorite for three-year-old champion.