JIM DANDY STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | GRADE 2 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | 1 1/8 MILES
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- The connections of Stay Thirsty said the best way for their 3-year-old to emerge from the shadow of his champion stablemate Uncle Mo was to step up and win a big race.
Following a near-hit in the Belmont Stakes, Stay Thirsty finally got a big win Saturday at Saratoga, rolling to a four-length victory in the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes before a crowd of 30,048 on a sultry afternoon.
Moonshine Mullin, the longest shot on the board at 37-1 rallied for second, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Dominus, the 9-5 favorite. He was followed in the order of finish by Alternation, Brilliant Speed, Will's Wildcat, and Scotus.
"If I ever wanted a win for a horse, this is the horse," said Mike Repole, who owns both Stay Thirsty and Uncle Mo, last year's 2-year-old champion. "Stay Thirsty wanted me to let you guys know he's not Uncle Mo's stablemate anymore. He's 2011 Jim Dandy winner, and that's how he wants to be addressed from now on.
"I've been telling you guys this is going to be a second-half 3-year-old, and he'll be better at 4 than he is at 3," Repole added. "And I think that's what we saw today - a horse that is getting better and better and better."
Stay Thirsty won for the second time this year and first since he began his 3-year-old season with a victory in the Grade 3 Gotham over Aqueduct's inner track. Following that, he ran seventh in the Florida Derby and 12th in the Kentucky Derby.
He entered the Jim Dandy off a three-quarter-length loss to Ruler On Ice in the Belmont Stakes. Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Stay Thirsty, said the horse didn't do well in Florida and didn't train as well in Kentucky leading up to the Derby.
"As soon as we got back to Belmont he trained fantastic. I wasn't at all surprised that he ran as well he did in the Belmont," Pletcher said. "The way he was training into this we felt optimistic."
The Jim Dandy score capped a four-win day for Pletcher, who now has 11 wins through the first eight days of the meet. The win also gave jockey Javier Castellano a sweep of the day's graded stakes, as one race earlier he took the Grade 1 Diana Stakes aboard Zagora.
Castellano gave Stay Thirsty a solid ride, keeping him in fourth position, but within three lengths of the lead and three wide down the backstretch while Will's Wildcat set fractions of 24.00 seconds for the quarter, 47.66 for the half-mile, and 1:11.39 for six furlongs while being stalked by Dominus.
Around the far turn, Julien Leparoux sent Dominus after Will's Wildcat, poking a head in front at the five-sixteenths pole. But Castellano followed that move, and when the field turned for home, Stay Thirsty was right on top of Dominus, wresting the lead from him at the three-sixteenths pole and drawing away easily.
Stay Thirsty, a son of Bernardini who cost $500,000 as a 2-year-old auction purchase, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.78 and returned $7 as the second choice.
"He's a very handy horse - you can put him in whatever spot you want to be," Castellano said. "Today, he broke in good order. I wanted to be pretty close to the pace today because I didn't see too much speed. The way the race unfolded was great, it worked out great for me."
Stay Thirsty will now be pointed to the $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 27, the same day that Uncle Mo could return to the races in the Grade 1, $250,000 King's Bishop on the undercard.