CIGAR MILE HANDICAP | PURSE: $350,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 MILE
Stay Thirsty culminated both a notable career and a sensational week for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher with a nail-biting victory over the filly Groupie Doll in Saturday's Grade 1 $343,000 Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct.
Three weeks after bypassing the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita due to a disagreement with the organization's no-Lasix policy for two-year-olds, and the event's absence from New York since 2005, Repole witnessed his stable stars make a clean sweep of the four graded stakes it participated in during the Thanksgiving weekend at the Big A.
Stay Thirsty's photo-finish triumph followed victories by Caixa Eletronica in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap on Thursday, and those of Unlimited Budget in the Grade 2 Demoiselle and Overanalyze in the Grade 2 Remsen earlier Saturday.
"Aqueduct is not the prettiest place in the world, but it means a lot to me, it means lot to my friends, it means a lot to my family," Repole said. "I grew up 10 minutes from here. I said, 'this is my Breeders' Cup weekend.' We won four graded stakes. I don't care how long I'm in racing, you're not going to win three graded stakes in a row, two with two-year-olds and one with Stay Thirsty, who means so much to me.
"This is a special, special bittersweet moment, to go out a winner, beating Groupie Doll, who's going to win the Eclipse Award. He had the lead one time, and it happened to be when the wire came up. What a great feeling to win three stakes in a row; just amazing."
Expected to show speed from his inside post, Stay Thirsty instead broke a tad slow and found himself chasing a trio of rivals down the backside. Buffum held a narrow lead through splits of :23 4/5 and :47, hounded by California invader Coil, with Groupie Doll, the even-money favorite, stalking in a three-wide position. Rounding the far turn, jockey Ramon Dominguez took Stay Thirsty off the inside to make a four-wide rally as both Coil and Groupie Doll began to bear down on Buffum, who passed the three-quarter mark in 1:11.
Entering the stretch, Coil edged clear of Buffum as Groupie Doll also made a menacing move to his outside. She seized command approaching the eighth pole while Stay Thirsty came under a drive. Bearing down with yards to go, Stay Thirsty was able to get his nose up in the last possible jump to snatch victory away from the presumptive champion female sprinter in a time of 1:35 2/5 over a fast track.
"[Groupie Doll] was game and she was hard to get by," said Dominguez, who was celebrating his 36th birthday on Saturday. "It was great to see him do that and show a different style today. I wasn't sure (in the stretch), but he was running."
Stay Thirsty paid $7.50, $3.20 and $2.20 as the second choice in a field of five. Groupie Doll, who would have garnered additional support as Horse of the Year with a victory, finished two lengths clear of Coil. It was another four lengths back to Buffum, while Hymn Book trailed throughout.
Scratched from the Cigar Mile was 2010 winner Jersey Town, who spiked a fever Saturday morning and was retired. Also withdrawn was Associate.
Stay Thirsty now retires to Ashford Stud in Kentucky with a record of 17-5-5-1, $1,936,000. Grade 1-placed in the Hopeful at two, he registered stakes wins last season in the Grade 1 Travers, Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 3 Gotham while placing in the Grade 1 Belmont and Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
He returned to action this past May with a second-place effort in the Vanlandingham at Belmont, but was a dull fifth in both the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap and Grade 1 Woodward in his next two starts. In his last try prior to the Cigar Mile, Stay Thirsty rebounded with a strong performance in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, finishing second by a head to defending titlist Flat Out.
From the first crop of Bernardini, Stay Thirsty hails from the winning Storm Bird mare Marozia, who also has produced Grade 3 winner and classic-placed Andromeda's Hero and stakes victor Superfly.
Marozia is closely related to Grade 1 winners Whywhywhy and Crisp and, further back, this female family includes 1946 Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner Assault and Prove Out, who famously defeated Secretariat in the 1973 Grade 1 Woodward.
Stay Thirsty, who was bred in Kentucky by John D. Gunther and John Darren Gunther, was a $500,000 Fasig-Tipton February two-year-old in training purchase.