As Stay Thirsty took control in midstretch, the hugging in box 837 began as the long-striding colt took the 142nd Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga and became the undisputed 3-year-old leader.
Owner Mike Repole and the others in 837 were ecstatic as they watched the big son of Bernardini stay on the pace the whole way before taking the lead entering the stretch. Javier Castellano kept encouraging the 2-1 favorite as he drew off to a 1 1/4 -length victory over 14-1 shot Rattlesnake Bridge. J W Blue, a 32-1 bomb, was third, and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice ran fourth.
Stay Thirsty thus became No. 1 in his generation.
"Stay Thirsty has gotten so much better since the Kentucky Derby," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He was so courageous today. He had to fight so hard to clear Shackleford, then they started running in waves at him, and he still ran great."
Stay Thirsty paid $6.80, 4.20 and 3.40 after running 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.03 on a fast track on a sultry afternoon. His fourth victory in 10 starts was worth $600,000, raising his career earnings to exactly $1,400,000, $900,000 more than Repole paid for him. He's 3-for-4 at Saratoga, with his loss a second last year in the Grade I Hopeful.
Rattlesnake Bridge, ridden by John Velazquez, paid $10.80 and $7.60, and J W Blue returned $11.40 to show.
"The first turn was a little more complicated than we expected," Pletcher said. "We thought Shackleford would show a little more initiative, and we got jammed up between horses. I thought it was a huge effort, considering he ran every step of the 1 1/4 miles.
"At the eighth pole, I could see he was finding more and I could see Rattlesnake Bridge revving up. I wasn't counting on anything until they got to the wire, but I felt pretty good at the sixteenth pole."
Repole kissed his wife, Maria, his mother, Anna, and his maternal grandmother, Assunta Guaraccia, before heading to the winner's circle. "Thirsty ran great, Mo ran great," the 42-year-old Nassau County, Long Island resident said. "But the Repole double would have been more fun."
Different horses won the first nine of this season's Grade I route races restricted to 3-year-olds, and Stay Thirsty became the 10th. Preakness winner Shackleford faded to eighth Saturday after setting the pace, and Haskell hero Coil struggled in last of 10.
"Stay Thirsty separates himself from every other 3-year-old by far right now," Repole said. "There's nothing else this horse can do. He should have won the Belmont. He ran an incredible Jim Dandy. Javier rode him great."
"I guess we'll go home and regroup," Shackleford's trainer Dale Romans said. "A rough day. He wasn't himself."
Also Saturday, Uncle Mo -- making his first start since being sidelined for more than 4 1/2 months with a life-threatening liver disease-- Uncle Mo was beaten by a nose by Caleb's Posse in the $250,000 King's Bishop at Saratoga.