Like Shackleford the day before in the Clark Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs, Stay Thirsty made the most of his final career start on Saturday in the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct.
In a dramatic renewal of the $350,000 event, Stay Thirsty tagged a game Groupie Doll on the line to prevail under Ramon Dominguez.
The Cigar Mile victory gave owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher their third graded stakes win on the Heineken Holidayfest card, having also taken the Grade 2 Demoiselle with Unlimited Budget and the Grade 2 Remsen with Overanalyze.
Winless in four other starts this year, Stay Thirsty was away last of five before moving up to stalk the pacesetters in fourth through an opening quarter-mile in 23.80 seconds and a half in 47.04. Jockey Ramon Dominguez got to work aboard Stay Thirsty midway on the far turn, and the 4-year-old circled the field and made a furious stretch rally toward the outside to draw alongside Groupie Doll in the final furlong and poke his nose in front right at the wire.
“I would have loved to have been sitting closer, but it turned out I was happy with the position,” Dominguez, who celebrated his 36th birthday by winning five total races on the card, including the Grade 1 Gazelle with Dance Card in addition to the Cigar Mile and Remsen, told NYRA Press. “When I had a chance to go outside, I did. [Groupie Doll] was game and she was hard to get by. 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.”
Pletcher added, “We wanted to be aggressive with him early and put him into the race, and he didn’t break real well. With the way it unfolded, we were just sitting behind the other three. It seemed to work out in the end, but I was a little concerned at the break because he didn’t jump away real well from the one hole.”
Stay Thirsty, whose previous Grade 1 win came in the 2011 Travers at 1 ¼ miles, completed the distance in 1:35.47 and returned $7.50 for a $2 win wager as the 5-2 second choice.
Overall, Stay Thirsty finished his career 5-5-1 in 17 starts and earned $1,936,000, including $210,000 for his Cigar Mile triumph.
A dark bay or brown son of 2006 Champion Three-Year-Old Male Bernardini, Stay Thirsty will stand at Ashford Stud in Kentucky.
“[Stay Thirsty] was successful at two and won races like the Jim Dandy and Travers at three, and the breeders love milers,” said Pletcher. “He proved today he can be versatile enough to do all of those things. It was a huge win for him.”
Stay Thirsty’s narrow victory snapped a five-race winning streak for Groupie Doll, who entered the race off a 4 ½-length score in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Filly & Mare Sprint on Nov. 3.
“She ran a hell of a race,” said trainer William “Buff” Bradley of Groupie Doll, who was making her first graded stakes start against males. “I’m glad we came. I knew Stay Thirsty was coming at us; he ran a great race, too. I thought she ran her race and ran very well. I’m very proud of her. I knew she’d gotten nosed out. Tough field.”
Coil was third, followed home by Buffum and Hymn Book. Associate and Jersey Town were scratched.
–NYRA Press contributed to this report
Stay Thirsty/NYRA photo by Adam Mooshian