Woodward: Pletcher thinks Stay Thirsty is sitting on big race

They pulled the Mike Repole canoe out of the infield lake this week. The horse responsible for putti

They pulled the Mike Repole canoe out of the infield lake this week.

The horse responsible for putting it there is looking for a fresh voyage at his favorite track.

Stay Thirsty, who won the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga last year, hasn’t won since then, but trainer Todd Pletcher is supremely confident in the son of 2006 Travers winner Bernardini, anyway, in today’s Grade I Woodward at Sar­atoga Race Course.

“By design, he’s had a freshening pointing him toward a late-summer and fall campaign,” Pletcher said. “I like the way everything’s coming together. I think Stay Thirsty is one of the horses to beat, if not the horse to beat, based on his form here at Saratoga, and the way he is training currently.”

The Woodward will be shown during a live broadcast from 5-6 p.m. as part of the “Summer at Saratoga” series on NBC.

As befits the Travers champion, the infield canoe was painted in Repole’s blue-and-orange colors last year.

After Alpha and Golden Ticket dead-heated in the Travers last Saturday, the old canoe was given to Repole, and two new canoes painted in the colors of Godolphin Racing and Magic City Thoroughbreds were tethered together on the lake on Wednesday.

Repole’s colors will be carried again by Stay Thirsty, who broke his maiden here in 2010, then was second to Boys At Tosconova in the Hopeful.

Last year, he won the Jim Dandy by four lengths over Moonshine Mullin, then won the Travers by a length and a quarter over Rattlesnake Bridge to run his record to 3-1-0 from four Saratoga starts.

“Like a lot of horses, he likes the climate up here, he likes the surface, and timing-wise, everything’s coming together for a strong performance,” Pletcher said.

Since the Travers, Stay Thirsty has been lightly raced, with nothing to show for it.

To prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, he tested older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and didn’t miss by much in finishing third behind Flat Out and Drosselmeyer, the eventual Classic winner.

Stay Thirsty finished his 3-year-old season by fading to 11th in the Classic at Churchill Downs.

He didn’t get back to the races until May, when he was second to Trickmeister, who is expected to be one of the front-runners in the Woodward, in the Van Landingham at Belmont Park.

On a hot July day back at Belmont, Stay Thirsty never got in the game in the Suburban Handicap as Mucho Macho Man beat Hymn Book by 21⁄2 lengths.

Like Stay Thirsty, Mucho Macho Man skipped the Whitney, and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the Woodward.

“I think the four-race losing streak is being a little hard on him,” Pletcher said. “The first one was a third in the Jockey Club, first time against older horses. Then the Churchill race was a complete throwout, the way the surface was there, and he clearly doesn’t like Churchill. He ran a good second to Trickmeister first time back, and the Suburban, unfortunately, was run on the hottest day of the summer, and he didn’t react well to it.”

Stay Thirsty (5-1) has had two crisp workouts on the Saratoga main track.

He’ll be uncoupled with stablemate Rule, who is owned by WinStar Farm and was third to Havre de Grace in the Woodward last year.

Rule is expected to be at the front early with Trickmeister.

“I think there’s a little bit of speed in there, with Trickmeister and Rule, and I think Stay Thirsty and To Honor and Serve are probably going to be in prominent stalking positions, like Mucho Macho Man,” Pletcher said. “It’s a race with a good honest pace scenario. Most of Rule’s best races have been when he’s been involved early.”

Mucho Macho Man, who ran in all three of the Triple Crown races last year, has won four of five since the 2011 Belmont Stakes, his only loss a third to Successful Dan and Whitney winner Fort Larned in the Grade II Alysheba.

He rebounded from that defeat by winning the Grade II Suburban and has been vying for the top spot in the NTRA poll for older horses.

“We’re ready to go,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “This will be our first Grade I, if we’re blessed with that.”

Another Suburban runner who skipped the Whitney is To Honor and Serve, another son of Bernardini who is the 2-1 second choice for trainer Bill Mott and Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation.

Cease is 10-1 in the Woodward after winning an allowance at Saratoga on July 25.

“We know we’re stepping up, but he acts like it’s his home track,” trainer Al Stall said. “This is where his best numbers and races are. If you take the one marquee name — Mucho Macho Man this year — we’ll try to take advantage of a short field.”

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