GOTHAM STAKES | PURSE: $250,000 | GRADE 3 STAKES
OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Though no horse entered in Saturday's $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct is any more accomplished than his, trainer Graham Motion believes he will learn a lot more about Toby's Corner when he runs against eight opponents in the Grade 3 stakes for 3-year-olds.
It's a better field, a more competitive race -- one proven, solid horse and a couple of up-and-comers.
”-- Trainer Graham Motion
"It's a better field, a more competitive race -- one proven, solid horse and a couple of up-and-comers," Motion said by phone Thursday from south Florida. "Gradually, each race has been a little more competitive than the previous one. I think if he's competitive on Saturday, he's definitely passed another test.''
The solid horse to whom Motion referred is Stay Thirsty, who has one win from four starts and was second to Boys At Tosconova in the Grade 1 Hopeful in a four-horse field last summer at Saratoga.
Stay Thirsty shipped up from south Florida, where he was working with his champion stablemate, Uncle Mo. NYRA's Eric Donovan made Stay Thirsty the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the Gotham, one of four stakes on an 11-race card that begins at 1 p.m.
Toby's Corner, who won the Whirlaway Stakes by two lengths here last month, is the 5-2 second choice. In the Whirlaway, Toby's Corner, ridden by Eddie Castro, overcame a muddy track, slow pace, and some immaturity to defeat J.J.'s Lucky Train, who came back to win the Miracle Wood Stakes last weekend at Laurel Park.
"I liked the fact when he went to show that greenness, Eddie corrected him and straightened him out, and he went on about his business and did it professionally," Motion said. "I liked the horse we beat came back and won a competitive race at Laurel."
Though Toby's Corner was last of five early on in the Whirlaway, Motion said the horse isn't "one-dimensional."
Stay Thirsty, a son of Preakness winner Bernardini, is making his first start since finishing fifth, 14 1/2 lengths behind Uncle Mo, in last November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has been on virtually the same schedule as Uncle Mo, working in company with him at Palm Meadow several times, including last Sunday. Uncle Mo is slated to make his seasonal debut next weekend.
"They've been workmates before," said Todd Pletcher, who trains both colts for owner Mike Repole. "They seem to go well together, and since they were both on very similar programs with similar goals, they made good workmates that benefited each other."
Pletcher said Stay Thirsty has been on "a little bit of a tight schedule" to make the Gotham but said he felt this race was a good starting point.
"He's not fully cranked up, but hopefully, he does well and moves forward from the effort," said Pletcher, who has Ramon Dominguez to ride.
The Fed Eased and Dawly are both coming out of sprints but are intriguing players in the Gotham. The Fed Eased was defeated first out by Crossbow, who came back Jan. 29 to win a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream. Moments before, The Fed Eased won a maiden sprint race by 7 1/4 lengths over the inner track. The Fed Eased will break from the rail under Jose Valdivia Jr.
"Valdivia loves him," trainer Rick Violette said. "He thinks he's been dying to go two turns and thinks he could be a really nice horse. We're jumping into the deep end of the pool. We'll see what happens. Post position-wise, we have to go If Stay Thirsty wants to go with us, so be it."
Dawly was claimed by trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Michael Dubb out of a winning race for $50,000 on Dec. 17. He came back to win a starter allowance by 1 1/2 lengths over a next-out winner, Ninety Five South, on Feb. 6.
"I thought he ran super last time," said Toby Sheets, Asmussen's New York assistant. "He had to go five wide, where you don't want to be, and still managed to get there. He's by Awesome Again out of a Tiznow mare. He should love going long."
Completing the field are Preachintothedevil, third to Toby's Corner in the Whirlaway; Nacho Saint; Norman Asbjornson; Isn't He Perfect; and Starship Caesar.