There will be no Eclipse Awards for Catholic Boy in 2018, and that’s a shame.
This afternoon, on the big stage of Travers Day at Saratoga, the three-year-old son of More Than Ready was the star of stars. In a huge race made wide open by the retirement of the undefeated Triple Crown winner, Catholic Boy took the bull by the horns from the break, and the result was his most impressive win yet. And that is saying something for a horse who has already won five graded stakes in his growing career. In the process, he all but ended the debate as to who the best sophomore male is post-Justify.
Sent off as the third choice in the ‘Mid-Summer Derby’, Catholic Boy came in with strong credentials. Consider at two, he was a graded stakes winner on both turf and dirt, having scored in the Grade 3 With Anticipation on the Saratoga turf, before adding a romping score in the Grade 2 Remsen over the main track at Aqueduct. In between, he was beaten just a length and a half in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf out at Del Mar. The horse that beat him that day was Mendelssohn. Today he earned a full heaping of revenge.
Just as he did in last fall’s Remsen, Catholic Boy came into the Travers fresh off the turf. Many, including this writer, believed that he was better on the grass than dirt. Today’s performance made that thought look down right foolish.
Asked for his best tactical speed right out of the gate from his rider, Javier Castellano, Catholic Boy hounded the European invader Mendelssohn through solid early fractions of 23.03, 47.81 and six furlongs in 1:11.97. Always looking like a horse sitting on a big one, he put the pressure on the talented leader on the turn, and proceeded to take command as the field of ten turned for home. From there, it was just a matter of how much he would win by in the signature race of the year at the Spa.
On the wire, Catholic Boy was a dominant four length winner, while Mendelssohn held off Bravazo for second. It was a strong bounce back run by the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner, but this Travers was all about Catholic Boy.
Obvious now, his past performances are worth shouting about. Trained by Jonathan Thomas, and owned by Bob LaPenta, Catholic Boy now has six wins in nine starts, while never worse than fourth. He has five graded stakes wins overall, but more impressive than that, he was a graded stakes winner on both turf at dirt at two, and now at three, he is a Grade 1 winner on both surfaces.
In fact, he’s turned in three straight superlative performances following a layoff after bleeding in the Florida Derby. The gameness he displayed in running down Analyze It in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge, was something to behold. He beat that same fine turf rival in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last time, and now the Travers. Clearly topnotch on both dirt and turf, he has enough speed to get good position in any kind of race, and while a first-out winner in a sprint, he has proven that he can run all day.
This Travers was big. So big, that as good as he is on turf, I think his connections have no choice to go after the top prize of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. And he will be a threat. It’s been a long time coming, but Catholic Boy finally now gets the credit he so richly deserves.
Photo of Catholic Boy courtesy of NYRA