It’s mid-October, which means two things: The Breeders’ Cup is right around the corner (just two weeks away) and the NCAA football season is heating up with the top programs looking to emerge with an opportunity to stake their spot in the college football playoffs.
There is an interesting tie-in between one team vying for a spot in the playoffs and a horse who will be running the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Notre Dame is 7-0 embarking on what hopefully is an undefeated season. And like Notre Dame, this week’s Breeders’ Cup Classic Spotlight horse has emerged as a main contender for his sport’s biggest prize. As does Notre Dame, this guy also does his best running on Saturdays. You might even find him on Sundays at a cathedral saying a few prayers.
You’ve probably guessed it already—This week’s spotlight horse is Catholic Boy.
This son of More Than Ready has proven he is all guts for trainer Jonathan Thomas. But he’s more than just a colt full of heart, he has a ton of talent to go with that desire to win. Thomas is no stranger to extremely talented racing stock; he was a longtime assistant to one of the racing’s most successful trainers, Todd Pletcher.
Catholic Boy is coming into the Classic off of a sublime performance in the Travers (G1) where he demolished a talented field of 3-year-olds by some four lengths at Saratoga. He stalked the early speed of fellow Classic competitor Mendelssohn until the top of the stretch where he pounced and drew away from the Scat Daddy colt.
The win in the Travers marked the sixth win of his short nine-race career; but more importantly, it was his first grade one win on dirt. He had already proved he’s grade one quality when he won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on turf in gutsy fashion, fighting back to put his nose in front of Analyze It.
He’s the type of a colt that loves a fight. Prior to his Travers win, he was passed late in the stretch in both the Belmont Derby and Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3) by the aforementioned Analyze It. On both occasions, Catholic Boy battled back to get a head in front at the wire.
Catholic Boy has finally given his sire a starter in the Classic division. He’s proven he can handle the ten-furlong distance multiple times. His dam’s sire is Bernardini, who ran a gallant second to Invasor in the 2006 running of the Classic. Catholic Boy’s pedigree is a royal mix of speed, stamina, and class. There will be no question about whether he can handle the distance come Breeders’ Cup Saturday.
We lost one of the main competitors for the Classic this week in Diversify. That might change the pace scenario of the race just a little, but that won’t effect this versatile colt. We could see a replay of the Travers with Catholic Boy stalking the early speed of Mendelssohn.
One question this colt has had to answer is if he can translate his turn of foot from turf to dirt. On the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail he ran a good second on conventional dirt in the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, but in his final Derby prep he was very lack luster, finishing fourth in the Florida Derby (G1). Thomas decided to bypass the Derby and give the colt a little time to mature. He definitely proved the dirt surface is no issue in his dominating performance in the Travers.
Since his 10-week break following the Florida Derby, he’s undefeated with two grade one victories. I believe dirt really was never an issue, he just needed to mature, and has he ever. Thomas always believed he had the ability to be a Classic contender and now he’s proving it.
Vegas Insider has Notre Dame at 10-1 odds to win the NCAA College Football Championship. Those odds will be very similar to what Catholic Boy will be in the Classic.
I believe he won’t need a Hail Mary to reach the end zone on November 3. I think he has big chance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic with his running style and his heart. At possible double-digit odds, he will be one I’m using on all tickets.
A Catholic Boy/Notre Dame Championship parlay might be a longshot, but you might just be saying “Touchdown Jesus!” on a big score.
Photo of Catholic Boy Courtesy of NYRA