The second leg of the Triple Crown is not all we have to look forward to Saturday at Pimlico, there’s also Catholic Boy.
One of the most dynamic horses in American racing, but away from racing for more than six months, the son of More Than Ready is set to make his return to the races Saturday in the 118th edition of the Grade 2 Dixie. Contested at 1 1/16-miles over the Pimlico turf course, the $250,000 race will be one of the headliners on the undercard of the Preakness Stakes.
Trained by Jonathan Thomas, Catholic Boy is one of those rare horses who can succeed at the highest levels on either turf or dirt. A Grade 1 winner last year on both grass and the main track, he will make his first start as an older horse on Saturday while taking to the turf.
When last seen, Catholic Boy suffered a very rough trip in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3 at Churchill Downs, and was ultimately eased. The tough luck in the Classic ended a three-race winning streak, which included bold and determined wins over the Belmont turf in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. You don’t often see horses win the way he did in the latter …
After that thrilling victory in a million-dollar race, the legend of Catholic Boy grew to a new level when he switched back to dirt at Saratoga for another million-dollar race. This time around, no brave, late re-rally was needed, as he scored a powerful victory in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes.
Things clearly did not go his way in the Breeders’ Cup, but hopes are high for a more mature version of Catholic Boy to come back even better in 2019.
After an extended break in Florida, the bay ridgling has been training consistently for several months in advance of his return. Most recently he turned in a 5 furlong bullet breeze on the Belmont Park turf on Saturday. His trainer sees Saturday’s Dixie run as step one in what is hoped to be a long and successful 4-year-old season, and does not need a win to feel good about Catholic Boy’s return.
“It’s the beginning of what we’re hoping is a long campaign for the remainder of the year,” said Thomas. “We’re just looking for him to get a good experience, if that’s winning or not winning. That’s not really my primary goal at this stage as much as just getting him back with a positive race under his belt, and that’s all we’re looking for,” Thomas said. “The Dixie looks like, from a timing perspective for the remainder of the year, a good launch pad for him.”
For the Dixie, Catholic Boy will have the Hall of Fame pilot Javier Castellano in the saddle. Together the pair will break from the far outside post in a field of twelve. Among his many challengers on Saturday will be the multiple stakes winner, Inspector Lynley, who set a course record while winning the Danger’s Hour at Aqueduct in his most recent start for trainer, Shug McGaughey.
The Dixie, off the extended break, figures no easy return for Catholic Boy, but one that he can handle if he returns near his best. To date, the Kentucky-bred bay has compiled a record of six wins from ten starts. He’s won five graded stakes races, having also accounted for the With Anticipation (turf) and the Remsen Stakes (dirt) as a juvenile. He’s also began each previous racing season in good form. He won in his career debut in a Gulfstream Park maiden at two, and last year, he was narrowly beaten when second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Win or lose on Saturday, the return of Catholic Boy is an exciting development in American racing. Whether you’re talking turf or dirt, he’s a horse of true quality.
Photo of Catholic Boy courtesy of NYRA