On Sunday morning, trainer Jonathan Thomas was happy to report that Catholic Boy came out of his four-length victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers “really well,” and that the long-range target for the 3-year-old likely will be the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic on November 3 at Churchill Downs.
“He cooled out nicely, ate up well last night and looked like he had good energy this morning, so all in all he exited that race in good order,” said Thomas, who one year ago took down his first graded stakes with Catholic Boy in the Grade 3 With Anticipation on the Saratoga turf. “[Last year,] the Travers would have been the last thing on our mind. We thought we had a nice, two-turn grass horse, which was perfectly fine. We've had this horse since he was a weanling, and to see his development … it's like [having drafted] an NFL player out of elementary school.”
Thomas said the Grade 2, $500,000 Hill Prince at 1 1/8 miles on the turf on October 6 at Belmont Park was the most likely option as a prep for the Classic, but that the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup a week earlier was also a possibility, as would be letting Catholic Boy train up to the race in Kentucky.
“The Hill Prince seems to make sense right now; it's against his own age group, cutting back an eighth of a mile and on what I would call just a little bit of kinder surface,” Thomas said. “I don't know whether we want to go running against [Grade 1 Whitney winner] Diversify [in the Jockey Club Gold Cup], as quick as he is. I don't know if that's something I feel good about.
“This horse [also] has the ability to come off the bench running,” he added. “If we needed to add time, that's OK. We'll let the next couple of weeks tell us.”
Although Catholic Boy is a Grade 1 winner on both turf and dirt, Thomas said the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Classic hits Catholic Boy “right between the eyes,” and that the 1 ½-mile Breeders' Cup Turf against older horses was not something he'd like to tackle at this point.
The trainer said there was a palpable sense of relief on Sunday morning at the barn, outside of which hung the red-and-white blanket of flowers that Catholic Boy wore in the winner's circle.
“It's a lot of pressure off,” he said. “I think everyone felt very good about how this horse was doing. I know it sounds contradictory, but the better a horse is doing, the more nervous you get. Expectations are high. You feel like you're sitting on a keg of dynamite and you want it to go off at the right time. Everyone on our team has done an amazing job of getting us to this point.”
Among the many congratulatory text messages Thomas received were one from his former employer, Todd Pletcher, and one from the Spa's leading trainer Chad Brown, whose Good Magic had been favored in the Travers.
“I got a great text from him and Chad, literally within a minute of each other,” said Thomas. “It was like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady sending you congratulations. That meant a lot. They're peers and mentors and friends. There's not a decision I make that I don't refer back to what those kind of guys are doing and what I can implement in our own program.”
The trainer added that Catholic Boy, now 6-1-0 from nine career starts with earnings of $1,842,000 for owners Robert V. LaPenta, Madaket Racing Stables, Siena Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables, would likely remain at Saratoga through the end of September before moving to Belmont Park.
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