The 149th running of the G1 Travers was extremely contentious on paper, with a pair of Breeders' Cup winners in the mix as well as a classic-winning filly, but it was the 7-1 shot Catholic Boy who blew away the field to win by four lengths this Saturday at Saratoga. The 3-year-old son of More Than Ready ran his most recent race on the turf, winning the Grade 1 Belmont Derby, and has now added a top-level dirt score to his commanding resume. Trained by the young Jonathan Thomas, Catholic Boy was ridden by Javier Castellano to complete 1 1/4 miles over the fast main track in 2:01.94, easily defeating the pace-setting Mendelssohn (13-1). Bravazo finished third, and King Zachary was up for fourth. Good Magic, the 7-5 favorite, was four-wide in the first turn, got bumped around in the far turn, and finished near the rear of the field.
“It just doesn't get any better,” said Thomas. “I'm just so proud of this horse, and Javier [Castellano] was incredible. We've always believed that he's a top talent despite the surface. He's a much stronger, mature horse and this really shows that patience helps. It means we can survive another year and hopefully train some more like him, but right now, I'm just going to soak this up.”
“I give all the credit to Jonathan Thomas, the way he's been training the horse – turf and dirt,” added Castellano, who celebrated his sixth victory in the Travers Stakes. “Basically, I enjoyed the ride today. He's so good, that horse. I've never seen a horse like that in my life. He can run on turf, dirt; I think he's amazing. He won Grade 1 on the turf and a Grade 1 on the dirt, he's only 3 years old, you don't see too many like that. I've been blessed to be part of it.”
Wonder Gadot broke very sharply, but Ryan Moore sent Mendelssohn immediately to the lead as the field cruised under the wire for the first time. Castellano kept Catholic Boy up close as well, just a short length behind the leading Mendelssohn into the clubhouse turn.
Mendelssohn breezed through early fractions of :23.30, :47.81, and 1:11.97, but Castellano and Catholic Boy were always right there at his hip. Castellano appeared to have plenty of horse underneath him all the way around the Saratoga oval, his feet up on the dashboard as he tried to convince Catholic Boy to save his run for the stretch.
Behind the two frontrunners, Wonder Gadot and Tenfold were attending the pace, followed by Bravazo and Good Magic. The latter had a terrible trip, forced out four-wide around the first turn, taking kickback all the way down the backstretch without ever appearing comfortable, and was bounced around hard when trying to make his move on the far turn.
Meanwhile, Catholic Boy ranged up alongside Mendelssohn nearing the head of the lane, but as soon as Castellano gave the signal, Catholic Boy exploded away from his regally-bred, $3 million rival. Catholic Boy continued to draw away from the field down the stretch, crossing the wire four lengths the best. Mendelssohn ran on gamely to hold second over Bravazo, while King Zachary got up for fourth.
“This was a big improvement,” said assistant trainer T.J. Comerford of Mendelssohn's run. “Aidan (O'Brien, trainer) planned on bringing him here, and he stuck to his guns. Aidan could have easily run him on the turf at home, but he stuck with it over here. It just shows he's coming back to his best. I'm sure he'll be back [in the United States] soon.”
The remaining order of finish was as follows: Vino Rosso, Trigger Warning, Tenfold, Gronkowski, Good Magic, and Wonder Gadot.
“He didn't break quite well; broke a bit slow,” said Jose Ortiz, jockey of beaten favorite Good Magic. “That messed up my plans, so I had to go to Plan B and I went a little wider than I wanted in the first turn but then I tucked in and was hopeful he'd run good that way, but it didn't matter. Things didn't work out his way and we didn't get the right trip.”
Bred in Kentucky by Fred W. Hertrich III and John D. Fielding, Catholic Boy was a $170,000 RNA as a short yearling at the Keeneland January sale. He won his first two starts, including the G3 With Anticipation on turf, and was a solid fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf at Del Mar. From there, he went to the dirt, winning the G2 Remsen for a shot at the Kentucky Derby trail. Catholic Boy ran second in the Sam F. Davis and fourth in the Florida Derby, so switched back to dirt to win the G3 Pennine Ridge over the well-regarded Analyze It. He defeated that same rival in the Belmont Derby, and has now improved his record to six wins from nine starts for earnings of over $1.8 million.
“I can't put it into words,” said co-owner Robert LaPenta. “This has been a lifetime dream for me and to win it with a horse like Catholic Boy, I'm speechless. I didn't expect this to happen. I've been in the game starting in 2001 and I never thought this day would come, and I'm so glad it did today.”
Watch the race replay here:
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