Grade 1-winners Catholic Boy and Glorious Empire headline a competitive field of eight in Monday's Grade 2, $200,000 Knickerbocker for 3-year-olds and upward going 1 1/8 miles over the inner turf at Belmont Park.
A dual Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf as a sophomore, Catholic Boy arrives at the Columbus Day feature off of a runner-up finish as the favorite in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 7 at Big Sandy, 4 ½ lengths back of Preservationist.
Owned by Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farms and Twin Creeks Racing Stable, the 4-year-old More Than Ready bay, who has amassed over $2.1 million in career earnings, won his 2019 debut in the Grade 2 Dixie over the Pimlico turf, his first start since finishing 13th in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November.
Unbeaten in two starts over the Belmont grass, Catholic Boy won the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational last year. In both efforts, he commanded the pace and was passed at the top of the stretch by two-time graded stakes winner Analyze It, but found a second wind and re-rallied for victory. Following the Belmont Derby, Catholic Boy won the 2018 Grade 1 Runhappy Travers at Saratoga earning a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure.
Trainer Jonathan Thomas said the Knickerbocker will be used as a determining factor for Catholic Boy's potential Breeders' Cup start, which will be contested in three weeks at Santa Anita.
“We're happy with him at the moment. It seemed like a good opportunity to run looking right at us,” Thomas said. “It's at home and he's run well here. We're just trying to get a gauge on him and see where we're at. If he runs well it's a good platform into a possible Breeders' Cup start. It's a bit of a learning experience on where we're at with him at the moment, but we've been happy with his training. We're one step at a time, but it'll point to where to go.”
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who piloted Fishy Advice to victory in the 2007 Knickerbocker and has been aboard Catholic Boy in his last six efforts, will guide Catholic Boy from post 7.
Matthew Schera's Glorious Empire will be seeking to make amends following a sixth-place finish as the favorite in the Grade 3 Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup on September 21 at Laurel Park, which was his first start since winning the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale at Gulfstream Park in December.
Trained by Jim “Chuck” Lawrence ll, the 8-year-old Holy Roman Emperor gelding was a two-time graded stakes winner last summer at Saratoga when taking the Grade 2 Bowling Green and Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational in wire-to-wire fashion.
“I hope he's the same horse that he was last year,” Lawrence said. “Going distances like a mile and an eighth, a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half are where he's at his best. A mile is a little too short for him. I was a little disappointed that we went after the horse on the lead last time. He was on the lead at the seven-eighths and went 1:21 flat which was nice to see. Since then he's trained forwardly, eating well and he looks good. It all comes down to pace, so we'll see how it sets up.”
Glorious Empire led at every point of call in his three graded stakes wins, but Lawrence said the trip is up to jockey Edgar Prado, who piloted the Irish-bred to victory in the Fort Lauderdale as well as a Delaware Park allowance last June.
“I'll leave that up to the Hall of Famer Edgar Prado. I wouldn't be surprised if he rode him the way he did at Delaware last year, which was not on the lead but just off it,” Lawrence said.
Glorious Empire will break from post 2.
Godolphin's Lucullan, third in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile last out, will go after his first graded stakes win for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
The homebred son of Hard Spun won the Lure at Saratoga two starts back after notching an allowance victory over the Belmont inner turf coming off of a 14-month layoff. A three-time winner in five starts over the Belmont lawn, Lucullan was placed in both of his graded stakes efforts at Belmont finishing second to Yoshida in the Grade 2 Hill Prince in 2017 and third the following year behind subsequent Grade 1 winners Robert Bruce and Spring Quality in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy.
Jockey Luis Saez retains the mount from post 3.
Rounding out the field are Dr. Edgar [post 1, Dylan Davis], Argonne [post 4, Junior Alvarado], Olympico [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], Cullum Road [post 6, Manny Franco], and Noble Indy [post 8, Jose Ortiz].
The Knickerbocker is slated as Race 8 on Monday's nine-race card. First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.
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