Sent off as the 7-5 favorite in his first start since finishing 13th in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Catholic Boy made his 2019 debut a winning on in the Grade 2 Dixie Stakes. The 4-year-old son of More Than Ready, ridden by Javier Castellano and trained by Jonathan Thomas, covered 1 1/16 miles over Pimlico's firm turf course in 1:41.09. Catholic Boy defeated late-running Admission Office by just over a length on the wire, making a successful switch back to the turf course.
“I was thinking [in the stretch] he might need a better trainer,” joked Thomas. “No, but he's just such a gifted horse. I would have been happy coming here and running a good second or third and galloping out well. But he has it in him to win. It was great to see.
“We thought this race was a good launch pad for the bigger races going into the remainder of the year. Sometimes Turf is a little easier on them coming back and that was the plan we utilized. I think the Suburban at Belmont might be a race now under strong consideration.”
Hung out in the 12th post position, Catholic Boy broke sharply for Castellano and was prominently placed passing under the wire for the first time. Real Story made his bid to take command from the center of the pack, and Castellano allowed Catholic Boy to draft over on that rival's hip entering the clubhouse turn.
Real Story led the field by just over a length through fractions of :23.46 and :47.71, with Catholic Boy watching his every move on the outside. Paret was up close on the rail in third, with Have At It and Just Howard also keeping tabs on the frontrunners.
Rounding into the far turn, Castellano let Catholic Boy inch toward the lead. Real Story tried to hang with him in the stretch but was not able to do so, leaving Catholic Boy all alone on the lead until the final sixteenth of a mile. Admission Office closed up the inside to cut the winning margin down the just a half-length, while Just Howard made a mile bid to gain third. Real Story had to settle for fourth.
“He's a super horse. You can do whatever you want,” said Castellano. “He can be on the pace, he can come from behind. I like the way he did it. Coming off a layoff since the Breeders' Cup, that's a long time to put in a good race like he did today. It was a great performance. We've been working together with [trainer] Jonathan [Thomas], and he did an excellent job with the horse to bring him to perform the way he did. He can go any distance – a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and a quarter. On the dirt or turf. He's a super horse. We don't see to many horses like that. Grade 1 on the turf and the dirt.”
The full order of finish was as follows: Catholic Boy, Admission Office, Just Howard, Real Story, O Dionysus, Inspector Lynley, Phlash Phelps, Paret, Have At It, and Something Awesome.
Bred in Kentucky by Fred Hertrich and John Fielding, Catholic Boy was a $160,000 RNA at the Keeneland January sale as a short yearling. The colt won the G3 With Anticipation on the turf in just his second start, then ran fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf before trying dirt and winning the G2 Remsen Stakes.
In his 3-year-old season, Catholic Boy was briefly on the Derby trail but found his best stride on turf in the middle part of the year, winning the G3 Pennine Ridge and the G1 Belmont Derby. In his next start, Catholic Boy captured his first G1 on dirt in the Travers.
Given a rest after a long season and disappointing finish in the Classic, Catholic Boy's Dixie win was a triumphant return to the races. Overall, the colt's record now stands at seven wins from 11 starts for earnings just shy of $2 million.
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