In the cathedral of horse racing, Catholic Boy emerged as a patriarch among active 3-year-olds.
Receiving a textbook ride from Javier Castellano, Catholic Boy stalked Mendelssohn from second, took over turning for home, and cruised to a four-length victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes, the biggest prize offered at historic Saratoga.
Mendelssohn, the Irish import who set the pace under Ryan Moore, finished second by one length over Bravazo. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to King Zachary in fourth.
Vino Rosso finished fifth and was followed, in order, by Trigger Warning, Tenfold, Gronkowski, Good Magic, the 7-5 favorite, and Wonder Gadot, the first filly in 39 years to try the Travers. Meistermind (foot) was scratched.
The victory justified the decision by the connections of Catholic Boy – specifically trainer Jonathan Thomas – to transfer Catholic Boy back to the dirt after he won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on turf.
Robert LaPenta, part-owner of Catholic Boy who said it was his dream to win the Travers since he was a teenager, said, “We knew he’d run well on dirt. We didn’t know he’d run this well.”
Said Thomas: “He proved today that he’s better on the dirt.”
Though it doesn’t take away from Catholic Boy’s performance, he likely benefitted from a track that was favoring front-runners over two days. Catholic Boy broke alertly from his outside post in the 10-horse field and was just a half-length off of Mendelssohn through a quarter in 23.30 seconds, a half-mile in 47.81, and six furlongs in 1:11.97.
“I felt so good after seeing them throw up the [23 and 1], the 47 and change, he just looked like he was traveling so easy getting in that big, big rhythm of his,” Thomas said. ”Javier gave him an outstanding ride, a Hall of Fame ride. We literally had no instructions, it was all on him.”
Nobody knows how to win the Travers better than Castellano, who improved his record to six Travers wins with this one. Castellano said he was concerned when Catholic Boy drew the outside post, but after the race said it was a blessing.
Castellano said he was able to get a stalking spot easily and said he felt he had Mendelssohn anytime he wanted him.
Castellano confronted Mendelssohn at the five-sixteenths pole, took over straightening away for home and ran away in the final furlong.
“The horse was in the bridle the way I wanted him to be,” Castellano said. “The last part of the race I was looking for the closers. I just waited turning for home. When I asked him, he was much the best horse.”
Catholic Boy, a son of More Than Ready, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.94 and returned $16.20 as the third betting choice. In addition to LaPenta, Catholic Boy counts Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables, Siena Farm, and Twin Creeks Racing Stables among his owners.
Catholic Boy was assigned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure for the performance.
Catholic Boy, who won the Grade 2 Remsen on dirt at Aqueduct to close out his juvenile campaign, had been on the Triple Crown trail earlier this year. But he bled when fourth in the Florida Derby in March and was given time to recover. He went back to the turf – a surface on which he had won two of his first three starts – and won the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and Grade 1 Belmont Derby, both at Belmont Park.
“Winning that Grade 1 allowed us to go ahead and roll the dice for this race,” Thomas said. “We never felt we were outmatched, but there was a question mark over our head. He trained so well, you just listen to your horse.”
Mendelssohn, who had finished last in the Kentucky Derby and a well-beaten third in the Dwyer, ran his best race since his 18 1/2-length victory in the UAE Derby in March.
Bravazo, the Preakness runner-up who ran in all three Triple Crown races, ran his typical solid race.
The biggest disappointments were Good Magic, Gronkowski, and Wonder Gadot.
Good Magic, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, didn’t break sharply under Jose Ortiz and was farther back than trainer Chad Brown had hoped, especially given how the track was playing.
Beyond that, Brown said that Ortiz told him “around the half-mile pole he started to not feel good under him, he didn’t have that horse power under him, so to speak, so he started to retreat some.”
Gronkowski the Belmont Stakes runner-up, was second-to-last entering the first turn under Joel Rosario and was steadied twice down the backside.
“He had to stop him a couple of times,” Brown said. “From there, he couldn’t make up any ground on this track.”
Mark Casse, the trainer of Wonder Gadot, said his filly had no excuses. She was sitting third along the inside early and simply never fired retreating to last.
“All you ask for is to have a good trip, we had a good trip, we just weren’t good enough today,” Casse said.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
Visit DRF.com for additional news, notes, wagering information, and more.