Catholic Boy rolls to Remsen Stakes win in first dirt start

OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- The horses had barely cooled out from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf on Nov. 3 at Del Mar and trainer Jonathan Thomas began thinking about running Catholic Boy, a close fourth in that race, in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct.

Thomas knew the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Remsen would suit Catholic Boy. It was just a matter of whether he would handle the dirt as well as he had the turf.

That question was answered emphatically in the affirmative Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct as Catholic Boy launched a three-wide rally on the far turn and cruised down the lane to a 4 3/4-length victory in the $250,000 Remsen Stakes. Avery Island, who had won the Grade 2 Nashua by the same margin four weeks ago, finished second by 1 3/4 lengths over Vouch.

It was 4 3/4 lengths back to Alkhaatam in fourth. He was followed, in order, by Tap Rap Strike, Biblical, Millionaire Runner, Triple Dog Dare, V. I. P. Code, and Bandito.

Thomas, a former assistant to trainers Todd Pletcher and Christophe Clement, had seen Catholic Boy train well on dirt in the mornings. He was quite gratified to see that translate to the afternoon.

"It definitely defied expectations," Thomas said.

Thomas said the primary reason Catholic Boy began his career on turf was because that surface offered longer-distance races. In July, he won a 7 1/2-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream, which was run around two turns, and then shipped to Saratoga to win the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile With Anticipation. Thomas was leery of the one-mile distance of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, where Catholic Boy was beaten 1 1/2 lengths, but galloped out ahead of the field.

"He galloped out so well in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf we were like, we got to run this horse as far as we can go," Thomas said.

Under Manny Franco, Catholic Boy was fifth early on in the Remsen but only two lengths off the pace. Longshots Millionaire Runner and Bandito dueled through a half-mile in 48.97 seconds. Vouch sat third, just off the top two.

Millionaire Runner, a 166-1 shot, put away Bandito, but Vouch and Catholic Boy were on the march. Vouch had a short lead coming to the quarter pole, but Catholic Boy quickly overtook him in upper stretch and drew clear.

Catholic Boy, a son of More Than Ready owned by Robert La Penta, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.50 and returned $10.20 to win as the third choice.

"It was a quick acceleration," Franco said. "By the three-eighths pole, I called on him a little bit but I hold him a little bit too; I didn't want to move him soon. When I called back on him, he was there for me. He finished running."

The win earned Catholic Boy 10 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby. Thomas said that Catholic Boy would return to the Bridlewood Training Center in Florida and get a few weeks off before Thomas plots his 3-year-old campaign.

"I think we have to definitely consider the next start being a dirt race for sure and see where it takes us," Thomas said.

Though Avery Island finished second, jockey Joe Bravo said he was prouder of his colt's effort in defeat than he was when he won the Nashua. Bravo took Avery Island off the pace and he said the horse handled getting dirt kicked back at him well.

"He was behind horses, he took the dirt, he was relaxed, really comfortable, just waiting for the rider's orders," Bravo said. "At the top of the lane, we kicked and he really ran hard. I'm more proud of him to be able to come from off the pace and come running down the lane than going wire-to-wire."