Catholic Boy Battles Back Again To Win Belmont Derby

Congratulations to Belmont Derby Invitational winner Catholic Boy and his trainer, Jonathan Thomas, who is the son of Virginia Equine Alliance’s Track Superintendent, J.D. Thomas! The following article appeared in The Paulick Report July 8th. 

The last time Catholic Boy and Analyze It met in the Pennine Ridge, Analyze It took the lead only to have Catholic Boy wrest is back from him in the final strides. In Saturday’s Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational, those two made the turn for home in unison, leading to a thrilling stretch battle. Catholic Boy (5-1) had set the pace, but Analyze It (2-1) came on his outside and took the lead by a head. Refusing to give in, Catholic Boy fought back and got his head down first at the wire for owners Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stable, Siena Farm, and Twin Creeks Racing Stable. Ridden by Javier Castellano for young trainer Jonathan Thomas, the 3-year-old son of More Than Ready covered 1 1/4 miles over Belmont’s firm turf course in 1:59.28.

Catholic Boy won the 2018 Belmont Derby Invitational. Photo by Eric Kalet.

“What a stretch drive,” Thomas said. “My hats off to Analyze It [No. 3], he ran super. It was a hell of a horse race. He really has an awful lot of heart. I didn’t expect him to fight back this time. I thought we were going to finish a really good second, [but] somehow he got it done. He’s always been a real generous training horse. You never know how they will respond in that scenario because we never put them in that situation in the mornings. Between his heart and Javier’s ride, what can you say? We had no instructions before the race. We just wanted him to ride him by gut instinct and do what he thought was best.”

Analyze It was quick out of the starting gate, but Castellano sent Catholic Boy to the lead quickly. Jose Ortiz took hold of Analyze It, easing him back to follow his rival about a length behind through fractions of :22.47 and :49.20. That pair was followed by European Hunting Horn, keeping close tabs alongside Encumbered.

After three quarters in 1:13.38, Analyze It inched up the outside of Catholic Boy. They were on even terms at the head of the stretch, but Ortiz dropped down on Analyze It and took a slight lead. Castellano kept riding away on Catholic Boy, but it wasn’t until the final few jumps that Catholic Boy re-took the lead.

“It’s good for the sport to see two of the best 3-year-old horses on the turf run the way they did,” Castellano said. “They put a lot of effort, it’s two good horses and it can go either way. I’m very fortunate it went my way. I’m very respectful of Analyze It, he’s a great horse with a great trainer. Someone had to win the race, and I’m lucky to be in the spot I am.”

A photo finish showed Catholic Boy to be the winner by a head, relegating Analyze It to the place for the second start in a row. Hunting Horn rallied throughout the length of the stretch, but was able to do no better than third.

“This horse that won earned it,” said Chad Brown, trainer of Analyze It. “He came back and beat him [Analyze It], I don’t have any excuse. It sure seems that [Analyze It idles], but I don’t want to take anything away from the winner, because he still fought back and most horses wouldn’t. I thought he ran a great race, the winner, but so did our horse. He just wasn’t good enough.”

Bred in Kentucky by Fred W. Hertrich III & John D. Fielding, Catholic Boy was a $160,000 RNA as a short yearling at the Keeneland January sale. He has compiled a record of five wins from eight starts, earning over $1.2 million, and boasts graded stakes wins on both the turf and the dirt. The Belmont Derby was his first Grade 1 victory, though he had previously finished fourth twice in Grade 1 company.

“It’s the pinnacle,” said Thomas of his first Grade 1 win. “It’s one of those dreams you don’t really think about until it happens. I’m happier for him because he’s a deserving Grade 1 winner. He deserves it. I’m like a proud parent.”