The following appeared in Bloodhorse.com and was written by Meredith Daughtery. Catholic Boy is trained by native Virginian Jonathan Thomas, whose father John Dale Thomas is the Virginia Equine Alliance Track Superintendent.
Tucked safely away in his stall, insulated from Preakness Day crowds and the reverberating bass of infield celebrations, the only sounds Catholic Boy heard before his start in the May 18 $250,000 Dixie Stakes (G2T) were the quiet snaps of rubber bands as assistant trainer Melissa Cohen methodically braided his mane.
Six and a half months after Catholic Boy completed the last start of his sophomore campaign in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs, the mood at the Pimlico Race Course stakes barn was quiet. Trainer Jonathan Thomas waited patiently for Cohen to finish his protégé’s pre-race routine. He would be there to lead him to the track when he was ready.
While many horses struggle with extended time off between races, Catholic Boy quickly put any cause for trepidation to rest. The 2019 racing season could not have started any better for the multiple grade 1 winner, who scored by a half-length in the Dixie and proved that talent doesn’t take time off.
“What an incredible horse. What an incredible effort,” said Robert LaPenta, who owns the ridgling son of More Than Ready in partnership with Madaket Stables, Siena Farm, and Twin Creeks Racing Stables. “Six and a half months off—this was not an easy race, and he made us proud.”
Sent off as the favorite in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile turf test, Catholic Boy broke inward from the far outside post 10 and briefly made contact with Inspector Lynley, but recovered quickly. Driving to the front with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano aboard, the 4-year-old carved out a niche for himself in third and settled in for a stalking trip, just off pacesetter Real Story.
Dueling with Paret to his inside, Catholic Boy moved up to take second as the half-mile went in :47.71. From that point on, there seemed little doubt he was the one who was really in control. Awaiting his cue from Castellano at the quarter pole, Catholic Boy drove forward down the lane to challenge Real Story and eked out a head advantage with a furlong left to run.
Edging forward as they approached the wire, Catholic Boy refused to yield, fending off a late challenge from Admission Office on the rail. The final time was 1:41.09.
“He was great,” said Castellano. “He’s a super horse. You can do whatever you want. He can be on 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 Jonathan, and he did an excellent job with the horse to bring him to perform the way he did.”
“I was thinking in the stretch he might need a better trainer,” Thomas joked. “He’s 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 a great race.”
One of the most versatile runners to grace the sport in recent years, Catholic Boy scored two consecutive grade 1 races in 2018. With no preference for surface, he wowed audiences on the East Coast by first taking the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1T) on the grass at Belmont Park and then adding the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on the dirt.
“He can go any distance—a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and a quarter,” said Castellano, who was aboard Catholic Boy in both the Travers and the Belmont Derby Invitational. “On the dirt or turf. He’s a super horse. We don’t see too many horses like that. Grade 1 on the turf and the dirt.”
A winner of seven of his 11 starts and with earnings over over $1.9 million, Catholic Boy was bred in Kentucky by Fred W. Hertrich III and John D. Fielding out of the Bernardini mare Song of Bernadette, who produced an unraced Super Saver colt named Catholic Brother in 2016, a Carpe Diem filly in 2017, and an Exaggerator filly in 2018. She was bred to War Front for 2019.
He went unsold on a final bid of $170,000 as a short yearling when consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency to the 2016 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale but was eventually purchased privately by LaPenta, who campaigned him on his own through his first four starts.
For LaPenta, no words of praise could come close to describing his feelings for Catholic Boy, who has exceeded every one of LaPenta’s expectations in his short career. Both LaPenta and Thomas said a likely next target will be the July 6 Suburban Stakes (G2) at Belmont.
“He needed a rest,” LaPenta said. “He ran hard last year in those two grade 1 races at Belmont and then winning the Travers—he deserved a break. This couldn’t be any better. Now we have confidence that he’s back, and hopefully we will see some exciting times in the summer.
“It was a perfect day. It’s so emotional because, in this sport, you don’t get to celebrate more than 10 or 20% of the time, so when you do, it’s off the charts. He’s very special to me. He really is.”