BALTIMORE, MD – Trainer Jonathan Thomas’ Catholic Boy made his long-awaited return to the track a winning one, gutting out an impressive stretch run to take Saturday’s $250,000 Dixie Stakes (G2) at Pimlico Race Course.

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Breaking from the far outside 12 post under Javier Castellano as the 7/5 favorite, Catholic Boy came in slightly and bumped with Inspector Lynley to his direct inside before quickly correcting. Once settled, Catholic Boy was able to cut over to save some ground and ran along the outside of Paret in a perfect stalking position. Ahead of him, Real Story posted relatively quick opening fractions of :23.46, :47.71, and 1:11.25.

Given his cue near the 1/4 pole, Catholic Boy responded alertly, showing no signs of rust as he launched his attack on the pacesetter. After dueling briefly with Real Story in the stretch, Catholic Boy inched ahead with a furlong to go. A late rally from Admission Office from along the rail made it close at the wire, but in the end, Catholic Boy prevailed by a 1/2-length in a final time of 1:41.09 for the 1 1/16-mile event over the firm turf course.

“He was great,” Castellano said. “He’s a super horse. You can do whatever you want. He can be on the pace, he can come from behind. I like the way he did it. Coming off a layoff, 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. He can go any distance – a mile and 1/16, a mile and 1/4. On the dirt or turf. He’s a super horse. We don’t see to many horses like that.”

If not for being bumped and squeezed back at the start, Admission Office may have been able to pull off the upset, but he was forced to settle for second by a neck over Just Howard.

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“I think if he gets a good trip today, he wins,” said Admission Office’s trainer Brian Lynch. “He didn’t have the best of trips. I thought he got sort of pinched off coming out of the gate and took the worst of it out the back door. Every time he tried to move forward, a horse backed up in front of him or he got boxed in. Fortunately, he got some clean racing room late and closed gamely to be a good second to Catholic Boy, which you should never be disgraced about.”

Real Story could not hold on late and fell to fourth, missing the board by only a nose, while O Dionysus was a 1/2-length behind him. Inspector Lynley made a wide move at the top of the stretch but seemed to spin his wheels in place before finishing an even sixth. Phlash Phelps took seventh over a tiring Paret, while Have At It and Something Awesome were continuously outrun before completing the order of finish.

Flameaway scratched, with his connections opting instead to run in Friday’s Pimlico Special Stakes (G3), where he finished last of 13. Twenty Four Seven was a trainer scratch.

Catholic Boy’s win was his first since rattling off three straight scores last summer in the Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3), the Belmont Derby (G1), and the Travers Stakes (G1). The 4-year-old ridgling son of More Than Ready now sports a record of 11-7-1-0 with $1,992,000 earned for co-owners Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farm, and Twin Creeks Racing Stables.

“I was thinking (in the stretch that) he might need a better trainer,” Thomas said. “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.”

Already a G1 winner on both turf and dirt, Catholic Boy’s second start of the year could likely come in the Suburban Stakes (G2), a 1 1/4-mile event that will be contested over the Belmont Park main track on July 6.

“We thought this race was a good launch pad for the bigger races going into the remainder of the year,” Thomas said. “Sometimes turf is a little easier on them coming back and that was the plan we utilized.”

Catholic Boy returned $4.80 to win, $3.20 to place, and $2.60 to show. Admission Office brought back $5 to place and $3.80 to show, while Just Howard paid $5.80 to show.