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The horse that put trainer Jonathan Thomas on the map had him nearly in tears of joy in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner’s circle on Saturday.
Catholic Boy, his gritty 3-year-old colt, triumphed in the 149th running of the “Mid-Summer Derby” by stalking the early pace and drawing away from all rivals by 4 lengths under jockey Javier Castellano to give Thomas his first Grade 1 win on dirt.
After many ups and downs along the ride, the culmination of years of hard work with Catholic Boy paid off on Saturday, reaching its highest peak yet.
Bought as a weanling by Thomas for owner Robert LaPenta in January 2016 for $170,000 and arriving at Bridlewood Farm under Thomas’ care in August that year, Catholic Boy immediately paid dividends by winning the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in August 2017, giving Thomas his first graded stakes win as a trainer.
A troubled fourth-place finish next out in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf was a disappointment, but he followed that up with the high of a romping win on dirt in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes in December, placing Catholic Boy as a top prospect for the 2018 Kentucky Derby. That bid to “Run for the Roses” was derailed when Catholic Boy had a one-off bleeding episode during the Grade 1 Florida Derby, causing him to finish fourth in the race and leaving him without enough points to qualify.
Undeterred, Thomas continued along the journey with his top charge with a return to turf. That move did the trick, and Catholic Boy posted back-to-back wins, both in never-give-up fashion, in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge Stakes and the Grade 1 Belmont Derby.
For a trainer who was once paralyzed for a year after a fall that ended his steeplechase jockey career, the perseverance that Thomas has shown with Catholic Boy is indicative of his determination and focus to succeed.
After interviewing Thomas in late June, I chronicled their story as they prepared for the Belmont Derby. Now, even if Catholic Boy doesn’t win another race in his career, his Travers triumph is the type of storybook finish that should be cherished by all who love this sport.
But the story isn’t over, not yet, and Thomas has set his star pupil’s 2018 year-end target as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
For Thomas, who went out on his own as a trainer in 2013, the Travers win meant so much for him as he builds his barn towards the future. After the race, Thomas was quoted in a NYRA press release as saying, “It means we can survive another year and hopefully train some more like him, but right now, I’m just going to soak this up.”
Thomas is a trainer to keep close tabs on going forward, as his horsemanship and determination are sure to get him back into the winner’s circles of many big races in the next few years.
Here are some photos that I took of Catholic Boy on Travers Day:
Headlining the Travers day undercard, the exhilaration of the stretch duel between Abel Tasman and Elate in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign was the epitome of horse racing. Seeing two top older females go nose-to-nose for the full stretch is the battle that everyone wanted to see, and we got it.
It’s a shame that they bumped each other at the 1/16 pole and that there had to be a jockey’s objection lodged by Elate’s rider Jose Ortiz. The decision as to who would be recognized as the winner went to the stewards’ office for the second time in two years between these two foes at Saratoga. The incident was very similar to what occurred in last year’s Grade 1 Coaching Club America Oaks.
It’s worthless after the fact to dispute the stewards’ call to keep Abel Tasman up for the win, as both did move inward on each other. If Elate kept straight, then a disqualification to Abel Tasman would’ve been warranted, but since both moved in on each other, the order of finish staying the same was the right call.
What is worthwhile of discussion, though, is the stewards’ transparency in these decisions. The release from the New York Gaming Commission below leaves a lot to be desired:
Even though it says that New York is a “Category 2” state and there is some explanation to how decisions are made, it just seems like every time the stewards rule, they come up with a customized set of standards for that occurrence. There is enough here in this topic to discuss over several articles, so let’s not bog down a great day of racing with it, but nothing is happening to rectify this issue and people are getting fed up.
It led fans to boo Abel Tasman in the winner’s circle. Never in my life have I heard booing at Saratoga, and I’ve been going to the track for 31 years. Standing in the winner’s circle, I never heard an announcement to the crowd fully explaining why the order of finish was kept the same. Check out the clip below with fans booing Mike Smith on Abel Tasman while he tries to hush the crowd and says, “Guys, come on guys.”
Maybe some of the boos were directed at Smith or Abel Tasman’s trainer Bob Baffert, due to their recent New York dominance and the undeniable east coast bias from the Saratoga fans, but likely the boos were being directed at the stewards. People are at the end of their rope with these inconsistent calls and it’s eating away at the fabric of the game.
While we try to figure out what needs to be done, check out these photos I took of the Personal Ensign action:
Travers Day always brings out the stars, so let’s recap the Grade 1 action with some of the photos that I took at the track on Saturday:
Promises Fulfilled on his toes in the post parade before taking it to the field early and often winning the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens. Trainer Dale Romans has his 3-year-old targeting either the Breeders’ Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile. (Photo: Michael Spector)
Romans and wife & exercise rider Tammy Fox high-five in the winner’s circle, as Romans also trains the second-place Jerkens finisher Seven Trumpets (Photo: Michael Spector)
Marley’s Freedom dominated the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes under Smith, and he showed his appreciation after the race (Photo: Michael Spector)
It’s good to be Bob Baffert, seen here after his win with Marley’s Freedom to complete the Baffert/Smith double one race after Abel Tasman’s score (Photo: Michael Spector)
There should be more jockey celebrations after the wire. Ricardo Santana, Jr. has never been known to be shy, seen here celebrating his Grade 1 Forego Stakes win above the gritty Whitmore after sneaking up the rail (Photo: Michael Spector)
Jockey Julien Leparoux put them all to sleep in his gate-to-wire victory aboard Glorious Empire in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes (Photo: Michael Spector)
As I said earlier, I’ve been coming to Saratoga for 31 years, but this Saturday, I will do something that I’ve always wanted to do: speak at the track!
I’ll be a panelist on the NYRABets Handicapping Seminar this Saturday, September 1, starting at 11 a.m. (Eastern time) covering the whole Woodward Day card. The seminar, hosted by Daily Racing Form’s Peter Thomas Fornatale, will be live-streamed on the NYRABets Twitter feed and on Periscope. If you’re going to be at the track, then come check me out! The seminar will be on the second floor of the grandstand near The Stretch. Follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for updates so that you can find and watch us.
Looking forward to finishing up the Saratoga meet strong in a week headlined by Grade 1s in the Woodward, Spinaway, and Hopeful, so let’s get it!
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