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Catholic Boy Returning to Roots for Florida Derby

Mar 8, 2018
Thomas Trainee Set to Ship from Ocala to Gulfstream Park March 22 

– Catholic Boy is scheduled to ship to Gulfstream Park on March 22 to complete his training for a scheduled start in the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) March 31, returning to the racetrack where his promising career was launched eight months earlier.

Currently based at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, the Jonathan Thomas-trained 3-year-old colt debuted July 20 with a two-length triumph in a 7 ½-furlong turf race that set him up for a cross-country adventure that could lead him to Churchill Downs for the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1).

Catholic Boy will make a final bid to gain a stall in the Kentucky Derby starting gate in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, which was won by Nyquist (2016) and Always Dreaming (2018), who went on to capture the first leg of the Triple Crown.

“He’s proven at a mile and an eighth and, even though it was on the turf, he broke his maiden at Gulfstream,” Thomas said. “He summered there all summer, so it’s a familiar place for him.”

Catholic Boy became a serious Triple Crown prospect in his dirt debut at Aqueduct in November when he drew off to a 4 ¾-length triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) over favored Avery Island, who won the Withers (G3) in his 2018 debut.

The son of More Than Ready was the odd-on favorite in his 2018 debut in the Feb. 10 Sam Davis (G3) on Tampa Bay Downs’ main track. He made a wide bid into the stretch to challenge Flameaway in the stretch but fell a half-length short of catching the victorious pacesetter.

“I’d like to say it was a very talented horse that won the race. We gave up a substantial amount of ground and gave away a little weight. Once the dust settled and we got the numbers back, we ran a career-best sheet number,” Thomas said. “We got a ‘6’ on the sheets – substantially faster than the winner. After the race, it felt like there were a couple of variables at play. You just hope you progress. We treated the race as a prep and feel like we got a lot out of it.”

After breaking his maiden in his debut at Gulfstream, Catholic Boy shipped to Saratoga to capture the 1 1/16-mile With Anticipation (G3) on turf, earning a trip to Del Mar for a start in the Nov. 3 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). The Kentucky-bred colt got caught in traffic on the first turn before rallying in the stretch to finish fourth less than two lengths behind victorious Mendelssohn.

“He’s a multi-talented horse where he can be effective on both surfaces. If you’re a numerical person, his best two numbers are on the dirt. He ran and ‘8’ on the sheets in the Remsen and he ran a ‘6’ on the sheets in the Sam Davis. They were also career-best Beyers,” Thomas said. “As the 3-year-old season goes on, it’s only natural those figures get faster. He seems multi-talented, but, numerically, he’s stronger on dirt.”
Catholic Boy is owned by Robert LaPenta, who owned Florida Derby winners Ice Box (2010) and Dialed In (2011), and Madaket Stables.

“This is a recruiting business like any sport. You have to recruit athletes. We felt like he was an athletic individual. The pedigree was there. Most importantly, he was an above average athlete as a youngster,” Thomas said. “When you recognize those horses it’s necessary to try to get them.”

Thomas, a former assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, has derived a lot of satisfaction from playing a role in Catholic Boy’s career from the very start.

“It’s really exciting. It’s fulfilling because he’s a horse we purchased as a young horse and also got him started under tack. It’s kind of a full circle that’s fun, but there’s also a lot of responsibility that goes with it,” he said. “You try to do the best thing you can for your client and your horse.”

Fountain of Youth (G2) winner and runner-up, Promises Fulfilled and Strike Power, respectively, as well as impressive Holy Bull (G2) winner Audible, are among the more prominent colts Catholic Boy is likely to do battle with in the Florida Derby.

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