by NYRA Press Release
August 25, 2018
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Catholic Boy put away European invador Mendelssohn in the stretch and drew clear to a devastating four-length victory on Saturday to take the 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course, giving Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano his record sixth victory in the race.
Hustled away from the gate, the More Than Ready ridgling stalked Mendelssohn to his outside, with the filly Wonder Gadot and Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Tenfold also in close pursuit, as the European led the field of 10 through an opening quarter-mile in 23.03 seconds, with the half going in 47.81 and three quarters in 1:11.97.
Moving up on the turn to draw abreast of Mendelssohn approaching the quarter-pole, with the filly dropping back, Catholic Boy struck a nose in front straightening for home, and hit his best stride with a furlong to go, drawing away to complete the 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.94 in front of a crowd of 49,418.
"It just doesn't get any better," said Jonathan Thomas, who trains Catholic Boy for Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farms and Twin Creeks Racing Stables. "I'm just so proud of this horse, and Javier [Castellano] was incredible. We've always believed that he's a top talent, despite the surface. He's a much stronger, mature horse and this really shows that patience helps."
Sent off at 7-1, Catholic Boy returned $16.20 for a $2 win bet.
Mendelssohn was clearly the best of the rest, finishing a length in front of redoubtable Triple Crown veteran Bravazo, with King Zachary another 1 ½ lengths back in fourth. Following him under the wire were Vino Rosso, Trigger Warning, Tenfold, Gronkowski, favored Good Magic - who was floated wide on the turn - and Wonder Gadot.
"This was a big improvement," said T. J. Comerford, assistant to Aidan O'Brien, of Mendelssohn, last year's Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner and this year's Grade 2 UAE Derby winner who subsequently finished 20th in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont. "Aidan planned on bringing him here, and he stuck to his guns. Aidan could have easily run him on the turf at home, but he stuck with it over here. It just shows he's coming back to his best. I'm sure he'll be back [in the United States] soon."
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was tickled with the performance from Bravazo, the only colt besides Triple Crown winner Justify to compete in the Kentucky Derby (sixth), Preakness (second), and Belmont Stakes (sixth).
"He's been through the whole series. He's keeping it honest. Nobody's stealing anything, and he's beaten some pretty good horses," said Lukas of Bravazo, second behind Good Magic in the Grade 1 Haskell prior to the Travers. "I'd like to see it a jump or two longer, he might have gotten second. I liked the way he ran. He continues to add to his income and his resume."
The victory was the third straight for Catholic Boy, now a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf, having taken the Belmont Derby on July 7.
"This has been a lifetime dream for me and to win it with a horse like Catholic Boy, I'm speechless," said LaPenta. "I didn't expect this to happen. I've been in the game starting in 2001, and I never thought this day would come, and I'm so glad it did today."
Castellano, who already held the record for most Travers wins by a jockey with five, smiled and held up six fingers as Catholic Boy was led into the winner's circle.
"I basically enjoyed the ride," said Castellano, who previously won the Travers with Keen Ice (2015), V. E. Day (2014), Stay Thirsty (2011), Afleet Express (2010) and Bernardini (2006). "I give all the credit to Jonathan Thomas, the way he's been training the horse. Turf and dirt. He's so good, that horse. I've never seen a horse like that in my life. He can run on turf, dirt; I think he's amazing. He won Grade 1 on the turf and a Grade 1 on the dirt, he's only 3 years old, you don't see too many like that. I've been blessed to be part of it."
Catholic Boy, now 6-1-0 from nine career starts, boosted his bankroll to $1,842,000 with the winner's purse of $670,000. In addition to the Travers and Belmont Derby, he also has won the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge on the turf, the Grade 2 Remsen on dirt as a 2-year-old, and the Grade 3 With Anticipation on turf, also as a juvenile.
Good Magic, last year's juvenile champion, who was favored coming off his victory in the Haskell, was never a factor.
"[Good Magic] didn't break well and from there he was in trouble," said trainer Chad Brown, whose Gronkowski finished 1 ¾ lengths in front of the favorite. "Given the way the track's playing, you've got to be very forwardly placed the last two days on both surfaces. I didn't feel good right away. We wanted him no worse than third early, that's his running style, and especially given the way the track bias has been. When he didn't get there, I didn't feel too good about it."
The Travers field was reduced to 10 with the scratch of Meistermind.