Catholic Boy Wins Remsen, Impresses in Dirt Debut

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

December 3rd, 2017

Yesterday afternoon at Aqueduct, Catholic Boy delivered an eye-catching performance to win the $250,000 Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct by 4 ¾ lengths.

But while his victory was decisive and placed him firmly on to the road to the Kentucky Derby, the biggest takeaway from the race might be the effect that the track had on the outcome and the final time.

Catholic Boy certainly deserves accolades for his effort. Owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by Jonathan Thomas, the son of More Than Ready settled in mid-pack while racing wide behind modest fractions of :23.98, :48.97, and 1:14.33, then swooped past the field on the far turn and drew away with authority while running the final furlong in a solid :12.85 seconds.

At first glance, his winning time of 1:52.50 for nine furlongs is very slow and suggestive of a weak race, but that’s where the condition of the track comes into consideration. The main track at Aqueduct, which was reconfigured for the 2017-2018 winter meet, has been playing extraordinarily slow. The rail in particular has not been the best part of the track, and the results of the Remsen certainly reflected these facts. The race was dominated by horses that raced wide and stayed away from the rail, and the final time—though slow—was 1.41 seconds quicker than the time of 1:53.91 posted one race earlier by the two-year-old filly Wonder Gadot in the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II).

So what does all of this mean? Opinions will vary, but to my eye Catholic Boy made a great impression visually, and the quick final furlong over such a slow track suggests that he’s got the stamina to be competitive in a race like the ten-furlong Kentucky Derby.
The bigger question is whether he can be truly effective on dirt.
Catholic Boy's three runs prior to the Remsen were all on turf, including a troubled fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I); furthermore, winning a graded stakes races for two-year-olds over a very slow and tiring dirt track (while getting a pretty good trip in the process) doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be as effective on quicker tracks or with less desirable trips.

Then again, Churchill Downs—home of the Kentucky Derby—has a reputation for playing in favor of turf horses, and even if Catholic Boy doesn’t dominate the prep races during the next few months, ten furlongs at Churchill Downs could very well prove perfect for him.

Do you think Catholic Boy will be a major player on the Derby trail?