September 28, 2023

Knickerbocker win could propel Catholic Boy to third try in Breeders’ Cup

Catholic Boy
Catholic Boy (Coglianese Photos)

With respect to Breeders’ Cup preparation this year, Catholic Boy has been playing catch up. On the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, the four-year-old will attempt to run well enough in the $200,000 Knickerbocker (G2) at Belmont Park to justify a third trip to the World Championships for trainer Jonathan Thomas.

Limited to just two starts this term due to lingering infirmities, Catholic Boy gutted out a season-opening half-length victory in the Dixie (G2) on Preakness Day at Pimlico. The versatile talent then switched to the main track for the Suburban (G2) on July 6, but proved no match for Preservationist in a runner-up effort.

More positively, Catholic Boy owns a two-for-two record on the turf at Belmont, including a narrow decision in the Belmont Derby (G1) last year.

“We’re happy with him at the moment. It seemed like a good opportunity to run looking right at us,” Thomas said. “It’s at home and he’s run well here. We’re just trying to get a gauge on him and see where we’re at.

“If he runs well it’s a good platform into a possible Breeders’ Cup start. It’s a bit of a learning experience on where we’re at with him at the moment, but we’ve been happy with his training. We’re one step at a time, but it’ll point to where to go.”

Catholic Boy finished fourth in the 2017 Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar and 13th in the Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs last season.

Glorious Empire, an Eclipse Award finalist last season for the turf male title, makes only his second start of the year in the 1 1/8-mile Knickerbocker. Returning from a nine-month layoff in the one-mile Baltimore-Washington Turf Cup at Laurel last month, Glorious Empire made the front with more than a furlong remaining before the effects of the layoff kicked in. Running out of steam in the final yards, Glorious Empire finished sixth, beaten two lengths.

“I hope he’s the same horse that he was last year,” trainer Chuck Lawrence said. “Going distances like a mile and an eighth, a mile and three-eighths and a mile and a half are where he’s at his best. A mile is a little too short for him.

“I was a little disappointed that we went after the horse on the lead last time. He was on the lead at the seven-eighths and went 1:21 flat which was nice to see. Since then he’s trained forwardly, eating well and he looks good. It all comes down to pace, so we’ll see how it sets up.”

Lucullan narrowly won a restricted stakes at Saratoga two back and last time rallied for third in the Woodbine Mile (G1). He owns a three-for-five record on the Belmont turf. Dr. Edgar, who has won or placed in seven of nine starts over the local lawn, won the Appleton (G3) at Gulfstream last winter before finishing second to Olympico in the Fort Marcy (G3). The latter has been unplaced in three straight since that soft-turf victory, and Chad Brown fans should get a price on the French-bred.