Zipse: This is why I'm so excited about Catholic Boy's season

May 27, 2019 06:46pm

We need more horses like Catholic Boy in American racing. The problem is, there aren't many out there quite like the 4-year-old son of More Than Ready.

No matter the box -- the ability to win at classic distances, the quality to win big races on any surface, the versatility to win at a variety or distances, or the consistency to compete at the highest level over multiple years -- Catholic Boy checks them all. And that is why I currently have him ranked as America's best horse.

This is a time when our Triple Crown is winding down while lacking opportunity for a horse to sweep the series. The glamour of Saratoga and Del Mar is still more than a month away as well.

Unfortunately, it's also a time when our top horses are often off to retirement early, and if they are racing, they compete far less frequently than stars of eras gone by. These things lacking in American racing is exactly why I get so excited about a horse like the
Jonathan Thomas-trained Catholic Boy.

I grew up following horses like
Secretariat, Waya, Exceller and John Henry -- horses of extreme quality whose connections were not afraid to test them at the top levels, no matter the surface.

Secretariat is the outlier of the group, having been retired after his 3-year-old season, but his accomplishments in two full seasons of racing were so spectacular and comprehensive that it's hard to hold it against his connections. The horse known for the greatest Triple Crown sweep in history was also the best turf horse that I've ever seen.

Of course, there was a very good reason why we didn't see Secretariat run again after his 21 races at 2 and 3. A stud deal with Claiborne Farm had long been made, so with nothing left to prove on the racetrack, Big Red was off to his second career.

Nearly half a century later, news of another stallion deal to stand at
Claiborne Farm hit within the last week. This time it's for Catholic Boy.

As we've become accustomed to, it's highly unlikely that we will see this star come back the year after his stud deal was reached, but the good news is, like Secretariat, there are no plans to shuttle Catholic Boy off to the stallion barn before a full season is completed. That is good news indeed, because he could be on the verge of a special season.

Granted, he is no Secretariat. Far from it. A reminder of that came nine days ago when he had to work hard to come away with a victory in the Dixie Stakes (G2) on the Preakness undercard. Unspectacular but important, it marked Catholic Boy's return to the races after more than six months away.

It was also his first race on the turf in 10 months. I have little doubt that there will be better performances to come for a mature version of Catholic Boy, but his half-length victory from a far outside post was a wonderful reminder his talent.

In those boxes that we were checking off earlier, I failed to mention perhaps the most important one of all for Catholic Boy. He is a fighter.

The statistics are there, and they are impressive. He's won 7-of-11 lifetime, with just a shade under $2 million already in the bank. He was a graded stakes winner on both turf and dirt as a juvenile, and at 3 he became a Grade 1 winner on both turf and dirt. But more than anything, he desperately desires to get to the finish line first.

We saw it again in the Dixie, but it was last year on the turf where we knew for certain of his desire not to be outdone. The Pennine Ridge (G3) and the Belmont Derby (G1) were not only fast, but they were ultimate displays of gameness and guts.

Gritty comeback performances over rival Analyze It were defining moments for Catholic Boy. And just to remind of us his big talent, he turned in one of the most impressive victories of 2018 with a powerful victory when back on the dirt for the Mid-Summer Derby.

That Travers Stakes score was huge, but it also gave us a glimpse into the potential of a 4-year-old Catholic Boy. Just imagine a bigger, stronger version of that horse who romped home at Saratoga. I can.

Life as a stallion at Claiborne Farm awaits, but the time for Catholic Boy is now.

Whether it be on the turf or on the dirt -- the  July 6 Suburban (G2) going 1 1/4 miles at Belmont Park is likely next -- Catholic Boy is back, and American racing is in a better place because of it.


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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