It was the kind of performance that aging Robert LaPenta, part of Catholic Boy’s ownership group, has been yearning to see for decades.
“I’ve been coming to Saratoga since I was 18 years old. I won’t tell you how long ago that was,” LaPenta said. “And this race has always been my dream, even more than the Kentucky Derby. I know a lot of people don’t understand that. The Mid-Summer Derby has always been my dream.”
Trainer Chad Brown is one who understands LaPenta’s sentiments. He grew up in nearby Mechanicville, N.Y., and has targeted the Travers since he began his own operation at the end of the 2007 season. But he spiraled to 0 for 8 in the race of his dreams and has yet to crack the top three after Gronkowski, who went off as the second choice, ran eighth, and favored Good Magic a dull ninth.
Bravazo, second in the Preakness Stakes and Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes, rallied for third. Wonder Gadot, the first filly to compete in Saratoga’s signature race since Davona Dale ran fourth as a beaten favorite in 1979, faded to last in the field of 10. Catholic Boy completed the 1 ¼-mile distance in 2:01.94.
Good Magic, known for breaking sharply, got off slowly this time for regular rider Jose Ortiz on a fast track that has been playing to speed. “We wanted him no worse than third. That’s his running style, and especially given the way the track bias has been,” Brown said. “When he didn’t get there, I didn’t feel very good about it.”
The Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve runner-up and commanding Haskell Invitational victor never menaced after that start.
Gronkowski, a surprising second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in his North American debut and first start on dirt, also was never a factor. He started sluggishly just as he did in the Belmont and spent part of the race tussling with Joel Rosario, his rider. “He got a little rank,” Rosario said. “I was in the back and I wanted him to settle a bit, but he wanted to go forward.”
Catholic Boy could best be described as flawless from the time he warmed up for jockey Javier Castellano, a Travers winner for the sixth time. The versatile 3-year-old was noticeably aggressive before the race and he carried that energy into the contest.
The More Than Ready ridgling sat coolly off front-running Mendelssohn before responding with a powerful kick to take control at the three-sixteenths pole.
“When I saw him still traveling nicely to the three-eighths pole, I thought we were golden,” said winning trainer Jonathan Thomas, “because that’s where he really starts to get going.”