By Joe Bianca
After Robert LaPenta’s Catholic Boy (More Than Ready) reeled off two straight impressive turf wins to start his career and ran a respectable fourth in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, it was presumed he would be a useful 3-year-old grass horse in 2018. After he dominated the GII Remsen S. on dirt, he showed he was capable of much more than that, and he’ll take his first sophomore step toward a potential GI Kentucky Derby start as the heavy favorite in Saturday’s GIII Sam F. Davis S. at Tampa Bay Downs.
Capturing the GIII With Anticipation S. last summer at Saratoga as a 12-1 longshot, Catholic Boy attracted many a wiseguy play in the Breeders’ Cup, but got buried in traffic for much of the running before finishing up decently to complete the superfecta and galloping out in front. Trainer Jonathan Thomas decided to take a shot on the main track Dec. 2 at Aqueduct, and the bay responded with a comprehensive 4 3/4-length victory, earning a career-best 91 Beyer and an investment from new minority owner Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stables.
The runner-up that day, Avery Island (Street Sense), returned to score in the GIII Withers S. last Saturday. With a repeat of his Remsen heroics or any move forward, Catholic Boy will be tough to down in the Davis.
“It is still very early in these 3-year-olds’ lives and even though they are arguably on their most important path, career-wise, they are basically teenagers who are still growing,” Thomas told the Tampa notes team. “We’ve seen him put on some weight and carry some flesh this winter, and he is developing into a little more of a stronger horse.”
Albaugh Family Stables’ ‘TDN Rising Star’ Hollywood Star (Malibu Moon) is another Triple Crown hopeful making his 3-year-old debut. Graduating first out last summer at Churchill, the $550,000 Keeneland September buy was runner-up in both the GII Saratoga Special S. and GIII Iroquois S. before finishing sixth in the GI Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last out. The dark bay, who was entered as one of four for trainer Dale Romans in last Saturday’s GII Holy Bull S. at Gulfstream before scratching, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 (10/35) Sunday in Hallandale.
It wouldn’t be a meaningful Derby prep without an entry from Todd Pletcher, who sends out Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s undefeated Vino Rosso (Curlin). Picked up for $410,000 at KEESEP, the chestnut debuted with a well-bet victory Nov. 11 at Aqueduct and repeated with a workmanlike allowance score going two turns here Dec. 22.
John C. Oxley’s Flameaway (Scat Daddy) will try to emulate the tactics of the favorite and get a graded stakes win going turf to dirt. Unlike that rival prior to the Remsen, however, the $400,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga grad has already proven himself capable on the main track, annexing the GIII Bourbon S. Oct. 8 at Keeneland and the Skidmore S. Aug. 18 at Saratoga when those races were washed off the grass.