(Catholic Boy makes 2018 debut on Saturday in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay)

Ever since he won the Remsen Stakes in New York, in his first try ever over a dirt surface, the betting public and those interested in the 2018 Road to the Kentucky Derby have been waiting anxiously for the return of Catholic Boy.

The wait will end on Saturday.

Catholic Boy, trained by Jonathan Thomas, will make his 2018 debut and begin his chase for the Triple Crown in earnest this weekend when he lines up against 6 others in the 11/16-mile $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Sam F. Davis is a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve points race, awarding 10-4-2-1 points to the first four finishers toward eligibility for the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 5. The Sam F. Davis is the 10th race.

If all goes well, then it should launch Catholic Boy, the son of More Than Ready, on to a path that could easily end up in Louisville, and under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs, on the first Saturday in May.

As quoted in The Blood-Horse’s on-line version, Thomas said:

“We’re proud of all the horses we get to work with and what they go on to do. But it’s especially gratifying with a horse that basically we’ve taken from the cradle to wherever he’s headed now,” Thomas said of Catholic Boy, who became his first graded stakes winner last summer. “It’s cool. I’m also a big fan of the sport, so it’s been a fun thing. And the horse has been so good to us, that it’s less pressure than just hopefulness that he continues to progress.”

But it surely will not be easy. Also entered is Hollywood Star, who will be traveling over to Tampa from his winter home in South Florida for trainer Dale Romans. Hollywood Star is coming off a run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar in his last go of it. Before that, though, he ran second in both the G2 Saratoga Special at Saratoga, and the G3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs.

Here is a look at the field, as offered by Equibase:

P# PP Horse Virtual
Stable
A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1
1 Navy Armed Guard (KY) 3/G L J L Castanon 116 J Scott 15/1
2
2 Flameaway (ON) 3/C L J Lezcano 120 M E Casse 8/1
3
3 Vino Rosso (KY) 3/C L J R Velazquez 116 T A Pletcher 3/1
4
4 Septimius Severus (PA) 3/C L J L Ortiz 116 G Weaver 15/1
5
5 Hollywood Star (KY) 3/C L J Rosario 116 D L Romans 5/2
6
6 Catholic Boy (KY) 3/C L M Franco 122 J Thomas 8/5
7
7 Vouch (KY) 3/C L D Centeno 116 A Delacour 8/1

Owners: 1 – Harriette Waldron, Roger McDaniel and Robert K. Johnson; 2 – John C. Oxley; 3 – Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable; 4 – R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds; 5 – Albaugh Family Stables, LLC; 6 – Robert V. LaPenta and Madaket Stables, LLC; 7 –Lael Stables and Three Chimneys Farm

Breeders: 1 – George Pruette & Philip Coomer; 2 – Phoenix Rising Farms; 3 – John D. Gunther; 4 – GB Associates; 5 – George Krikorian; 6 – Fred W. Hertrich III & John D. Fielding; 7 – Fedai Kahraman

Pedigrees (Sire – Dam, by Dam Sire): 1 – Midshipman Black Java , by Pine Bluff ; 2 – Scat Daddy Vulcan Rose , by Fusaichi Pegasus ; 3 – Curlin Mythical Bride , by Street Cry (IRE) ; 4 – Roman Ruler Dark Eyes , by Holy Bull ; 5 – Malibu Moon Hollywood Story , by Wild Rush ; 6 – More Than Ready Song of Bernadette , by Bernardini ; 7 – Yes It’s True Justmeandmyshadow , by Tiznow ;

At Gulfstream Park on Saturday / Gulfstream Park Turf:

Short, long, dirt, turf – Robert LaPenta’s March has done it all during his four years of racing.

A graded-stakes winning sprinter during his first two years of racing, the 6-year-old son of Blame has evolved into an accomplished turf performer who is set to compete in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf (G1).

“It’s just a testament to his athleticism and his overall generosity as a horse,” trainer Jonathan Thomas said of March’s high-level performance on both dirt and turf.  “These better horses are just generous horses that are giving you a lot of themselves. I’m not saying the surface is insignificant, but it takes a special horse to strive on both.”

March, who had been trained by Chad Brown, is scheduled to make his second start for Thomas, an up-and-coming trainer who has been enjoying considerable success the past couple of years while basing his stable at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala, where he also recruits and breaks 2-year-olds for clients.

“The horse came to us really in excellent shape, but he just needed a little time. He’d been on the go for quite some time. He laid up at Bridlewood and we gave him some time off and started him back,” said Thomas, who served 6 ½ years as an assistant to Todd Pletcher. “He’s been with me for about 13 months.”

March excelled as a main-track sprinter as a 3-year-old, capturing the Bay Shore (G3) at Aqueduct and the Woody Stephens (G2) at Belmont, both at the seven-furlong distance. He was switched to turf at the end of his sophomore season, finishing second, edged by Chiropractor by a head, in the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar. His victory at Gulfstream in December was his first on turf.

“He’s really trained on well. He’s had four works since he ran, three of them have been with Catholic Boy – they’re actually workmates,” said Thomas, who will saddle LaPenta’s Catholic Boy, a graded-stakes winner on turf and dirt, for Saturday’s Sam Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. “He had a pretty stout piece of work two weeks ago at Tampa and then he breezed a nice half on turf on the grass course at Bridlewood last week. He seems to be in a great shape. This race wasn’t on our radar until he ran and came out of it well. It just makes sense to take a shot now.”

Tyler Gaffalione has the return mount aboard March.

Rodney Paden’s One Go All Go enters the Gulfstream Park Turf off a pair of near-misses over the local grass course, including a runner-up finish by a neck behind Shining Copper in the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2) Jan. 13.

“He beat himself,” trainer Scooter Dickey said. “When he got by that horse, he threw his head up and quit running. That horse didn’t come back and beat him. He let the horse come back and beat him.”

Chris Landeros has the return mount aboard the 6-year-old son of Fairbanks.

“I told the jock, ‘Don’t let him go to the front until right at the wire,’” Dickey said.
One Go All Go joined Dickey’s stable after being purchased for $62,000 at the 2017 Keeneland November sale.

“We bought him because he ran third to Flatliner,” said Dickey, who saddled Flatliner for a victory in the 2017 Fort Lauderdale. “Flatliner’s on the shelf right now, so he’s taking his place right now.

Terry Hamilton’s Heart to Heart, the beaten odds-on favorite for the Fort Lauderdale, is set to seek to make amends Saturday. The free-running turf star reared in the starting gate and was rated to stalk the pace, eventually fading to seventh after being unable to get involved in the early pace. Trained by Brian Lynch, the 7-year-old son of English Channel had won four of his previous starts over the Gulfstream grass, including the Canadian Turf (G3) last year.

Julien Leparoux has the mount aboard the multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed veteran
Trainer Chad Brown entered both Money Multiplier and Kurilov in the Gulfstream Park Turf.

Al Shahania Stud’s Money Multiplier, a Grade 2 stakes winner and multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed finisher, is set to make his 2018 debut. The 6-year-old son of Lookin At Lucky will go over the $1 million earnings mark with at least a third-place finish.

Hall of Famer Javier Castellano has the call aboard the 2017 Monmouth Cup (G2) winner.

The Suwannee River:

John Oxley’s Grade 1-winning homebred Dream Dancing, beaten as the favorite in her 4-year-old debut last month, will face fellow graded winners Ultra Brat, Kitten’s Roar and Midnight Crossing as she seeks a return to her winning ways in the $150,000 Suwannee River Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Suwannee River for fillies and mares 4 and older on the grass is one of the oldest stakes on the Gulfstream calendar, first run in 1947 and predated by only the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (G2, 1945) and the $100,000 Mr. Prospector (G3, 1946).

In its 71st year, the Suwannee River shares top billing on a 12-race program with the 31st running of the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) for 4-year-olds and up, also at nine furlongs. First race post time is noon.

Dream Dancing had won both of her previous starts at Gulfstream last winter including her first career stakes victory in the Herecomesthebride (G3), going on to capture the Del Mar Oaks (G1) five months later.

She had gone unraced for three months following an off-the-board finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (G1) heading into the Marshua’s River (G3) Jan. 13 at Gulfstream, where she stalked a slow pace before making a late bid on the outside to be second, 1 ¾ lengths behind Ultra Brat.

“She had a good work the other day and she’s had a good month since her previous start. I think she was a little pace compromised last time, and I think she’ll run a much better race this time,” said Norm Casse, son an assistant to trainer Mark Casse who will be going out on his own at the end of Gulfstream’s Championship Meet in April.

“I think we had her ready. A lot of times we get disappointed if I didn’t think we had her ready. We had her ready, it was more of a bad pace scenario for her and we’ll learn from our mistake,” he added. “It’s going to be a tough race. They’re always tough races but she’s doing well and she always seems to run well when she’s doing well, so we’ve got a lot of confidence going into the race.”

Regular rider Julien Leparoux, who was out of town riding for Team Casse for her previous start, returns aboard Dream Dancing from Post 5 of nine at co-topweight of 123 pounds.

Ultra Brat has won each of her two career starts at Gulfstream dating back to the Tropical Park Oaks in December 2016. The 5-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo didn’t race again until finishing fourth in the six-furlong Autumn Keys in November at Aqueduct, and stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for her professional Marshua’s Key score.

Though the first three of her five lifetime wins came at sprint distances, Ultra Brat’s most recent wins have been over a route of ground and both in stakes. The Suwannee River will be her longest test to date.

Unique Bella Heads Field for G2 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita:

Unique Bella, America’s reigning Eclipse Champion Female Sprinter, towers over four rivals in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile and one sixteenth.

A striking 4-year-old filly by Tapit, Unique Bella comes off one of the best races of her career, a gutty three quarter length win in the Grade I, seven furlong La Brea Stakes here on Dec. 26.  Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer and owned by Don Alberto Stable, Unique Bella has been favored in seven out of her eight starts and has won six of them.

Fresh off a head victory going a flat mile in the Grade II La Canada Stakes Jan. 13, Reddam Racing’s Mopotism will be tasked with keeping front-running Unique Bella honest in the early stages of the Santa Maria.

UNIQUE BELLA

Owner:  Don Alberto Stable                        Trainer:  Jerry Hollendorfer

Although she had a five-game winning streak snapped when well beaten as the even money favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint two starts back on Nov. 4, Unique Bella rebounded with gusto in the La Brea, earning a 98 Beyer Speed figure while likely swaying a good many undecided Eclipse Award voters.  Unbeaten in two races going a route of ground, Unique Bella was a virtual gate to wire winner of the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes on March 4, 2017–her only try at the Santa Maria distance of 1 1/16 miles.  With “Big Money” Mike Smith engaged to ride for the ninth consecutive time, Unique Bella will likely go as the odds-on favorite Saturday.

MOPOTISM

Owner:  Reddam Racing, LLC                       Trainer:  Doug O’Neill

Third, beaten two lengths by Unique Bella in the Grade I La Brea Dec. 26, this 4-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo bounced back while attentive to the pace with a gutty win in the Grade II La Canada Jan. 13, prevailing by a short head in a thrilling three-horse photo. Well traveled, she was fifth in the Grade I, 1 1/8 miles Breeders’ Cup Distaff three starts back and has faced more than her share of adversity over a career that has seen her go 15-3-4-2.  Following her exhilarating La Canada win, O’Neill assistant Leandro Mora expressed a measure of vindication in the Winner’s Circle:  “This is a good filly,” he said.  “She’s always been a good filly and we know she can run with any Grade I horses.  She needs to learn how to win and today should be a big step in the right direction.  She is more than capable of doing this.”

MAJESTIC HEAT

Owner:  Madeline Auerbach, LLC, Ron McCauley and Bardy Farm              Trainer:  Richard Mandella

An impressive 2 ¾ length winner of the Grade II, 1 1/16 miles Bayakoa Stakes two starts back on Dec. 3, this 6-year-old California-bred mare by Unusual Heat was on a roll going into the Grade II La Canada Stakes Jan. 13, but ran a disappointing fifth as the 6-5 favorite, losing to Mopotism by 2 ¾ lengths.  With Flavien Prat aboard on Saturday, she’ll try to rebound as she seeks her eighth win from 18 overall starts.

 

THE GRADE II SANTA MARIA STAKES WITH JOCKEYS & WEIGHTS IN POST POSITION ORDER

Race 4 of 10                                                                                                        Approximate post time 1:30 p.m. PT

 

  1. Shenandoah Queen–Drayden Van Dyke–120
  2. Mopotism–Mario Gutierrez–124
  3. Kathy’s Song–Brice Blanc–120
  4. Unique Bella–Mike Smith–122
  5. Majestic Heat–Flavien Prat–124

 

First post time for a 10-race card on Saturday is at 12 noon.  Admission gates open at 10 a.m.

Mardi Gras Stakes at the Fair Grounds on Tuesday, Feb. 13:

Carl R. Moore Management LLC’s Finley’sluckycharm will make her 5-year-old debut in the $75,000 Mardi Gras Stakes, the featured event on Fat Tuesday which is run at the five-and-a-half furlong distance for fillies and mares three years old and upward on the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

The daughter of Twirling Candy scored a trio of graded stakes wins last year, which took place in Churchill Downs’ Winning Colors Stakes and Chicago Handicap – both Grade III events – and the Gr. II Honorable Miss at Keeneland in October. Her last start was a well-beaten ninth in the Gr. I Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 4. The Mardi Gras Stakes will be her first start on grass.

“It gives us good spacing between this spot and the next,” trainer Bret Calhoun said. “She’s ready. There was ($50,000 Nelson J. Menard Memorial Stakes) the second weekend of March, but this race came up at the right time. I had this race in mind for a while, but I wanted to give her a couple of works before I decided and she worked great.”

The Mardi Gras forecast in the New Orleans area calls for an 80% chance of rain, according to the National Weather Service. Calhoun stated that the mare will start should the race get taken off the turf.

Regular rider Brian Hernandez, Jr. will have the mount when she breaks from the seven hole.