SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — Catholic Boy proved he could win on turf. With jockey Javier Castellano aboard in the Travers Stakes, Catholic Boy proved he's not too shabby on dirt, either.
On a day when trainer Chad Brown saddled the top two favorites as he chased his first victory in the Travers at his hometown track, Catholic Boy stole the show, pulling away from Mendelssohn down the stretch and capturing the $1.25 million Travers Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
That boosted Catholic Boy's total to six wins in nine starts, with four graded stakes victories on turf, and stunned co-owner Robert LaPenta.
"This has been a lifetime dream for me, and to win it with a horse like Catholic Boy, I'm speechless," LaPenta said. "I didn't expect this to happen."
Maybe he should have with Castellano in the saddle for the 149th running of the Travers, the oldest major race in the country. Castellano won the Midsummer Derby for the sixth time, extending his record in the race.
"It feels so great. I'm blessed to be part of the history," said the 40-year-old Castellano, who rode Keen Ice to an upset victory over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers three years ago. "The trainer and owners gave me a lot of support to be part of this success. I had a lot of confidence. I went to pray every single Sunday. I felt so great, so comfortable with him because of the way he's been training."
Catholic Boy and Mendelssohn, with Ryan Moore aboard, were at the front of the 10-horse field at the top of the stretch before Castellano put Catholic Boy in the lead, and he pulled away to win by four lengths. That gave trainer Jonathan Thomas a victory with his first entry in the Travers.
"It just doesn't get any better," said Thomas, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher. "I'm just so proud of this horse, and Javier was incredible. We've always believed that he's a top talent despite the surface."
Catholic Boy, who won the Grade 2 Remsen as a 2-year-old and posted back-to-back turf wins in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and Grade 1 Belmont Derby, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2 minutes, 1.94 seconds and paid $16.20, $8.20 and $5.80. Last in the Kentucky Derby after being the second choice, Mendelssohn, out of Ireland, acquitted himself well after finishing third in the Grade 3 Dwyer in July and paid $12.00 and $8.70. Bravazo returned $6.60 to show.
Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic, who went off as the favorite after his win last month in the Haskell, finished ninth in the 10-horse field for Brown, who also sent out Gronkowski as the second pick.
Brown was trying to buck a trend at the venerable track, nicknamed the "graveyard of favorites." Only six favorites have won the Travers since the turn of this century.
"[Good Magic] didn't break very well and from there he was in trouble," said Brown, who leads the Saratoga meet by a wide margin over Pletcher but had only one victory on Saturday. "I was hoping to recover down the backside and he started to advance. I figured it wasn't impossible, but [jockey] Jose [Ortiz] ... didn't have that horsepower under him, so to speak."
King Zachary finished fourth, followed by Vino Rosso, Trigger Warning, and Tenfold, who was seeking to become the 10th horse to sweep the Jim Dandy and Travers. Gronkowski, the surprise runner-up to Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes, finished eighth.
Wonder Gadot, the first filly entered in the Travers since Davona Dale finished fourth as the favorite in 1979, was last on a track labeled as fast and firm on a picture-perfect, late-summer day.
Meistermind, a 30-1 long shot trained by Steve Asmussen, was scratched earlier Saturday. Meistermind was slated to go from post position 6 in his stakes debut with jockey Manny Franco.
In other Grade 1 races on the signature card of the 40-day meet: Promises Fulfilled, with Luis Saez aboard, took the lead at the top of the stretch and held off Seven Trumpets and Robby Albarado in the final strides to win the seven-furlong $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes for 3-year-olds; Abel Tasman bumped with Elate in a race at Saratoga for the second straight year, overcame the brush-up with her rival in the final 70 yards, and won the 1 1/8-mile $700,000 Personal Ensign Stakes for fillies and mares 3 years old and up; Marley's Freedom pulled away down the stretch and won the $500,000 Ballerina Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint for fillies and mares; Whitmore won the seven-furlong $600,000 Forego Stakes, a qualifying race for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile; and Glorious Empire held off Channel Maker to win the $1 million Sword Dancer Stakes, a 1 1/2-mile prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf.