Catholic Boy Hopes Prove He Fits on Derby Trail
By Ellis Starr - National Racing Analyst for Equibase
The 38th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes features Catholic Boy, who tried dirt for the first time in the fourth start of his career in December and won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes powerfully to stamp himself as a top two year old. Making his debut as a three year old, Catholic Boy faces six other horses and will be a formidable foe. Still, considering young three year olds can improve significantly from one race to another, there are others that may have a shot to earn points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby race series by finishing in the top four, perhaps winning. Flameaway is one of those horses, having made his three year old debut last month when winning the Kitten's Joy Stake on turf, two races before that having won the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes on a sloppy main track. Hollywood Star finished second in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes last summer before a sixth place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Another with improving to do is Vouch, who finished third in the Remsen. Others in the field are Navy Armed Guard, Vino Rosso and Septimius Severus.
This is a very intriguing race from a handicapping perspective, so much so that Navy Armed Guard gets slight preference, even though he has yet to win a race in five starts. The first two were sprints, one on turf and one on dirt, and he ran poorly both times. However in his third career start (in November), Navy Armed Guard was stretched out to a route for the first time, finishing well from sixth to second to earn a career best 95 Equibase® Speed Figure. Then in December, Navy Armed Guard was put back on grass (finishing third) before trying blinkers and moving back to dirt, missing by a neck on the wire. For the Sam F. Davis, Navy Armed Guard gets the rail to save ground as well as makes his second start over the track, which often results in improvement. Considering his sire Midshipman won the 2008 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and considering his dam produced 11 time winner Discreet Angel, Navy Armed Guard may not win the Sam F. Davis but sure might run better than many people expect him to.
Catholic Boy won the first two starts of his career, both on turf, including the Grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes, before a very good fourth of 14 finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, earning a field-high and career-best 106 Figure. One month later, Catholic Boy tried dirt in the Remsen and dominated by nearly five lengths in a field of 10. Although his figure regressed off the Juvenile Turf to 100, Catholic Boy certainly can improve just as the Remsen runner-up Avery Island did when winning the Withers Stakes last week.
Vouch made his career debut around two turns at the end of October, which is no easy task as most horses need a prep race before running well enough to win at a mile or more. Vouch did not need a prep race, as he won by eight lengths and then was flattered when the runner-up came out of the race to win. Moving right into the deep end of the pool, Vouch made the second start of his career in the Remsen, finishing third behind Avery Island and improving to a 91 figure. More improvement is expected, not only with experience but because Vouch is a half-brother to 2015 Delaware Oaks winner Calamity Kate. Additionally, the Stats Race Lens statistic regarding sons and daughters of sire Yes It's True reveal they have a strong record of seven wins in 16 starts in dirt route stakes races for three year olds in the past few years.
About the rest, even though some have proven competitive in stakes there are question marks. Flameaway has won four of six races, the most recent being the Kitten's Joy Stakes on turf. His lone dirt route win came in the off-turf Bourbon Stakes in October, in which he earned a 104 figure that would give him a chance to win if he can repeat the effort. Whether he can run that well on a dry track is the question. Similarly, Hollywood Star finished second in the Iroquois Stakes (with a 90 figure) last September at this distance on dirt. He drew a poor post (12) for his next start, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, so his sixth of 12 finish was probably better than it appears on paper. Still, returning from three months off in a graded stakes without a prep suggests he may not be as fit as many of the others that have run more recently.
The rest of the field is comprised of Septimius Severus, who is stretching out to two turns for the first time and whose best effort earned a 93 figure, and Vino Rosso, who earned an 83 figure in his first two-turn race after a 96 figure effort in his debut prior to that.
My Top Three Win Contenders: