Classical Grass

In June of this year, Catholic Boy was winning the Pennine Ridge Stakes on grass at Belmont Park and 17 days later we watched Yoshida run his tail off to be beaten 1 1/4 lengths in the 15-horse Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot following his victory in the Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs.

If there was an exacta future book wager for the Breeders’ Cup Classic back then, a Catholic Boy – Yoshida box would probably be around 500-1.

Despite his victory last year in the Remsen Stakes, it looked as if Catholic Boy was back on the grass for good following a brief journey on the Kentucky Derby trail. He would follow that score up with another dramatic victory in the Belmont Derby, battling back from certain defeat just as he had done in the Pennine Ridge. A career on the dirt now seemed like a memory.

As for Yoshida, He had never felt dirt under his hooves in the afternoon since he began his career on the grass in November of 2016.

But the one thing both horses had in common was they liked to tease their trainers in the morning by doing enough on the dirt to suggest that they wouldn’t mind a future on the sandy loam.

Catholic Boy had been there before and when he breezed a bullet five furlongs in :59 3/5 over the Saratoga main track on August 6, visions of the Travers Stakes started dancing before trainer Jonathan Thomas’ eyes.

Yoshida hadn’t turned any heads with dazzling works, but he worked steady enough over the dirt to make his connections curious as to how he would handle it in the afternoon. They toyed with the idea of running him in the Whitney early in the meet, but opted to go with Good Samaritan, who had made an auspicious debut on dirt in the Jim Dandy Stakes the year before and followed it up with a victory in the New Orleans Handicap this year. But when he was beaten 16 lengths in the Whitney it made the Woodward Stakes later in the meet even more enticing a spot to take a shot with Yoshida.

So, on August 25, Catholic Boy ran away with the Travers, drawing off to a four-length victory in 2:01 4/5, and a week later, Yoshida mowed down his opponents in the stretch in the Woodward, winning by two lengths in a solid 1:48 4/5, coming home his final three-eighths in a scintillating :36 flat and final eighth in :12 1/5.

Just like that, Thomas and Bill Mott had Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders and decided to put their new toys away for over two months rather than risk breaking them before the big race. They were well aware that a repeat of the Travers and Woodward would put them right there with the big guns Diversify and Accelerate. When Diversify eliminated himself from Classic consideration by self destructing in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Accelerate didn’t exactly dazzle anyone winning the Awesome Again Stakes, running 15 Beyer points lower than his Pacific Classic score, Catholic Boy and Yoshida suddenly became big guns themselves.

One factor in their favor as all-purpose horses is that the Churchill Downs dirt track has always been favorable to grass horses.

With so many doors being opened this year and in recent years, such as winning the Kentucky Derby without racing at 2, sweeping the Triple Crown a mere 111 days after ones career debut, and winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic off a two-month layoff without one of the traditional prep races, we may now have another one – grass horses switching to the dirt and winning the Classic.

We have seen Europeans run big in the Classic, with Arcangues scoring a 133-1 upset and Giant’s Causeway, Sahkee, Swain, Declaration of War, Toast of New York, and Ibn Bey nearly pulling it off. Raven’s Pass also was victorious, but that was on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita. Few American horses have given it a try. Volponi ran in four consecutive grass stakes in 2002, with a victory, two seconds, and a third, and had scattered grass races throughout his career. After prepping in the Meadowlands Cup on dirt, he ran off with the Classic by 6 1/2 lengths at 43-1.

Catholic Boy fits in that category, except he won’t be a longshot and has had a much shorter career, while Yoshida has been far more grass oriented, running on it his entire career before his last start. In any event, if either horse wins the Classic, or if both are right there at the wire, you can expect to see more horses trying to emulate them in the future. As it is, we are seeing more horses coming out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and embarking on the Derby trail.

Also remember that Thunder Snow came off six consecutive grass races to start his career and then won the UAE 2,000 Guineas and UAE Derby on dirt. Later in his career he came off five consecutive grass races to win the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 and Dubai World Cup in a romp. Most recently he came off a poor showing in the Juddmonte International on grass to finish second by a neck in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In short, we could be witnessing a grass revolution in this country. Perhaps that will help our big horses stay sounder and keep them running longer.

So keep a close eye on Catholic Boy and Yoshida on November 3, as well as Thunder Snow. How they perform could have a profound effect on the sport.

Recent Posts


More Blogs