When I think of Catholic Boy, I think of the unheralded hard work that goes into building a great horse’s foundation. I think of running in circles, measured circles, incessant circles.
In the week and a half leading up to the Breeders’ Cup last year, I spent the mornings trackside, radio clipped to my side, spotting Breeders’ Cup horses and calling their names and positions up to the camera nest. Most of the horses wouldn’t spend much time out on the track. They’d come out, jog a circuit or two, three at the most, then go back to the barn.
Not Catholic Boy. He’d come out, we’d spot him, they’d show him on the camera for a while. Then, a flurry of activity. Horses would come in through the backstretch gap, there would be five or six other superstars of our sport to cut between. Then, another lull.
“Anyone out here?”, the camera spotter’s voice on the radio would crackle.
I’d look up, see a familiar bay horse with a familiar maroon Bridlewood Farm saddle pad draped over a towel numbered 803.
Was it because he debuted at Gulfstream long after the geese, the cranes, and the best horses in the nation had returned north for the summer? Was it because he skipped the traditional final round of preps, training straight from the With Anticipation in August all the way to November, around and around and away from the shouting throngs gathered along the rail on Saturday afternoons? Was it because the name Jonathan Thomas didn’t roll off the tongue as easily, from years of repetition, as Aidan O’Brien or Chad Brown or Charlie Appleby or Graham Motion?
I’d push my button. “Just Catholic Boy, coming past the seven furlong gap now. Everyone else left.”