Making his first dirt start, Catholic Boy established himself as a Kentucky Derby contender with a tour-de-force victory in Saturday’s $250,000 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct. The Jonathan Thomas-trained son of More Than Ready rated just off the pace with jockey Manny Franco until launching his rally, accelerating powerfully to the lead entering the stretch and rolling home to a 4 ¾-length decision.

The 1 1/8-mile Remsen serves as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, awarding points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers, and Catholic Boy made a sensational debut in a qualifier. And he’s eligible to be a serious factor in future points’ races next year.

Owned by Robert V. LaPenta, Catholic Boy left the starting gate as the 4-1 third choice among 10 rivals and the 2-year-old colt stopper the teletimer in 1:52.50.

“We came over here quietly confident that he would show us a little something, but we never expected that,” Thomas said of the convincing win.

“I just followed the instructions,” Franco explained. “The trainer told me to break out of there running and to try and get some position early on into the first turn. The horse put me in a good position and when I called on him to run he just went.”

Avery Island, who was favored at 2-1 following a wire-to-wire victory in the Nashua (G2), tracked the pace to the completion of the far turn and had no response when challenge by the winner. He did manage to easily save second, 1 ¾ lengths better than the 11-1 Vouch. It was another 4 ¾ lengths back to Alkhaatam, who rallied belatedly for fourth as the 2-1 second choice.

Completing the order of finish were Tap Rap Strike, Biblical, Millionaire Runner, Triple Dog Dare, V.I.P. Code and pacesetter Bandito.

Bred in Kentucky by Fred W. Hertrich III & John D. Fielding, Catholic Boy is out the Bernardini mare Song of Bernadette and counts Grade 3 runner-up Winner’s Edge, a daughter of Seeking the Gold, as his second maternal dam.

After capturing his career bow on Gulfstream Park’s turf in July, Catholic Boy shipped to Saratoga to win the grassy With Anticipation (G3) in his second career outing. He was bet down as the 6-1 third choice in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) at Del Mar and experienced a troubled trip before rallying fast for fourth, beaten only 1 ½ lengths by the winning Mendelssohn.

Thomas noted his pupil’s affinity for longer distances.

“Early on, he was a turf horse only because there weren't many route races on the dirt,” Thomas said. “It was kind of a default sort of thing and he actually breezed fine on the turf so now we have a lot of thinking to do. The key to him as that if he gets a route of ground.”

And perhaps understated when asked about Catholic Boy’s future on the main track.

“Obviously, this time of year our preference would be to have a dirt horse,” the conditioner said. “I think we definitely have to consider his next start being a dirt race for sure and kind of see where he takes us.”