Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Thursday, September 26, 2013

| Churchill Downs Communications | 01/08/2014 #

In Today’s Notes: Catalano Wraps up Record Meet; Najjaar Healthy, Peitz Happy

Trainer Wayne Catalano is on the verge of wrapping up an unheralded 11th leading trainer title in what has already been a record year at Arlington International Racecourse for the three-time Breeders’ Cup-winning conditioner.  This season has already witnessed Catalano break the meet earnings record – becoming the first Arlington-based trainer to earn more than $2 million in purses – while also seeing him currently a mere six wins short of tying his own win record of 75 (2010), with four race days remaining.

“This has been a very good year.  I think the difference was we had some horses win a few more stakes than we normally do,” Catalano said.  “This year a lot of things have worked out very well for us.”  The veteran conditioner has scored six stakes victories – greatly outscoring his rival trainers, including wins in three prestigious Grade III events – the Arlington Matron, Arlington-Washington Futurity and Pucker Up Stakes. 

As far as setting records, Catalano is quick to point out that while he enjoys achieving them, it is winning races for his clients and having a good team that remains the priority.  “We don’t really worry about the records until we get really close.  Sometimes you can’t control how things happen.  The other day I thought I would win with a few that I had in there, but I wound up not winning with any,” Catalano explained. 

In 2013, the conditioner is sporting a 29% strike rate (69 wins), with 53% in the top-three.  Those numbers are up from 24% (63 wins) and 52% in 2012 and his best since 2010.  And, as always, now that the meet is ending, his focus is on the big races of the fall, including winning another Breeders’ Cup.  It is no surprise that this year, once again, some of his best prospects are juveniles. 

“We are looking at Keeneland preps for them,” Catalano said of his best charges – including Futurity winner Solitary Ranger, Kentucky Downs Juvenile Fillies winner Lien on Kitten and maiden turf winner School on a Hill.  “We are going to look at the (Grade I Breeders’ Futurity) for Solitary Ranger and see if the other two are good enough.”  Lien on Kitten, who caught the eyes of many with a sharp maiden win at Arlington in August, has drawn comparisons to multiple Grade I winner and Breeders’ Cup champion Stephanie’s Kitten, who is currently recovering from a minor injury. 

“I don't know if (Lien on Kitten) is that good, but I sure hope so,” Catalano explained.  “She’s definitely very talented.”         

As far as the big filly, she is currently on the comeback trail.  “Stephanie is very special.  She is still freshening up and we will talk it over with Mr. Ramsey and Mr. Partridge (Ramsey’s manager) and decide what is next for her.”

A rewarding addition to his barn has been William Stiritz’s Hogy, who has won both of his starts – both stakes – since being turned over to Catalano this summer.  In August he annexed the $100,000 Troy Stakes, a turf sprint at Saratoga, and then won the $250,000 Presque Isle Mile Stakes around two turns earlier this month at Presque Isle Downs. 

“He’s been a nice pick up this summer.  We are going to look at the Breeders’ Cup (Turf Sprint).  I think we’ll run him and see if he can get one of the ‘Win and You’re In’ races,” Catalano stated.   “He’s a very talented and versatile horse.”

Horses like Hogy and owners like Stiritz have been a huge asset to Team Catalano since he split with powerhouse owner Frank Calabrese a few years ago.  After rebuilding his stable, he now has and is greatly thankful for the opportunity to train for such influential outfits as Gary and Mary West, Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. 

Catalano’s diversified owner portfolio also includes exciting and enthusiastic newcomers like Susan Moulton, whose very first horse is the aforementioned graded stakes-winning Solitary Ranger, and Hit The Board Stable, owner of Hatoof and Pucker Up Stakes winner I’m Already Sexy. 

“We’ve had a few good years of excellent owners.  Having many of them actually works out a better.  Owners like Mr. West are great because they always try to put horses where they’ll fit and will be the most successful.  We’ll run his Cameo Appearance this weekend in the ($400,000) Oklahoma Derby,” Catalano said.

“Between my team, my clients and everyone involved, it makes it a lot easier to be this successful.  They are all great and we cannot do it without them,” Catalano continued.  “If you supply the good horses, it’s simply a good opportunity for me and my staff to display what we can do.  Everything can come together when you do that, as long as you get a little luck your way.  I can’t say enough about my crew – we have an unbelievable group.”

One of the more talented horses to not win a stakes this season has been Shadwell Stable’s Najjaar, a hard-trying colt from the barn of trainer Danny Peitz who was a solid third in the $400,000 American St. Leger – losing by just over a length for it all.

After shipping to Kentucky to compete in the $400,000 Kentucky Downs Turf Cup and expected to go off as one of the favorites, the son of Belmont Stakes winner Jazil suddenly had appetite issues that alarmed his connections. 

“We shipped down there to Trackside, Churchill’s training track, and were going to train a little before the race and then just ship two hours to Kentucky Downs.  Then he got out of his feed tub and I decided to take a pass on the race even though it looked like a great spot to be running in,” Peitz explained. 

“He ate only a little in a 48-hour period and I had to do the right thing by the horse.  I didn’t want to set him back,” Peitz continued. “That’s one thing about training for Shadwell – they’re so good.  I called them before the race and told them that he didn’t eat enough and they said there’s always another race and let me pass on it.  A lot of owners would not be so understanding.”

Earlier in the year, the colt had shipped down from his Arlington base to Kentucky to run a very good third in the Grade III Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs, so shipping was not a worry for his connections.  After running a very good fourth in the Grade III Arlington Handicap – losing by less than two lengths – he was considered a major contender in the marathon American St. Leger, considering his stamina-laden pedigree.  Now, with a break and a return to normal, the smallish but handsome bay is back to work.  “He worked this morning very well (five furlongs in 1:03 flat at Trackside).  We’re going to look at the Sycamore at Keeneland, which is a nice 12-furlong race for him,” Peitz said. 

Peitz also took the time to give an update on Shadwell’s Grade III Modesty Handicap winner Ausus, who has been off since finishing a good third in the Grade I Beverly D. Stakes.   “She’s doing okay.  I’m not really sure what we’re going to do with her.  The Breeders’ Cup might be too ambitious.  I’ve been thinking about the (Grade I E. P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine on Oct. 14) for her.  I'm not positive,” Peitz reported. 

“I backed off her a bit and thought she came out (of the Beverly D.) like she needed a little time between races and now I need to get another good work into her.  I gave her an easy half last week, and I’ll give her a serious work here soon and have a better idea of which way we want to go,” Peitz reported.  “The race that does intrigue me is the (Listed $125,000) Dowager Stakes at Keeneland. I’ve always wanted to run her a mile and a half.  It doesn’t make her worth any more, but I really think it would be nice to see her open up at that distance and maybe go out a winner back home in Kentucky.  All I know is that after this year they are going to breed her in Europe and bring her back to Kentucky.”

All in all, Peitz is also very pleased with his 2013 experience at Arlington.  His $408,679 in earnings placed him 15th within in the locally based conditioners, with fewer starts (59) than any of those ahead of him.  “We didn’t win as many as we would have liked, but we definitely had some great performances.  You can’t complain too much.  It’s always great to be at Arlington with the beautiful facility.”