The eyes of the nation will be on Animal Kingdom in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday to see if he can become the first Kentucky Derby winner since Swale in 1984 to win the third jewel of the Triple Crown. At River Downs local race fans will be rooting for an amazing equine athlete named Catlaunch to continue his march to millionaire status. 10-year-old Catlaunch will be sent away as the favorite in the $50,000 Sydney Gendelman Memorial Handicap, a race he won in wire to wire fashion last season.
Trainer Ivan Vazquez has been with the Ohio-bred since he was a 2-year-old. "When he was young he was rough and hard to handle," said Vazquez who was a longtime assistant to beloved trainer Albert Palacios. "He flipped in the paddock one day and hit his head and we thought we might have to put him down." After surviving that ordeal, two changes were made that changed Catlaunch career - blinkers were removed and he was gelded. "Both turned him into a better racehorse," Vazquez stated. "He settled down in temperment and with the blinkers off he became more game in his races as he could see horses coming to him. I'm proud to be around him all of these years."
Catlaunch comes into Saturday's feature with a record of 85 lifetime starts, 36 wins, 17 seconds and 9 thirds and earnings of $953,944. He is second on the all-time money list for an Ohio-bred, behind Harlan's Holiday who won the $200,00 Cradle Stakes at River Downs. While he is closing in on the $1 million dollar mark for owner/breeder Scioto Farm, Vazquez is not focused in on an earnigs mark. "So far he likes what he is doing, he's acting good and he comes back good. I never thought about the million mark - if it happens, it happens."
One thing that has not happened, even since being gelded, is Catlaunch's penchant for early action. "He has to be the first horse out on the track in the morning," said Vazquez who has put together a solid team of horseman since the loss Palacios and currently sports a 42% winning percentage. "I learned from Albert, he was one of a kind. You have to earn respect, you try hard and get good people who become friends working for you. I'd rather have friends than money."
Obviously Vazquez and his 10-year-old phenom have earned respect, friends and plenty of money. Odds are good they will add to all three on Saturday at River Downs.