By Margaret Ransom
A new rider will be aboard Catalina Cruiser in Saturday’s $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2), but the way he’s been running it may not matter who’s aboard.
However, with regular rider Joel Rosario in New York this weekend (he’ll be aboard Endorsed in the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on Saturday), Del Mar’s leading rider Flavien Prat is not a bad fill-in.
The 4-5 morning-line favorite in a field of seven, Catalina Cruiser is 2-for-2 this year, and 6-for-7 overall for Hronis Racing and trainer John Sadler. The 5-year-old chestnut son of Union Rags won the True North (G2) at Belmont Park on June 7, and returned home and won the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar on July 20.
The seven-furlong Pat O’Brien is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race for the BC Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita in November. Last year, in his only loss, Catalina Cruiser ran a surprising seven the BC Dirt Mile in his only defeat. His connections hope to prove this time he’ll be much more competitive against the top milers in the world.
Catalina Cruiser worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:12 3/5 last Saturday at Del Mar, and appears ready to take on all challengers. He drew the far outside so will need to hustle from the break to make his preferred spot on the lead, but he’s dangerous at any pace on the front end and will be tough to run down.
The rest of the field, from the rail out, is Lieutenant Dan, Chief Cicatriz, Jalen Journey, Giant Expectations, Seven Trumpets, and American Anthem.
American Anthem is clearly a seven-furlong dirt specialist having won four of six starts at the distance with one third over his 14-race career. The Bob Baffert-trained son of Bodemeister is a multiple Grade 2 winner and pretty consistent. After spending 10 months sidelined from last July to May of this year, he makes his fourth start as a 5-year-old. He has some tactical speed he can use depending on how the pace sets up and is coming off a nice 6 ½-furlong allowance win a month ago. He will be piloted by Rafael Bejarano, who hasn’t ridden for Baffert recently but has been on a hot streak lately.
Jalen Journey makes his second start for trainer Peter Miller and owners Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen off a decent third in the Bing Crosby (G2) last out. This lightly raced ridgling son of With Distinction, who was a $510,000 Fasig-Tipton horses of racing age purchase in April, has yet to win a stakes, but has been close and his best makes him a logical choice for any exotics. Norberto Arroyo Jr. rides.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Seven Trumpets was in California before and was a disappointing 14th in the Malibu (G1) last December. He subsequently spent six month on the sidelines and returned to win an Ellis Park stakes race for trainer Dale Romans. He ships West to try to get a spot in the BC Dirt Mile, a race he finished eighth in a year ago. Victor Espinoza rides for the first time.
Grade 2 winner Giant Expectations makes his first start since running second in the Commentator at Belmont nearly three months ago. He hasn’t won a race since taking the San Antonio (G2) at Santa Anita more than 18 months ago, but has put in some decent efforts and placed in some good races. Trainer Pete Eurton rarely sends out a horse he thinks is overmatched
Chief Chicatriz has won stakes (including a Grade 3) all over but was no factor against the best California sprinters last out in the Bing Crosby. He’s back to test seven furlongs and has a couple of nice drills over the surface over the past three weeks. Trainer Shawn Davis, who is in the cowboy Hall of Fame, taps Ruben Fuentes to ride again.
Lieutenant Dan is a nice multiple Cal-bred stakes winner making a leap into graded company. He’s consistent and talented, but it seems he’s just a cut below the top two.
The Pat O’Brien is named for the 1930s and 1940s actor, who along with Bing Crosby, built the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Throughout his lengthy career O’Brien made more than 100 movies and spent most of his summers in what he called his favorite place where the turf meets the surf next to the Pacific Ocean.
Inaugurated in 1986, it took a few years for the race to take off as a must-stop for local sprinters, and though Cal-bred standout Sensational Star was victorious in 1990, it wasn’t until eventual Eclipse Award winner and Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) champion Lit de Justice took home top honors in 1995 that the status of the event was solidified. The 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Alphabet Soup won the Pat O’Brien in 1996 before his greatest career score at Woodbine that October, and in 2004 Kela gave the late Mike Mitchell his first Grade 1 winner in the Pat O’Brien.