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The defending champion Catalina Cruiser is back to defend his title in Saturday’s $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) against a field of seven other rivals at Del Mar. It will go off as race nine while serving as the feature event of the day.
Widely regarded as one of the most talented horses in the country, Catalina Cruiser has won six of seven lifetime and is a perfect two-for-two this season. He romped in this race last year before suffering his only defeat in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs. While he hasn’t been as flashy as last year, he has to be challenged in either of his 2019 starts. The first came at Belmont Park in the Ture North Stakes (G2) before he returned to win the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar for the second straight season. The Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) remains his goal once again.
The winner of the Pat O’Brien Stakes will receive an automatic position in the $1 million Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) this fall at Santa Anita Park. Pre-entry and entry fees will be paid and a nominator award of $10,000 will be given to the nominating person. Also, all Breeders’ Cup starters based outside of the state of California will receive a travel allowance of $10,000 if based in North America and $40,000 if based Internationally.
Here is a look at the full field:
#1 Lieutenant Dan – After his big win last time out in the Real Good Deal Stakes against fellow California-bred 3-year-olds, it makes sense to give this horse a try against graded stakes company here. He has won four of his nine starts this year and has hit the board in eight of them. That type of consistency gives him a chance to make an impact in any race which he enters. We’ll see if he can pass the class test in this spot.
#2 Chief Cicatriz – He shipped to California for the first time to run in the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) last time out before finishing seventh. It is possible that he just needed to burn one over the track in order to get acclimated with his new surroundings, which is understandable. He has won 10 of 16 career starts, so he has class, and he’s getting an easier field here. He could improve in this spot.
#3 Jalen Journey – This rapidly-developing horse will take another swing at graded stakes company after finishing third last time out in the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) over this race track. He began 2019 with three straight wins before finishing second in the Smile Sprint Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park prior to the Bing Crosby. It was impressive to see him take that form to Del Mar. He is one to watch as he continues to improve.
#4 Giant Expectations – Catalina Cruiser is not the only former champion seeking glory once more, because the 2017 champion is back! He finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) later that year over the local course. He also competed in last year’s Dirt Mile, finishing fifth, and will target that race for a third straight year, hopefully after earning an automatic berth here. He has hit the board in three of his four starts this year, but he is still seeking his first win. He hasn’t run at a distance under a mile since late 2017, so this cut back in distance will likely play in his favor.
#5 Seven Trumpets – Dale Romans sends this horse over from Kentucky after winning the Good Lord Stakes at Ellis Park on July 21. He had been absent for nearly seven months by that point, so it was good to see him return without any rust. While he has yet to win a graded stakes in his career, he has finished second to some very good horses in the past, including his stablemate Promises Fulfilled. His best effort puts him right in the mix here.
#6 American Anthem – At times, this horse has run strong races, but he has had trouble throughout his career staying healthy. He looks healthy and in good form right now, though, after winning an allowance/optional claiming race over this track last time out. He has a pair of Grade 2 victories on his resume, so he fits the race from a class prospective.
#7 Catalina Cruiser – The defending champion should be a heavy favorite to repeat. After a tremendous 2018 campaign, Catalina Cruiser has returned to run well once again this season. He started off 2019 with a win in the True North Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park before coming back to Del Mar to win the San Diego Handicap (G2) for the second straight year. He has suffered just one loss in his career: last year’s Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile (G1). His connections are eager to avenge that defeat later this fall.
The Pat O’Brien Stakes serves as one of four Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” events this weekend; the other three will take place at Saratoga. Those races include the Personal Ensign Stakes (Longines Distaff), the Ballerina Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint), and the Sword Dancer Stakes (Longines Turf). The American-based Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” events continue on September 7 at Kentucky Downs with the running of the Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint (Turf Sprint) and at Belmont Park with the running of the Jockey Club Derby (Longines Turf).
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