DEL MAR, CA – Though it was far from the most difficult field he has or will face, Hronis Racing’s Catalina Cruiser lived up to his name, sailing home confidently and with ease to take Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar.
The Pat O’Brien is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Catalina Cruiser receiving an automatic berth in the Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs on Saturday, November 3.
Breaking well from the rail as the prohibitive 1/5 favorite under Drayden Van Dyke, Catalina Cruiser set the pace along the inside with Threefiveindia running next to him and last year’s Dirt Mile champion Battle of Midway farthest out. Together, the trio set initial splits of :22.23 and :44.82 before Catalina Cruiser began pulling away nearing the far turn. Still under a hold as he straightened for home, Van Dyke gave his John Sadler-trained steed a quick tap and the race was all but over from there. Striding home powerfully while never pushed for his best, Catalina Cruiser drew off effortlessly to win by 7 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:22.13 for the mile-long main track event.
“He’s something,” said Van Dyke. “He came away from there well and he was rolling by the second jump. Once he gets going, he’s a little hard to stop. As big as he is and as long as he strides, he’s got good balance to him. He’s professional. He goes about his business well. I knew what was going on out there today; I knew where I was with him and who he was running against. He is something. I said he was one of the best horses I’ve ever been on. He just might be the best. He’s a cruiser, for sure.”
Battle of Midway’s effort was commendable, considering he was making his first start since winning the Dirt Mile and subsequently retiring to stud, where he was found to be subfertile and eventually returned to training with Jerry Hollendorfer. Vorticity and Threefiveindia, both from the barn of Phil D’Amato, completed the scratch-shortened field’s order of finish. Several horses scratched after the post draw: the defending TwinSpires Sprint champion Roy H, D’Amato’s Ransom the Moon, and the Sadler/Hronis duo of Horse Greedy and St. Joe Bay.
Catalina Cruiser’s triumph was his fourth in as many career starts, which includes a similarly dominating score here in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap last out. The late-blooming 4-year-old son of Union Rags (who also sired the card’s other stakes winner, Tatters to Riches) represents a powerful 1-2 punch for Hronis Racing and Sadler, who also condition top older male Accelerate. He increased his career bankroll to $303,600.
“Right now the plan is to run Catalina Cruiser in the (Breeders’ Cup) Dirt Mile and Accelerate in the Classic,” Sadler said. “And hopefully, in January this horse in the Pegasus. He’ll be a little more seasoned and mature by then. They chose to press him early today, they figured that was their best chance, but he looked good turning for home and you know he’s going to finish because he’s such a nice horse.”
Catalina Cruiser returned $2.40 to win and $2.10 to place, while Battle of Midway paid $2.20 to place. There was no show betting.