DEL MAR, CA – Hronis Racing’s Catalina Cruiser re-rallied late along the rail to take back the lead and successfully defend his title in Saturday’s $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) 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 Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park this November.

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Breaking from the outside 7 post under Flavien Prat as the 1/2 favorite, Catalina Cruiser sat on the far end of a four-wide wall setting the early pace that also included Chief CicatrizJalen Journey, and American Anthem. The fractions were moderate, coming across in :22.13 and :44.52 for the opening 1/2-mile, while the defending champion sat perched along the outside.

Still running in tandem with American Anthem through the far turn, Catalina Cruiser emerged onto the front stretch with a sudden new challenger. Giant Expectations joined the fight with a five-wide move at the top of the lane and initially held a slim lead.

As Giant Expectations drew nearer alongside him, Catalina Cruiser reengaged and fought back along the rail. Digging in and giving all he had, the bettors’ choice was able to slip his head past Giant Expectations at the wire to win the 7-furlong sprint over the fast main track in a final time of 1:22.00. The John Sadler trainee won this race last year in a slightly slower time of 1:22.13.

“We were wide, but I was comfortable,” said Prat, the meet’s leading rider in wins, stakes wins, and earnings. “He was going easy. At the 1/4 pole, Giant Expectations made a good move to get by me. He was in front, but my horse fought back. He accelerated and ran well to win.”

The hard-luck result for Giant Expectations, who won the 2017 running, extended his streak of losing by 1 length or fewer to four straight. It was almost 4 lengths back to American Anthem in third, while behind him came Jalen Journey, Seven Trumpets, and Chief Cicatriz to complete the order of finish. Lieutenant Dan scratched in favor of running in Sunday’s Shared Belief Stakes.

Catalina Cruiser’s win was his third in as many 2019 starts, all against graded foes, and improved his career record to 8-7-0-0. The 5-year-old son of Union Rags will look to avenge his lone career loss that came in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs. Purchased for $370,000 as a yearling, Catalina Cruiser has now earned $691,100.

“That’s a fast race, I could tell, on this track,” Sadler said. “He was wide all the way, was involved in the running all the way, so I was really pleased. He’s a big horse and he’s got a big heart. I really thought that he would fight (when headed).”

Catalina Cruiser returned $3 to win, $2.20 to place, and $2.10 to show. Giant Expectations brought back $3.40 to place and $2.80 to show, while American Anthem paid $2.60 to show.