Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer opted to make Saturday's Grade 2 $200,000 Pat O'Brien Stakes the first race in the unexpected comeback of 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway.
And with the entry of the 4-year-old son of Smart Strike – along with those of Catalina Cruiser, Ransom the Moon, Roy H and two others – the seven-furlong sprint became potentially the race of the Del Mar summer meeting and the most power-packed anywhere in 2018.
The Pat O'Brien is a “Win and You're In” qualifier for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, which Battle of Midway won by a half-length in a stretch duel with Sharp Azteca as Del Mar hosted its first Breeders' Cup on November 4 of last year.
It appeared that would be Battle of Midway's last race – ending a meteoric one-year career of five wins in 10 starts and earnings of more than $1.2 million — when he was dispatched to stand stud in Kentucky. But when the stallion career proved unsuccessful, Battle of Midway was returned to training and has put in a series of works, the last four here since mid-July.
Hollendorfer had options for stakes of lesser value against less major competition, but chose the toughest one.
“We're not in there to play around,” Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward said Wednesday morning. “It was either that or don't run (for a long time) and we're ready to run.
“But what a field.”
In addition to Battle of Midway, among the highly accomplished entries are (in alphabetical order):
Catalina Cruiser – Winner of the San Diego Handicap to extend his career to 3-for-3. The “back-up” to Accelerate for the TVG Pacific Classic, whose services weren't necessary when Accelerate won the signature event of the summer by a record 12 ½-length margin.
Ransom the Moon – Back-to-back winner of the G1 Bing Crosby Handicap, which often determines the meeting's sprint division championship.
Roy H – A two-time G1 winner, with one being the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, and runner-up in the Bing Crosby to Ransom the Moon in both 2017 and 2018. The Eclipse Award winner in the Male Sprint division for 2017.
“Three G1 winners, a G2 winner (Catalina Cruiser) and two Breeders Cup winners on this track – in the past year,” Ward pointed out, with a justifiably appreciative nod of the head.
The decision to enter Battle of Midway put Derek Lawson, agent for jockey Flavien Prat, in the uncomfortable, unenviable position of having to choose between Battle of Midway – whom Prat had been aboard for seven of his past eight races, culminating with the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile score – and Ransom the Moon.
Prat will ride Ransom the Moon while Mario Gutierrez picks up the mount on Battle of Midway.
Six were entered Wednesday. The post position draw was scheduled later in the day, but the entrants, in alphabetical order are: Battle of Midway (Mario Gutierrez), Catalina Cruiser (Drayden Van Dyke), Horse Greedy (Stewart Elliott), Ransom the Moon (Flavien Prat), Roy H (Paco Lopez) and St. Joe Bay (Tyler Baze).
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2020 Paulick Report.