The San Diego Handicap and Pat O'Brien Stakes would seem an odd couple of events for a horse to undertake, let alone win, in any Del Mar summer meeting.
The San Diego Handicap is around two turns, 1 1/16th miles and serves as the major prep for the TVG Pacific Classic. The Pat O'Brien is seven furlongs, around one turn, and the finale of the meeting's two major sprint races.
There's enough difference between the two that before last year only one horse, Fed Biz, had won both – the O'Brien in 2013 and the San Diego the following year.
Then along came Hronis Racing's Catalina Cruiser to do the double in the same year. Trained by John Sadler and ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, the chestnut son of Union Rags cruised to a wire-to-wire 6 3/4 –length victory in the San Diego as a stand-in for Accelerate while his stablemate was saved for a record-breaking 12 ½-length romp in the TVG Pacific Classic. A month after the San Diego, Catalina Cruiser powered to a 7 ¼-length win in the O'Brien.
Back for his 5-year-old season, Catalina Cruiser won the Grade II, 6 ½-furlong True North Stakes at Belmont Park in June and repeated as the San Diego Handicap champ on July 20.
Catalina Cruiser was nominated for the TVG Pacific Classic. But Sadler figured he had the horsepower, in Higher Power, for a second straight win in the $1 million event. And last Saturday, Sadler was proven correct.
And Sadler's confidence in Catalina Cruiser, who will break from the outside post No. 7 in Saturday's 34th running of the O'Brien – a qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in November at Santa Anita – couldn't be higher.
“Needless to say he got a very good draw,” Sadler said Thursday. “At seven-eighths you couldn't get a better post and he looks very strong to me. We thought all along that either this race or the Forego (at Saratoga) was a better fit for him than the mile and a quarter (of the Pacific Classic).
“We were a little concerned the way he came out of his last race, he was a little bit tired, so the timing and distance of the O'Brien is better, and we're doing what's best for the horse.”
The field from the rail: Lieutenant Dan (Abel Cedillo, 20-1), Chief Cicatriz (Ruben Fuentes, 20-1), Jalen Journey (Norberto Arroyo, Jr., 5-1), Giant Expectations (Drayden Van Dyke, 7-2), Seven Trumpets (Victor Espinoza, 15-1), American Anthem (Rafael Bejarano, 4-1) and Catalina Cruiser (Flavien Prat, 4-5).
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