Catalina Cruiser Holds Off Giant Expectations to Repeat in Pat O’Brien

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Catalina Cruiser, inside, outfinished Giant Expectations to win a thrilling edition of the Pat O’Brien Stakes Aug. 24 at Del Mar. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Hronis Racing's Catalina Cruiser dug deep in the Del Mar stretch Aug. 24 and won the $200,351, Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes by a head.

It was a rocky start for several runners in the six-horse field. Jalen Journey and Chief Cicatriz bumped leaving the gate, but soon settled in and dueled for the lead. Almost the entire field, save for Giant Expectations in the rear, raced on even terms to run in a straight line in the opening furlongs of the backstretch. Seven Trumpets eventually dropped back to join Giant Expectations as the opening quarter-mile went in :22.13.

Chief Cicatriz kept pace on the rail, followed by Jalen Journey to his direct outside. American Anthem stalked three wide and was pressed by Catalina Cruiser on the far outside. Rounding the turn, Giant Expectations, guided by Drayden Van Dyke, shifted five wide and drove toward the front of the field with a massive kick. Catalina Cruiser was spurred by jockey Flavien Prat and held, matching the challenger stride for stride as they pulled away from the rest of the field and set down to duel.

Giant Expectations led Catalina Cruiser by a nose as they approached the finish line, and for precious seconds it looked as though the victory was his. But Catalina Cruiser found his second wind and picked up the pace. The effort proved just enough to propel the 5-year-old son of Union Rags forward to eke out the win. The final time for seven-eighths of a mile was 1:22.

“I think he ran a really good Beyer, a really good Ragozin figure,” trainer John Sadler said. “That’s a fast race, I could tell, on this track. 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 [when headed in the stretch] he would fight.”

Catalina Cruiser, right, held off Giant Expectations. (Eclipse Sportswire)

“We were wide [through the first four furlongs], but I was comfortable,” Prat said. “He was going easy. At the quarter-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.”

American Anthem was third, followed by Jalen Journey in fourth. Seven Trumpets took fifth, 4 1/4 lengths ahead of Chief Cicatriz.

It was the second consecutive Pat O’Brien score for Catalina Cruiser, and the victory in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race secured an automatic berth in the Nov. 2 Big Ass Fans Breeder’s Cup Dirt Mile. Catalina Cruiser competed in the Dirt Mile last year, finishing sixth to City of Light in the only loss of his career.

Catalina Cruiser kicked off 2019 with a half-length win in the Grade 2 True North Stakes June 7 at Belmont Park. He returned to the winner’s circle July 20 after going gate to wire in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

Bred in Kentucky by W.S. Farish, Catalina Cruiser is out of the winning Mineshaft mare Sea Gull, who is also the dam of Grade 3 winner Eagle.

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