A winner of seven of his eight career starts, Catalina Cruiser won the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar in August to book himself a trip back to the Breeders’ Cup, which is where the talented 5-year-old suffered his only career defeat in the 2018 Dirt Mile.
The Pat O’Brien provides Catalina Cruiser a chance to avenge that loss in the 2019 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as a “Win And You’re In” race, although there has been talk that he may instead stretch out and go to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
With Catalina Cruiser looking like he’ll be the most likely favorite if he heads to the Dirt Mile, let’s learn more about him in today’s piece.
A $370,000 yearling at the Keeneland September Sale in 2015, it’s obvious there were always big hopes for Catalina Cruiser. However, any hopes his connections had for his 2- and 3-year-old seasons were put on hold. Catalina Cruiser didn’t make his debut until October of his 3-year-old season in 2017 but paid back his connections’ patience by winning nicely by 2 ¼ lengths at Santa Anita.
He was shelved again after that until the following May, when he added another win to his race record, again winning at Santa Anita by 2 ¼ lengths in what would be his final non-stakes appearance. He took a huge leap forward with his Equibase Speed Figure when he made his stakes debut in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap and romped home by an easy 6 ¾ lengths in his first start going a route distance. That victory saw his career-best figure jump from 109 to 125 and put him on the map as an upcoming stakes horse to watch.
He made his first appearance in the Pat O’Brien Stakes last year and proved he was the real deal when vanquishing a field that included 2017 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle Of Midway by an even bigger 7 ¼ lengths for a 127 speed figure.
That win allowed him a spot in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the horse shipped back to Kentucky for the first time in his racing career. His first step up to Grade 1 level didn’t go as planned with Catalina Cruiser finishing sixth by more than 17 lengths in the Dirt Mile to suffer the first loss of his career.
While his 2018 season ended there, his travelling didn’t.
Catalina Cruiser took seven months away from the races but when he returned in June, it was at Belmont Park. He proved that he had some rust to shake off in the Grade 2 True North Stakes when he had to work to get past the leading Strike Power, only winning by half a length. Returning to California for his next start, Catalina Cruiser followed the same path as the year before in the San Diego Handicap where he went straight to the front and never faced a serious challenge while winning by a length for his second victory of the year.
For the first time in his career, Catalina Cruiser had to work all the way to the wire in this year’s Pat O’Brien thanks to a challenge by Giant Expectations.
Giant Expectations ranged up next to the leaders at the top of the stretch and, while everyone else dropped away, Catalina Cruiser wasn’t going to back down that easily. The pair battled all the way through the stretch with Giant Expectations looking like he’d upset the favorite with his head in front. However, Catalina Cruiser showed another dimension to his racing when he fought back to get his nose in front and stay undefeated this season.
The Pat O’Brien win earned him a 120 Equibase Speed Figure, tying him for the fifth-highest figure earned by an older male on dirt this year.
Catalina Cruiser can obviously get a mile, he’s won at 1 1/16 miles in the San Diego Handicap twice, but he does have potential to go even farther if his connections choose the Classic instead of the Dirt Mile.
He is by 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, who has proved capable of throwing a bit of everything with both sprinters and routers on his resume. One of the top young sires in the industry, Union Rags has 14 stakes winners from four crops of racing age with Grade 1 winner Paradise Woods leading the way.
But Catalina Cruiser’s damside gives even more indication he should have some stamina as well.
He is a half-brother to Grade 3 Ben Ali winner Eagle with another half-brother in Shoreline winning over 2 ¼ miles by 9 ¾ lengths in a steeplechase earlier this year. All three of Catalina Cruiser's dam Sea Gull’s winners have won going farther than a mile and the mare won at 1 1/8 miles on the turf, so her runners definitely get it honestly.
Catalina Cruiser’s grandam, Exclusive Bird, was a top-class sprinter and won two stakes at sprint distance, but there is a powerful mix of speed and stamina in her family. Her stakes-placed half-sister is the dam of Host, who set a new course record at 1 3/8 miles on turf at Gulfstream Park during his stakes career, while another half-sister is the dam of Austria’s champion stayer Saugerties. However, Catalina Cruiser’s stamina is balanced out by sprinter speed in his fourth generation. Exclusive Bird’s dam is a half-sister to Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint third-place finisher Mt. Livermore and Group 1 Prix Jean Prat Ecurie Fustok winner Magical Wonder, so it is no wonder Catalina Cruiser has both speed and the ability to carry that speed.
Catalina Cruiser has done everything asked of him this year – and throughout his career – but one worry is that he doesn’t seem as sharp as he was in 2018. The horse’s best figure this year is seven points below his best last year and he arguably hasn’t faced anything as good as Battle Of Midway in 2019. The good news is that he will be on his home track with the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita this year, so if shipping was one of his issues in the Breeders’ Cup last year, it isn’t a worry this year. The bad news is that he won’t have an easy time of whichever race he goes into with Mitole looking at the Dirt Mile and McKinzie headed to the Classic, though he has run faster figures than Mitole.
While Catalina Cruiser has talent and was the favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, he’s a tricky one to figure out. He didn’t face the top horses in his division when he shipped to Belmont Park earlier this year and the California horses he’s running against are suspect. With his dominance last year, it’s obvious Catalina Cruiser can run big races. However, as it stands now, he’ll need to step up back up to last year’s level to be able to secure a Breeders’ Cup win no matter what race he goes into on Nov. 2.