Breeders' Cup Winners Meet in Pat O'Brien Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 23rd, 2018

Who would have guessed that a Grade 2 sprint race would wind up being perhaps the best race of the entire Del Mar summer meet?

It’s not something I would have figured, but Saturday’s $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes (gr. II)—a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I)—has attracted a field of eight that includes two Breeders’ Cup winners plus a lightly-raced up-and-comer with a very bright future.

The Breeders’ Cup winners are #4 Roy H, winner of the 2017 Sprint, and #8 Battle of Midway, who prevailed in the 2017 Dirt Mile. The Pat O’Brien, held over seven furlongs, offers an intriguing middle ground in terms of distance that should offer both runners a chance to excel.

In terms of accomplishments and speed figures, Roy H looms as the horse to beat on paper. With five triple-digit BRIS speed figures on his record, including a 113 earned in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, he’s arguably the fastest horse in the field. And while he’s been beaten in his last two starts, he didn’t run badly in either of them, falling less than a length short despite an unfavorable setup in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) before returning from a layoff to finish second in the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar last month.

But surprisingly, Roy H has never run farther than 6 ½ furlongs on dirt, so the distance of the Pat O’Brien will be relatively unexplored territory for the six-year-old gelding. The opposite is the case for Battle of Midway, who has spent the majority of his career running a mile or longer. His victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile was exceptional, as he wore down the talented Sharp Azteca to prevail by a half-length, but he hasn’t run since then and only time will tell if he’ll be rusty off the layoff. And even if he isn’t rusty, will he have enough tactical speed to compete over seven furlongs?

#1 Catalina Cruiser is unbeaten in three starts and was tons the best in the 8.5-furlong San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar last month, winning by 6 ¾ lengths over a quality field. He’ll be cutting back in distance for the Pat O’Brien, but that shouldn’t be an issue—in May, he won a six-furlong allowance race at Santa Anita in gate-to-wire fashion while earning a 106 BRIS speed figure.

#5 Ransom the Moon, a two-time winner of the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) at Del Mar, brings “horse for the course” experience into the Pat O’Brien, while #7 St. Joe Bay—fifth in the Bing Crosby after dueling hard for the early lead—could be a serious factor on the front end. The graded stakes-placed trio of #2 Vorticity, #3 Threefiveindia, and #6 Horse Greedy complete the field.

The Pat O’Brien is the seventh race of the day, with a post time of 5:00 p.m. Pacific.