When Drayden Van Dyke extricated Catapult out of the pocket, into the clear, and onto victory in Sunday’s featured $202,760 Del Mar Mile H. (G2), the hot jockey appeared to cap a banner five-win day at the office. But he wasn’t done yet. Van Dyke tacked on the late double to finish with a grand total of seven winners on the card, equaling Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza’s hitherto unique feat in Del Mar history.
Catapult, who was doubling up after landing the July 22 Eddie Read (G2) over the course, also continued trainer John Sadler’s run of stakes success at the meet. Stable star Accelerate put an exclamation point on Saturday’s Pacific Classic (G1) following the successes of unbeaten Catalina Cruiser in the San Diego (G2) and Yuvetsi in the Rancho Bernardo (G3).
Van Dyke won with his first four mounts. He began his spree in Sunday’s 2ND race aboard the 5-1 Neighborhood Bully for Tim Yakteen, added the 3RD with the Richard Baltas-trained Quebec at 3-1, made it a hat trick by steering William Morey’s Triple Shot to a 12-1 upset in the 4TH, and Sadler’s 2-1 favorite Tantara gave him four in a row in the 5TH. Finally kept out of the winner’s circle when second in the 6TH, and without a mount in the 7TH, he was back in business again in the Del Mar Mile.
Woodford Racing’s Catapult, garnering more support as the 5-1 third choice than his 21-1 odds in the Eddie Read, once again settled off the pace before delivering a potent late kick. Fly to Mars pursued front-running What a View through fractions of :23.25, :46.71, and 1:10.09 on the firm turf, put him away in the stretch, and tried to open up.
But Fly to Mars was all out. Under left-handed urging from Tyler Gaffalione, he drifted out across the path of the oncoming Sharp Samurai and forced his rider, Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, to take up abruptly.
Catapult, meanwhile, had peeled wider out once free and finished with a flourish, prevailing by a half-length in 1:33.40. Fly to Mars had 1 1/2 lengths to spare over the aggrieved Sharp Samurai at the wire, but the stewards conducted an inquiry and demoted him for interference.
“That not only cost me the place,” Stevens said, “it cost me the win. I don’t think Drayden is going to get by me if I don’t get stopped. My horse was really coming.”
Sharp Samurai was elevated to second, Fly to Mars was disqualified and placed third, and the closing Big Score was unaffected in fourth. What a View retreated to ninth, with 3-1 favorite Bowies Hero a non-threatening 11th of 13.
“I’m having a dream meet,” Sadler said. “We’re winning these big races and getting good trips and I can’t ask for anything more. What’s really nice is all the horses are running well. Everything is working out.
“I’m very happy with Catapult. He ran a good race in the Eddie Read and I wasn’t sure I was going to bring him back here. But I figured that since he’s so good on this turf course I wanted to run him twice here. We’re hoping he’ll end up in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).”
Formerly based back East with Chad Brown, Catapult is now 2-for-3 on his new circuit. The five-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy sports a mark of 15-6-3-1, $621,384.
“So special,” Van Dyke said following win number five. “I had a day up at Santa Anita recently where I won the first four races, including a Grade 1, and that was the best. But I think today goes past it. I had a good trip and the right horse (Catapult). It was a little hairy there turning for home; I had to wait for room. But then he got out and just went. Nice horse. I’ve got a couple more, too, so it may get better yet.”
Van Dyke proved spot on. His final two mounts, both from the Michael McCarthy barn, lifted him into the Del Mar record book.
Policy, a first-time starter by promising freshman sire Strong Mandate, scored as the 4-5 favorite in the 9TH. With six wins on the program, Van Dyke drew level with the accomplishments of Willie Shoemaker (September 4, 1954), Laffit Pincay Jr. (July 28, 1976, and July 29, 1978), and Rudy Rosales (September 6, 1969).
Lining up for the finale, it rested on the shoulders of the 7-2 Ohio to get Van Dyke into a tie with Espinoza, who rode his seven winners on September 4, 2006. Both horse and rider played his part to perfection. Van Dyke rode another patient race on the classy old Brazilian, ironically the third-placer in the 2016 Del Mar Mile. First off the claim for McCarthy and dropping in class for a $28,000 tag, Ohio was just too good as he rolled to a 2 1/4-length decision. No one claimed him.