December 1, 2021

Catalina Cruiser heavily favored in Pat O’Brien; Improbable returns in Shared Belief

Catalina Cruiser and jockey Joel Rosario capture the San Diego Handicap (G2) at Del Mar on July 20, 2019 (c) Horsephotos.com/Cecilia Gustavsson

The decision to keep Catalina Cruiser in shorter races this season rather than stretching him out has worked out for all involved.

Owner Kosta Hronis and trainer John Sadler have been ably represented by the likes of Gift Box and Higher Power in Southern California’s Grade 1 routes, while Catalina Cruiser enters Saturday’s $200,000 Pat O’Brien (G2) at Del Mar with a two-for-two record on the year.

The seven-furlong O’Brien is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge prep for the Dirt Mile (G1), which will be run around two turns at Santa Anita in November. The 2018 Dirt Mile, held at Churchill Downs, has so far been the only career blip for Catalina Cruiser, who has won six of his seven starts and all three over the Del Mar surface.

The latest was a one-length score in the July 20 San Diego H. (G2) at 1 1/16 miles, which came on the heels of a hard-fought, half-length victory in the June 7 True North (G2) at Belmont going six furlongs, his first run in seven months following his dull sixth in the Dirt Mile.

Catalina Cruiser breaks outside all six rivals in the Pat O’Brien. His main challengers include multiple graded stakes winner American Anthem, most recently an allowance winner over 6 1/2 furlongs on the same card as the San Diego.

Giant Expectations has placed in three of four starts this term, but is winless since taking the San Antonio (G2) in December 2017. Jalen Journey makes just his second start since joining the Peter Miller barn and placed in the Bing Crosby (G1) and Smile Sprint (G3) in his last two outings.

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Improbable wins the Los Alamitos Futurity © BENOIT PHOTO

In a race that was supposed to feature the return of Omaha Beach until the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner was sidelined by a virus, Sunday’s $100,000 Shared Belief over one mile instead will showcase the return to action of beaten Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) favorite Improbable.

“We thought we’d bring him back, it’s been awhile,” trainer Bob Baffert said.

A dominant winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) last December, Improbable finished second by a neck in a Rebel (G2) division first out this season, then finished second by one length to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby, which was contested in the slop.

The lukewarm 4-1 Derby favorite following Omaha Beach’s defection, Improbable was elevated from fifth to fourth following the disqualification of Maximum Security. He was no more competitive at Pimlico, finishing a dull sixth after acting up in the gate.

A serious threat to Improbable should come from King Jack, who has captured both one-turn starts for Jerry Hollendorfer while earning BRIS Speed ratings of 95 and 104. Also of note are Stubbins, who goes turf-to-dirt and previously captured $100,000 Pasadena at Santa Anita over a sloppy track. Lieutenant Dan, a multiple stakes winner against California-breds, is cross-entered both here and in Saturday’s Pat O’Brien.