Catalina Cruiser to defend his title in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar

Horses warm up in the paddock before a race at Del Mar.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

A year ago this weekend, Catalina Cruiser went into the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar with a thin resume.

Now he’s a star.

Those who had become admirers of eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic champion Accelerate hoped to see him run in the 2018 San Diego — the major prep race for the premier run of the meet, the Pacific Classic.

John Sadler, the trainer of Accelerate and Catalina Cruiser — both owned by Hronis Racing — had no interest in them beating up on each other. He made the ultimately wise choice to give Accelerate more rest and let Catalina Cruiser go it alone.

Catalina Cruiser stormed to a 6 3/4-length victory in only his third career start and later won the meet’s Grade II Pat O’Brien Handicap. He was voted the top horse in the meet’s sprint division.

Accelerate enjoyed his own days of glory, capturing the Pacific Classic and the Breeders’ Cup Classic before retiring to stud.


Now 5, Catalina Cruiser is one of the most formidable runners in Sadler’s barn, and he’s back to defend his title in the Grade II San Diego today in what could be another big stakes weekend for the trainer. He has Catapult — named the top grass horse at Del Mar in 2018 — as the favorite and defending champ in the Grade II Eddie Read Stakes on Sunday.

There was the feeling that, if only for this one day, horse racing was going to be just fine.

“Loaded” is how Kosta Hronis described his barn for Del Mar, and they’ve already notched one stakes win with Jasikan in the Oceanside Stakes on opening day.

Hronis has a second horse among the six entrants in the San Diego, a 1 1/16-mile run on the dirt. Higher Power is a four-time winner who was fifth in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes.

Catalina Cruiser, whose jockey is Joel Rosario, has lived up to his laid-back name, with not a heavy racing schedule. Since last summer, he’s competed only twice — a disappointing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile when he broke badly, and a nice bounce-back victory in the Grade II True North on June 7 at Belmont Park.

“He’s looking good, and we’re excited to have him running here again,” Sadler said after seeing him breeze on the Del Mar track Wednesday.

Catalina Cruiser is the San Diego morning-line favorite at 1-2.

Bob Baffert had his own tough choice to make for the San Diego, a race that hasn’t been particularly good to him, with only one win. He nominated three horses — McKinzie, Dr. Dorr and American Anthem — and gave the lone nod to Dr. Dorr, who is owned by his wife, Jill.

A 6-year-old gelded son of Lookin at Lucky, Dr. Dorr — the morning-line second choice at 4-1 — was runner-up to Catalina Cruiser in last year’s San Diego, and since then was fifth in the Pacific Classic, second in the Grade II San Carlos and third in the Grade II Kona Gold Stakes.

The 2-1 morning-line favorite for Sunday’s Eddie Read, with Drayden Van Dyke riding, Catapult scored the first stakes victory of his career at Del Mar in the Read. A month later he seized the Grade II Del Mar Mile.

Two horses died Thursday morning in a freak training accident at Del Mar, track officials confirmed.

In four Grade I starts since, Catapult doesn’t have a win, with two seconds, a fourth, and a fifth in his last start in the Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita on May 27.

The other graded stakes race this weekend is the Grade II San Clemente Stakes on Saturday. The run for 3-year-old fillies over a mile on the turf course figures to be highly competitive, with five entrants in the 10-horse field coming off victories in their previous race.

Stillwater Cove, trained by Wesley Ward and ridden by Victor Espinoza, is the favorite at 5-2. Also among the contenders, at 7-2, is the Tim Yakteen-trained Mucho Unusual, a daughter of Mucho Macho Man who is two for two since being switched to turf racing this year at Santa Anita.


Favorite Ahimsa ($6.40), trained by Peter Eurton and ridden by Brice Blanc, won the $85,000 Osunitas Stakes on Friday over 11/16-mile on the turf course. A 4-year-old filly, Ahimsa was coming off a third-place finish in the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita on May 27.

There was a seven-minute delay for the start of the third race when the No. 2 choice in betting, trainer Bill McLean’s Maycee Jo, acted up in the starting gate and was a late scratch.

With the race serving as the start of the day’s Pick 6, the other nine horses were taken back out of the gate and the jockeys dismounted while bettors were given time to change their picks. Dichotomy ($14.80), trained by Doug O’Neill and ridden by Mario Gutierrez, won the 5-furlong sprint over turf.