With a barn stacked with strong horses, Hronis Racing can afford to show measured patience.
The outfit and its trainer of choice, John Sadler, have been particularly vigilant with Catalina Cruiser, a handsome and hefty 5-year-old who has been like the kid who grew six inches in the last year of middle school.
Catalina Cruiser is gawky no more, and he took another emphatic stride in an increasingly distinguished career with a smooth victory in the Grade II $200,000 San Diego Handicap on Saturday at Del Mar.
Sent off as a 1-9 favorite for the 1-1/16th-mile dirt race in a field reduced to four with scratches by Bob Baffert (Dr. Dorr) and another Hronis/Sadler horse (Higher Power), Catalina Cruiser and jockey Joel Rosario set a deliberate pace and looked unbothered as trainer Enebish Ganbat’s Mongolian Groom charged late to finish a length back.
“The winner is a monster,” marveled rider Martin Garcia, who was aboard third-place Draft Pick.
Timed in 1:44.20, Catalina Cruiser paid $2.20 and $2.10. There was no show betting, and the public dived heavily into the place pool, with $187,446 of a total of $224,579 put down on Catalina Cruiser. Mongolian Groom paid $4.40.
The victory — the sixth in seven career starts for Catalina Cruiser — was a repeat in the San Diego for the horse who is among the early offspring of Union Rags, winner of the 2012 Belmont Stakes. If he remains healthy, the next likely start is the $1-million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 17.
“When you’re 1-9, there’s a lot of conversation about style points and things like that, but he was comfortable all the way,” Sadler said “The fractions were slow, but this is not a fast track. We’ll check the speed figures and see how he comes out to decide whether to run in the Pacific Classic.”
The Hronis team has chosen to space out Catalina Cruiser’s starts — this was only his second race in eight months (the other being a win in June’s Truth North Stakes at Belmont) — to give him plenty of rest and point him toward races with maximum potential.
“The pleasure for me is our patience,” Kosta Hronis said, “to let him take his time, let him develop, don’t push him onto the race track. That can happen in a lot of cases.
“Our patience has worked out for him. Now he can be the race horse he needs to be.”
Oddly, the group isn’t dealing with a patient horse. Spending so much time around the barn, Catalina Cruiser can be feisty at times, Sadler said, and Hronis joked that “he was going to kick down the stall” if he didn’t run Saturday.
“He got schooled [in the paddock] three days in a row,” Hronis said. “Today, finally, when we walked over, he was like, ‘OK, now I’m getting my way.’”
Rosario, based at Saratoga in New York for the summer, made the right choice to spend the weekend at Del Mar. He escaped the brutal heat that forced the cancellation of Saturday’s card at Saratoga, and he backed up the San Diego win with a victory four races later in the Grade II $200,000 San Clemente Stakes aboard Mucho Unusual.
Trained by Tim Yakteen and owned by George Kirkorian, Mucho Unusual ($7.00) started slowly in the one-mile run on turf and was sixth at the top of the stretch. The 3-year-old daughter of Mucho Macho Man charged strongly and beat Apache Princess by a neck.
“I was just as surprised as anyone that she was as far back as she was,” Yakteen said.
Despite that, he said of the filly who’s won all three of her starts this year, “We’re really pleased with her effort. Things have been according to plan, and this is one industry where that doesn’t often happen.”
In the $85,000 Daisycutter Handicap, a five-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares, the Peter Miller-trained Painting Corners ($12.40) beat favorite S Y Sky by 1¾ lengths. The runnerup’s jockey, Drayden Van Dyke, made an objection to a bumping incident in the stretch with Painting Corners and rider Flavien Prat. The stewards ruled to keep the result the same.
The start of the ninth race was delayed 12 minutes after unraced 2-year-old filly Tacocat bucked off rider Kent Desormeaux in front of the grandstand. The horse ran the wrong direction around the track and evaded outriders. She eventually ran through an open gate that leads to the barns on the backstretch. Track officials said Tacocat was successfully returned to the barn of trainer Keith Desormeaux.