Analysis: Catalina Cruiser more attractive in Breeders' Cup Sprint

October 16, 2019 02:50pm
As of Wednesday, Catalina Cruiser remains possible to run in either the Breeders' Cup Sprint or Dirt Mile on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. Similar to last season, Catalina Cruiser will compete in his championship event having not run since August.

No matter the Breeders' Cup race choice, it's difficult to accept a short price on this horse. Even though Catalina Cruiser is still running and winning at a high level this year, his TimeformUS numbers actually declined slightly.

In 2018, Catalina Cruiser registered TimeformUS Speed Figures of 118, 130 and 130 leading up to the 2018 Dirt Mile, where he faded to sixth as a heavy favorite. Those 130s came from stunning performances in the San Diego Handicap (G2) and Pat O'Brien Stakes (G2) by margins of 6 ¾ and 7 ¼ lengths, respectively.

This year, his TimeformUS numbers show as 116, 118 and 125.

Catalina Cruiser made his first 2019 start in the True North Stakes (G2) going one turn at Belmont Park. He broke slow and worked his way to the outside for a half-length win over Strike Power.

In his next start in this year's San Diego, he won by a length over Mongolian Groom. Granted, Mongolian Groom progressed enough in form to win the Awesome Again Stakes (G1) over McKinzie last month.

But in the Pat O'Brien one start later, Catalina Cruiser worked hard again to edge out Giant Expectations for the win.

Is this the same sort of star talent as in 2018?

In fairness, Giant Expectations loves Del Mar and the seven-furlong distance. But despite his wins, Catalina Cruiser lacks the same flash.

When a horse is not in peak form, the bettor is supposed to demand more value. With that point in mind, I'd rather see Catalina Cruiser tackle the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Both it and the Dirt Mile are in flux. But think about one horse that is more probable to show up in the Sprint than the Dirt Mile – Omaha Beach. Trainer Richard Mandella is reportedly leaning toward that spot, and with horses like Mitole, Shancelot and Imperial Hint also likely to show up, Catalina Cruiser assuredly wouldn't go favored.

In contrast, if Catalina Cruiser enters the Dirt Mile, he will start as the favorite or second choice, depending on whether Omaha Beach and Mitole opt for the Sprint. Without those two other horses present, it's unlikely any horse that could take the favoritism role away, not even the 3-year-old Mr. Money.

Furthermore, Catalina Cruiser is not as versatile in two-turn routes.

In his two starts in the San Diego Handicap, Catalina Cruiser led from start to finish. While he won both of them, he owns too much speed to rate.

In the shorter True North, Catalina Cruiser kindly settled two lengths behind the leaders and waited for an opening in mid-stretch to make his run.

While Catalina Cruiser did not earn a strong speed figure, the ability to rate in sprints makes this 5-year-old son of Union Rags, trained by John Sadler for Hronis Racing, more attractive in the Sprint.

In the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien this year, he sat right off the leaders on the outside before making his move and holding off Giant Expectations.

Catalina Cruiser also rated successfully in his career debut two years ago, rallying from sixth to break his maiden in a six-furlong sprint at first asking.

But at a longer distance, it is doubtful Catalina Cruiser could adapt so well. He would need to endure the pressure from Coal Front and hope Mitole does not show up to press him, too. Mr. Money owns speed as well.

Those backing Catalina Cruiser at even money in the Dirt Mile will probably sweat it out (unless all the speed defects).

But in the Sprint, he could go off at higher than 2-1 for the first time since his maiden win. With bigger names present, Catalina Cruiser may get lost in the shuffle and float up to 6-1 or higher.

For bettors, that deal is more reasonable than in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile when bettors made him 4/5. 

You could argue that horses do not know their odds. For bettor or worse, horses run their race no matter the price. But on paper in these championship events, there are usually three or four horses with a chance.

How about if there are two horses with a chance to win?

Horse A gets bet down to 8/5 right before post time, and Horse B floats up to around 9/2.

Horse B is a lesser talent on paper, but only by a slim margin. In addition, the pace scenario favors Horse B, and he loves the distance.

The logical choice is to go with Horse B, even though it is understood Horse A is slightly more talented and could overcome a few obstacles to win.

Catalina Cruiser will not look like the fastest horse in the Sprint, but if a couple of those other stars take up money, it would make him a Horse B worthy of a play.

In the Dirt Mile, though, Catalina Cruiser is a risk without value, destined to contest the pace with other speed horses.

We'll await a final decision from connections, who figure to pre-enter in both the Sprint and Dirt Mile next week, before taking a more definite stance.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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