Analysis: Catalina Cruiser needs to avoid True North speed duel

June 04, 2019 06:06pm
Whether Catalina Cruiser returns victorious in the Grade 2, $250,000 True North Stakes on Friday at Belmont Park depends on where he positions himself early. The race also features Strike Power and Recruiting Ready, and dueling them is not conducive to his chances.

But there is a good chance Catalina Cruiser will initially let them go and take over after Recruiting Ready softens up Strike Power a bit.

While Catalina Cruiser prefers to contest the pace in longer races, as he showed in the seven-furlong Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) and two-turn San Diego Handicap (G2) last summer at Del Mar, it is easier to secure the lead as the distance increases.

He still set the pace in a six-furlong optional claiming race last May, but notice every fraction was slow, making it possible he took the lead by default. In his maiden-breaking win at six furlongs, he came from mid-pack.

The 6.5-furlong True North is shorter than his stakes races last year and contains a true pace-setting sprinter in Strike Power. Catalina Cruiser wants the lead, but Strike Power needs the lead.

Why would Catalina Cruiser outrun him to the front?

Consider also that Catalina Cruiser sat off his workmate in a May 20 breeze at Santa Anita Park. He needed some encouragement in the stretch run, but that's not necessarily a bad sign. Foxtail is not a bad horse herself, as she won a Keeneland allowance race.

In the alternative scenario, if Catalina Cruiser gets sent and looks Strike Power in the eye, then the race gets set up for a pace collapse. Contenders such as Stan the Man, Nicodemus, Do Share and Gold for a King become legitimate threats.

I'll only plan to use those longshots underneath.

The interesting part about Do Share is that he passed Whitmore late in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) last month, but Whitmore will go off at lower odds. Arguably, the two horses possess the same current form.

In most races, Stan the Man runs as a pacesetter. But he cuts back to a sprint off his runner-up in the one-mile Westchester Stakes and shows multiple examples of stalking at shorter distances. At the Grade 2 level, he is normally questionable as a win contender. But notice that Sunny Ridge finished third in the Westchester and won the Salvator Mile (G3).

Nicodemus cuts back off the same race where he won by a neck and will fall farther off the pace. If any horse needs a pace war, it is him, as TimeformUS Pace Projector places this horse in third-to-last early.  

However, Nicodemus owns upside after his Westchester win and might continue to move forward in this spot. He remains young at 4.

As for Gold for a King, the Pace Projector places him in fifth alongside Stan for the Man, meaning he will also get an early chance if the leaders collapse. While not a top choice, he does own three TimeformUS figures above 120.

Perhaps Catalina Cruiser gets a good trip and one of those four longshots works out a trip and finishes underneath him.

Why ignore Strike Power?  Because if Catalina Cruiser is chosen on top, the horses underneath need to offer value if playing vertically. Otherwise, the payoff will not be worth it.

Also, Strike Power did not run that fast in his return win at Gulfstream, only earning a 115 on the TimeformUS scale after enjoying an uncontested lead. The field he won against was soft too, giving it less significance.

Does anyone recognize the runner-up Be Gone Daddy?  

Strike Power also failed to switch leads in the stretch, which is his habit.

Now, this 4-year-old colt obviously possesses talent and used the Gulfstream race as a warmup, but it is not forgotten he lost by more than 12 lengths in the Woody Stephens (G2) and Amsterdam Stakes (G2). He also ended his 2018 campaign with a 12-length loss in the Better Talk Now Stakes on turf at Saratoga.

The connections put Strike Power on the shelf after those losses, and he was diagnosed with a breathing issue. Next, he'll have to prove he can step back up.

To touch upon Recruiting Ready for a bit, too, it feels unlikely he can tackle Strike Power and/or Catalina Cruiser in the initial stages and hold off the closers late. While his talent is respected, Catalina Cruiser over Recruiting Ready will pay almost nothing as well. It is better to hope he fades.

If Catalina Cruiser starts at even money or higher, he works as an exacta key on top, with Stan the Man, Nicodemus, Do Share and Gold for a King underneath options. The final ticket will depend on how the live exacta payouts look. I'll put a win bet on Catalina Cruiser as well.

Alternatively, confident double players might do a straight Catalina Cruiser with Homerique ticket. The Chad Brown-trained filly appears a near lock in the New York Stakes (G2) after the True North.

But if Catalina Cruiser dips to 4-5 or less, then the race is a hard pass. In that case, Catalina Cruiser backers are better off picking another horse on top or watching the True North as a spectator.


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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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