Eight older horses will run in the Grade 2, $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes on Saturday at Del Mar, and the initial feeling is that this is a head-scratcher for handicappers. A case can be made for at least five of these contenders, and they are all slightly flawed.
Out of that group, however, the Phil D’Amato-trained Ransom the Moon feels a bit safer than the others. He comes into this race off a nice win in the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1), after disappointing runs in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and Kona Gold (G2).
There are a couple of things to note about the Bing Crosby effort. For one, Ransom the Moon actually received a nice pace setup by St. Joe Bay and American Pastime.
The two leaders sparred through a 44.93 opening half, which might not seem fast at first glance, but TimeformUS marked the fraction in red along with the next one.
Roy H ran in the perfect position in fourth, several lengths behind Touching Rainbows in third, and Ransom the Moon settled even farther back in ninth.
On the far turn, Roy H appeared poised to take advantage of the pace, but the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Sprint champion mysteriously hung in the stretch. In an indication of fatigue, he even began to drift out slightly into Edwards Going Left.
Meanwhile, Ransom the Moon swooped outside Roy H and Edwards Going Left, and took advantage the right way by sustaining the bid and winning. While running closer to the pace possibly affected Roy H, he just did not look good visually. The 2017 Eclipse Award winner needed everything he had to pass a tired Touching Rainbows.
Throw out Ransom the Moon’s fifth in the Met Mile, as that was a hard race for any horse. The runner-up finish as the 7/5 favorite in the Kona Gold can be forgiven too. He needed one race off the layoff, and the winner Bobby Abu Dhabi was a nice horse.
Ransom the Moon is the top selection in this spot.
Roy H started off his 2018 campaign with a powerful win in the Palos Verdes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. Then he went to Dubai for the Golden Shaheen (G1) and ran better than how it appeared, catching a wide trip against an inside bias.
But what is odd about this particular race is that Mind Your Biscuits rallied wide, too, on his way to passing X Y Jet and Roy H at the last second. For all the other races, the inside path was the place to run, but the winner of this race came outside.
Maybe it helped that all three runners raced off the rail in midstretch, possibly eliminating the bias for this particular contest. If so, Roy H seemed flat. Jockey Kent Desormeaux also said Roy H was contact by another jockey's whip.
While Roy H is still a contender in this race, there is a nagging feeling that he lost a step. He can put away those doubts by winning again on Saturday.
St. Joe Bay deserves attention, too. Despite the taxing Bing Crosby pace, he kept fighting in the stretch to hold fifth, just ahead of American Anthem. Reviewing the numbers reveals how well he ran, as TimeformUS awarded a field-high 127.
The 6-year-old gelding also ran well in June, when he dueled with American Anthem in the San Carlos Stakes (G2), before ultimately giving in late. This is an improved horse under trainer John Sadler, and it would not be surprising if he won.
Oddly, the Sadler-trained and Hronis Racing-owned Catalina Cruiser is entered in this race as well, which means St. Joe Bay and Catalina Cruiser sport the same owner and trainer. Furthermore, they both possess roughly the same running style.
Is one of these horses going to scratch? It does not seem plausible the owner would want to jeopardize his chances by running two talented speed horses.
Assuming Catalina Cruiser goes, of course bettors should consider him. He turned in an impressive performance in San Diego Handicap (G2), winning by six lengths in a wire-to-wire performance. The rising star earned a 130 TimeformUS Speed Figure.
This is a lightly-raced 4-year-old with only three lifetime starts. He can turn into any kind of horse, and it will be exciting to see if he takes the next step forward.
The last contender to discuss is Battle of Midway, and he returns to the races after a short stint at stud. As the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, he merits respect.
On further inspection though, Battle of Midway enjoyed a wide trip on a day the track favored outside horses.
The outside bias helped him outkick Sharp Azteca in the stretch.
For evidence, review the Breeders’ Cup Distaff where Forever Unbridled and Abel Tasman rallied wide for the one and two spots. Destin won with a wide trip and rally in the undercard Marathon Stakes (G2). Dabster defeated City of Light in Race 3 because he took advantage of the outside bias. There is insurmountable proof.
Battle of Midway’s popularity among fans is also a negative, as it almost assuredly will result in an underlay at the windows.
Vorticity, Threefiveindia and Horse Greedy complete the field. The switch in trainers to Phil D’Amato for Threefiveindia is interesting, but he probably will not threaten.
Ransom the Moon feels like the most reliable horse to choose, although Catalina Cruiser will be helped if his stablemate St. Joe Bay is scratched. The reverse is also true, as St. Joe Bay’s chances move up if Catalina Cruiser is scratched. But Roy H is not impossible either, and ugly value aside, Battle of Midway can contend.