December 5, 2021

BC WAYI Pat O’Brien could offer C Z Rocket, Flagstaff rematch

C Z Rocket rallying to victory in the Pat O'Brien (G2) at Del Mar - © Benoit Photo
C Z Rocket edges Flagstaff in the 2020 Pat O'Brien (G2) at Del Mar - © Benoit Photo

Pat O’Brien S. (G2) – Race 10 (9:30 p.m. ET)

The top two from last year’s Pat O’Brien (G2), C Z Rocket and Flagstaff, were entered for Saturday’s $200,000 renewal at Del Mar. But it’s undetermined if C Z Rocket will mount a title defense in the seven-furlong affair, which serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the two-turn Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

C Z Rocket was most recently a fast-finishing third in the July 31 Bing Crosby (G1) at six furlongs, just a neck and a head adrift of the victorious Dr. Schivel and runner-up Eight Rings. Trainer Peter Miller told Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen that he’s concerned the Del Mar track isn’t congenial to deep closers, and he might opt to scratch C Z Rocket.

Beyond his stature as reigning titleholder, C Z Rocket sports excellent one-turn credentials. The veteran was second to Whitmore in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), and twice gained revenge on that divisional champ at Oaklawn Park this season, in the Mar. 13 Hot Springs S. and Apr. 10 Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3). C Z Rocket stretched out for the Steve Sexton Mile (G3), caught a sloppy track at Lone Star, and wound up overturned by Mo Mosa. The Bing Crosby marked his return from a two-month break, and first start without Lasix, and he’s eligible to move forward if taking his chance. Florent Geroux is scheduled to ride.

Flagstaff, beaten only a half-length in the 2020 Pat O’Brien, was also denied narrowly by C Z Rocket in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2). After a third to his archrival, and Whitmore, in the Hot Springs, the John Sadler charge launched a pair of successful raids on Kentucky. Flagstaff captured Keeneland’s Commonwealth (G3) and the Churchill Downs S. (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day, both at this seven-furlong trip. Runner-up to Belmont aficionado Firenze Fire in the June 4 True North (G2) last out, Flagstaff carries the top weight of 125 pounds including new pilot Joe Bravo.

Bing Crosby near-misser Eight Rings is one of two Empire Maker colts representing Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, along with Classier. Eight Rings has not won since dominating the 2019 American Pharoah (G1) as a juvenile. Yet he showed his old spark when going close in the Bing Crosby, and Abel Cedillo stays aboard. It would be fitting if he rejuvenates himself at Del Mar. Eight Rings’ smashing debut win here made him the 1-2 favorite in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), where he ducked and unseated the rider.

Classier looked sharp in his 6 1/2-furlong unveiling last fall, prompting an audacious tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) that resulted in an eighth-place finish. Not seen again until the June 13 Affirmed (G3), he stumbled at the start and faded to third. Classier rebounded second off the layoff in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3), but his all-out effort to hang on in the 1 1/8-mile test indicated that he might prefer shortening up. Mario Gutierrez picks up the mount.

Mike Maker’s aforementioned Mo Mosa turns back in distance after a fourth in the San Diego H. (G2). This is the first time he’s tried sprinting since early in his career, before breaking his maiden.

Brickyard Ride ran away with the San Carlos (G2) in his only prior attempt at seven furlongs. But judging by his tiring fifth in the Bing Crosby, the speedy Cal-bred could find this too stiff a challenge.

Ginobili, runner-up to Nadal in the 2020 San Vicente (G2), just posted a front-running romp in a one-mile allowance. Two starts back at 6 1/2 furlongs, Ginobili was fourth to Howbeit, who enters in career form for Mark Glatt. The son of Secret Circle, third in last summer’s Laz Barrera (G3) when with Doug O’Neill, has reached a new level since being claimed for $32,000. The winner of two straight allowances, Howbeit wired the first and rolled from off the pace in the second. He’s drawn in post 2, right next to Ginobili on the rail.

Class-challenged Surfing Star and California Street round out the 10-horse field.