December 5, 2021

Pat O’Brien becomes slam dunk for Ginobili

Ginobili wins the Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar (Photo by Benoit Photo)

Finally poised to fulfill his early promise, Ginobili scored a stakes breakthrough in Saturday’s $202,000 Pat O’Brien (G2) and booked his spot in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Del Mar. Defending Pat O’Brien champion C Z Rocket and Flagstaff reprised their tight finish from a year ago, but this time as the second and third-place finishers behind a convincing Ginobili.

The Richard Baltas pupil recently ended a losing skid dating back to his maiden win here in the summer of 2019, when he beat a promising firster named Honor A. P. In his ensuing starts as a juvenile, Ginobili finished fourth in both the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and Speakeasy S., and he was a valiant second to Nadal in the 2020 San Vicente (G2). But Ginobili subsequently disappointed in a series of entry-level allowances on both dirt and turf.

First-time blinkers worked to great effect, however, in a July 17 allowance at Del Mar. Ginobili responded with alacrity to draw off by 9 3/4 lengths going a mile.

The Pat O’Brien posed fresh challenges – a class hike, cutback to seven furlongs, and potentially tricky rail draw. But Ginobili disposed of them all in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile over the same track.

The 5.40-1 third choice, Ginobili broke alertly with jockey Drayden Van Dyke. Their game plan was to let the speedy Brickyard Ride clear, then tack around into a more favorable outside stalking position. Ginobili and Van Dyke executed to perfection.

Brickyard Ride didn’t exactly follow his script, for he ran off prior to the race. That premature display of eagerness may have taken a toll as he poured on the speed in the race itself.

After attending Brickyard Ride through fractions of :22.05 and :44.38, Ginobili broke away on the far turn, and the rest didn’t have a chance to catch him. The Munnings gelding ran up a 3 1/2-length margin by midstretch, more than enough of a cushion. C Z Rocket and Flagstaff reduced the gap late, but Ginobili retained a comfortable 1 3/4-length advantage at the wire in 1:22.36.

C Z Rocket, the 2-1 favorite, uncorked his typical rally from far back to head the 3.30-1 Flagstaff, who was also clawing back the yards after being outpaced by Ginobili on the turn. Eight Rings chased early and wound up fourth. There was a gap of 5 3/4 lengths back to Classier in fifth, followed by Howbeit; Mo Mosa, who was banged around at the start; the 89-1 Surfing Star; and Brickyard Ride, presumably exhausted from his extracurricular activities. California Street was scratched.

Campaigned by Slam Dunk Racing, trainer Baltas, Jerry McClanahan, and Michael Nentwig, Ginobili has compiled a record of 13-3-1-1, $279,825. Baltas purchased the Kentucky-bred from breeder Hinkle Farms for $35,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.

Ginobili was produced by the Grade 3-placed Sharp Humor mare Find the Humor, a full sister to Grade 2 winner Quick Wit.