Trainers’ Concerns ‘Surface’ On Eve Of ‘Win And You’re In’ Pat O’Brien

It’s a common, everyday factor in Thoroughbred racing magnified by the size of the purse and the importance of the event.

How will the track be playing? Will it favor speed horses or come-from-behind types? Because one trainer’s “too fast” is another’s “not fast enough.”

Case in point, Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes, the seven-furlong follow-up to the Grade 1, $300,000 six-furlong Bing Crosby Stakes four weeks ago in Del Mar’s handicap division sprint graded event series.

The Crosby victory having assured a spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint here on Nov. 6, winner Dr. Schivel is not entered in the O’Brien. But three of the next four Crosby finishers are set to run, fully aware that the O’Brien is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Big Ass Fan Dirt Mile on the same day.

And for two of them – defending race champion C Z Rocket trained by Peter Miller and California-bred speedster Brickyard Ride trained by Craig Lewis – how the track plays on Saturday is of foremost concern.

In the immediate aftermath of the Crosby, in which C Z Rocket closed from fifth to third in the stretch, nearly making up a four-length deficit to lose only by a neck, Miller said he’d pass on the O’Brien. Which, the trainer said this morning, could still happen.

“We’re still not 100 percent sure,” said Miller, who has consistently expressed concerns over what he considers a speed-favoring track throughout the meeting. “We’re going to keep an eye on the track and see how it’s playing. The post (No. 9) is good. I just don’t want to run him if it’s not a fair track. I’m just trying to be fair to the horse, and the public, that’s all.”

Claimed for $40,000 in April of 2020, the O’Brien win, followed by a victory in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint were keys to a nine-race campaign in 2020 that produced $651,901 in earnings. The seven-year-old gelded son of City Zip has added $536,000 from four 2021 starts for career earnings of more than $1.4 million.

Brickyard Ride overcame a bobble at the break to go straight to the lead in the Bing Crosby through early fractions of :21.80 and :44.60 on a track that the Daily Racing Form analysts rated as favoring closers, before being passed by four horses in the stretch.

The 4-year-old son of Clubhouse Ride, an Alfred Pais homebred, has career earnings of $470,477. Of that, $300,200 has been accumulated via three wins in six starts this year, highlighted by a victory in the Grade II San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita in March.

“I’d like to see a little better start and a little more glib track (than the Crosby), but you can’t control that,” Lewis said of his O’Brien hopes. “Certain horses like it certain ways and he (Brickyard Ride) wants to go the speed route. We’d like a quick track, that’s the bottom line.

“Other than that, he’s good to go. We just need things to go our way, which is asking for a lot. There’s a lot of nice horses in a very competitive race.”

The field for the Pat O’Brien from the rail with jockeys and morning line odds in parentheses: Ginobili (Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1); Howbeit (Kyle Frey, 6-1); Surfing Star (apprentice Jessica Pyfer, 30-1); Mo Mosa (Ramon Vasquez, 10-1); Eight Rings (Abel Cedillo, 6-1); Classier (Mario Gutierrez, 12-1); Brickyard Ride (Juan Hernandez, 8-1); Flagstaff (Joe Bravo, 3-1); C Z Rocket (Peter Miller, 5-2), and California Street (Wayne Barnett, 30-1).

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