'Ride Him To Win': Laurel River Powers To First Graded Victory In Pat O'Brien, Earns Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile Berth - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

‘Ride Him To Win’: Laurel River Powers To First Graded Victory In Pat O’Brien, Earns Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile Berth

Laurel River and Juan Hernandez win the G2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar

Juddmonte's Laurel River, a lightly raced 4-year-old Into Mischief colt making his second stakes appearance, powered between horses at the quarter pole and pulled clear to score by 3 ¾ lengths in the $252,500 Pat O'Brien (G2) Saturday at Del Mar.

The homebred out of the Empire Maker mare Calm Water was ridden by Del Mar's top jockey, Juan Hernandez, and gave trainer Bob Baffert his eighth tally in the seven-furlong O'Brien and his 150th stakes victory at the seaside oval, far and away the most by any trainer in the track's 83-year history. Baffert also forged into leadership as the current meet's top conditioner with his 14th victory on Day 22 of the meet.

Finishing second in the Pat O'Brien was Kretz Racing's American Theorem, who had three-quarters of a length on Joe Peacock Jr.'s third-place finisher, Senor Buscador.

Laurel River covered seven furlongs in 1:21.37 on a fast track.

“This is a nice horse,” Hernandez said. “He broke real sharp, but then he relaxed. I just tried to stay with them early. When we got to the three-eighths (pole) I asked him and he responded. It is great when that happen; when you ask and they give it to you. He went between horses without a problem. Bob (Baffert) said 'Ride him to win,' and I did. And he responded. Could he run a mile? He can go the mile. I think so for sure.”

Baffert was also impressed with Laurel River's performance.

“He just sat there and then he made that split,” he said. “He has a lot of speed, but he's going to be much more effective around two turns.”

Godolphin's Speaker's Corner, who had shipped in from the East Coast for the race and was favored at just over even money, flashed early speed, but fell back under pressure and finished fourth nearly six lengths behind the winner.

“I don't know what was going on with this horse,” jockey Mike Smith said. “He was acting up. He got real hot in the warm up. Then he was acting up again in the gate. He just wasn't a happy horse today.”

The Pat O'Brien is a Breeders' Cup Challenge “Win and You're In” race – one of six this summer at Del Mar – that rewarded the Laurel River a guaranteed spot in the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile (G1) with all fees paid. The race will be run November 5 at Keeneland.

Laurel River picked up a first prize of $150,000 for his triumph and increased his earnings to $314,620 for his fourth win from his seventh career start. In his only previous stakes attempt, he finished second in the 2021 Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita.

The bay Kentucky-bred paid $15.80.

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