The Usual Q. T. has been unbeatable since moving to the turf late last year, winning six races in a row, including the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). But when it came time to decide whether to ship to Gulfstream Park in Florida for the Sunshine Millions Turf Jan. 30, trainer James Cassidy opted to stay home with the California-bred son of Unusual Heat.
Cassidy entered the red-hot The Usual Q. T. in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic presented by Pepsi Cola at Santa Anita, the headline event in the annual bi-coastal battle between California- and Florida-breds that began in 2003. The Usual Q. T. rates the marquee billing among the 11 entered in the 1 1/8-mile event over the Pro-Ride main track based on the races he has won, even though they were on grass.
There were a couple of reasons for choosing the Classic over the $300,000 Turf, Cassidy said, notably travel and opportunity.
“The money enters into it,” he said, “but the big thing is the travel. I’ve never really traveled with him except to Hollywood Park, and he’s gotten a little aggressive about that. Eventually, we were going to try him on the dirt (synthetics), and I think this is a good opportunity.”
Among those standing in the way of a seventh straight win for the 4-year-old gelding are 7-year-old millionaire Bold Chieftain, a winner of 14 of 33 starts including the California Cup Classic twice; 8-year-old Florida-bred Palladio, whose nine lifetime wins include five graded stakes for earnings of $960,812; Florida-bred Bad Action, an eight-time winner in 22 starts; and lightly-raced 4-year-old California-bred Compari, winner of four in a row.
Other Sunshine Millions stakes to be raced at Santa Anita, where first post will be 11:30 a.m., PST are the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino at 1 1/8 miles, and the $200,000 Filly & Mare Sprint at six furlongs.
The popular Sunshine Millions program, which drew a crowd of 22,155 to Santa Anita in 2009, was constricted a bit this year due to declines in revenue. Two of the original eight divisions were eliminated and purses were reduced for the remaining races
Victor Espinoza will be back aboard The Usual Q. T., who was winless while second four times in his first five starts before embarking on his current run for Don Van Racing, Michael Nentwig, George Saadeh and Jeffrey Byer. His winning race distances on turf have ranged from one mile to 1 1/4 miles. In addition to the Hollywood Derby, the Usual Q. T. also won the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) last fall. His most recent victory in Santa Anita’s Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIIT) on Dec. 26 raised The Usual Q. T.’s earnings to $516,670 from his overall record of 6-4-0 in 11 races.
The hard-hitting veteran Bold Chieftain could be making “the last big dance,” trainer Bill Morey Jr., says, after a career that has included 11 stakes victories and earnings of $1,131,411 over the past 3 1/2 years for owner Dwaine Hall and partners. Russell Baze, North America’s all-time leader in races won, will be aboard the California-bred son of Chief Seattle for the 24th time.
Among the shippers, Palladio, who will have Mike Smith in the saddle, looks best. The son of Lycius is coming off a win in the Autumn Stakes (gr. IIT) Nov. 14 at Woodbine Race Course in Toronto, where he has done most of his racing. Although Palladio will be making his Santa Anita debut for trainer Roger Attfield, he is well familiar with synthetic surfaces. He owns a 4-1-4 record in 15 starts over Woodbine's Polytrack footing. Owned by Haras Santa Maria de Araras, Palladio has accumulated an overall record of 9-1-5 in 35 starts.
Jockey John Velazquez has the mount on Bad Action for trainer Todd Pletcher. A 4-year-old gelded son of Brahms, Bad Action won the Pegasus Stakes (gr. III) at the Meadowlands before running second to Haynesfield in Aqueduct’s Discovery Handicap (gr. III) in his last start on Nov. 21. Bad Action, who was cross-entered in the Millions Turf but is expected to go in the Classic, has earned $320,215 for Sanford H. Robbins and partners.
Trained by Marty Jones for Harris Farms and partners, 4-year-old gelding Compari has raced but five times, winning the last four including Hollywood Park’s $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes against state breds at 1 1/8 miles over a synthetic surface. Garrett Gomez, the nation’s leading rider in earnings the last four years, will handle the winner of $272,640.
The Classic will be presented as the eighth race on an 11-race program and will follow the Filly & Mare Sprint, which goes as the sixth, and the Filly & Mare Turf, which will be the seventh race. Simulcasts from South Florida of the $200,000 Sprint, $300,000 Distaff, and $300,000 Turf will be intermixed among the Sunshine Millions races at Santa Anita.
$500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic (Race 8, 3:38 p.m.), 4 & Up, Bred in California or Florida, 1 1/8 Miles (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Jeranimo (FL), B Blanc, 120, M Pender
2. Unusual Suspect (CA), A Quinonez, 122, B Abrams
3. Enriched (CA), M C Baze, 122, D F O'Neill
4. Palladio (FL), M E Smith, 122, R L Attfield
5. Unusual Smoke (CA), M Garcia,122, A C Avila
6. Bad Action (FL), J R Velazquez, 120, T A Pletcher
7. The Usual Q. T. (CA), V Espinoza, 120, J M Cassidy
8. Compari (CA), G K Gomez, 120, M F Jones
9. Bold Chieftain (CA), R A Baze, 122, W J Morey, Jr.
10. Wicked Style (FL), R Bejarano, 122, G R Arnold, II
11. Acclamation (CA), D R Flores, 120, D Warren