Jeranimo faces 5 in the San Gabriel.

Jeranimo faces 5 in the San Gabriel.

Benoit Photography

Top Weight Jeranimo Eyes San Gabriel Repeat

Citation winner faces The Usual Q. T. on Martin Luther King Day at Santa Anita.

Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Jeranimo  rates a solid chance to repeat in the $150,000 San Gabriel Stakes (gr. II) on the Santa Anita turf Jan. 16 in a race that marks the return of millionaire The Usual Q. T.

Trained by Michael Pender for owner B. J. Wright, Jeranimo will carry top weight of 123 pounds while facing just five opponents in the 1 1/8-mile San Gabriel. The race is the eighth on Santa Anita's Martin Luther King Day card with a 4:07 p.m. PST post.

Jeranimo spoiled a bid by Proudinsky  for a third consecutive victory in the 2010 San Gabriel, which the 6-year-old son of Congaree  won at odds of 4-1 over a good turf course by 2 1/2 lengths. The race was not contested last year.

The Florida-bred bay lost his next six races before popping up with another minor upset over Mr. Commons in the Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT) on the Santa Anita course Oct. 8.

With that victory, Jeranimo proceeded to the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, were he faded to seventh after dueling for the lead into the stretch. Jeranimo bounced back three weeks later with a sharp 2 3/4-length tally as the 17-10 favorite in the Citation on the Hollywood Park grass.

Garrett Gomez, who rode Jeranimo in the Nov. 26 Citation, will be replaced by Martin Garcia after Gomez broke his heel in a fall outside Santa Anita’s walking ring last Sunday.

Garcia has done well for Pender with Jeranimo. They won Santa Anita’s Strub Stakes (gr. II) in 2010 and also clicked in the Oak Tree Mile.

The San Gabriel’s defending champion has earned $810,400 from a lifetime record of 7-4-4 in 24 races. Jeranimo has two wins and two placings from five tries on Santa Anita’s lawn.

Among Jeranimo's rivals is the grade I winner The Usual Q. T., who returns from nearly 7 ½ months on the sidelines to tackle a demanding distance. The Usual Q. T. ran third in last year's San Gabriel as the 7-10 favorite, finishing five lengths behind Jeranimo.

With earnings of $1,513,240 from an 8-6-4 record in 22 starts, The Usual Q. T. is the most accomplished runner in the field. He is certainly capable at his best. But trainer James Cassidy is concerned about the distance.

“It’s farther than we wanted to run him, but right now our options are pretty much limited,” he said. “I prefer not to run him a mile and an eighth first time back, but it’s all that’s available.”

The 6-year-old gelding, owned by Don Van Racing and Michael Nentwig, has been close but winless in his past seven trips to the post. His last victory came in the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) at nine furlongs over Del Mar’s turf course on July 24, 2010.

The California-bred son of Unusual Heat enjoyed a remarkable six-race winning streak as a 3-year-old in 2009, including victories in the Oak Tree Derby and Hollywood Derby (gr. IT). Victor Espinoza, who has ridden The Usual Q. T. in his last 14 races, again will be at the helm.

A second Cal-bred, 6-year-old Norvsky, comes off a fifth-place finish in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) Nov. 19 but gets back to a surface on which he has a 2-1-1 mark  in five starts. To be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the Old English Rancho homebred won the California Cup Classic on grass Oct. 29 for trainer Donald Warren. 

Brazilian-bred Imponente Purse, a 6-year-old gelding trained by A. C. Avila, last raced Oct. 2 when third behind Acclamation and Champ Pegasus  in Santa Anita’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IIT). His lone graded stakes win was achieved in last July’s Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) over 1 ½ miles at Hollywood Park. Owned by Jessica Coudelaria, Imponente Purse will be ridden by Chantal Sutherland.

“We freshened him after the Clement Hirsch,” Avila said. “He had a long campaign, so we freshened him up and we’re starting again. He might want a longer distance than a mile and an eighth, but he’s capable at shorter distances, especially if he has a fast pace to run at.”

Chilean-bred 5-year-old Ashtar has not finished in the money in four stakes tries since transferring to the United States after a grade I win in his native country last February.

Sandor, a British-bred 6-year-old, steps up to stakes company after a pair of one-mile tighteners against optional claiming company for trainer Carla Gaines.

$150,000 San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, 4:07 p.m., 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Sandor (GB), C S Nakatani, 118, C Gaines
2. Ashtar (CHI), K Krigger, 120, R Cardenas
3. Norvsky (CA), R Bejarano, 118, D Warren
4. Jeranimo (FL), M Garcia, 123, M Pender
5. The Usual Q. T. (CA), V Espinoza, 118, J M Cassidy
6. Imponente Purse (BRZ), C Sutherland, 118, A C Avila