The Usual Q. T., in his first appearance since placing third in the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) early last month, heads the field for the $150,000 San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT) on the second day of the Santa Anita winter racing season Dec. 27.
A field of 10, including three million-dollar earners, was entered in the 1 1/8-mile turf event. The eighth of nine races on the card, the San Gabriel is set for a 4 p.m. PST post. Among the rivals he'll face is Proudinsky , who has won the two previous renewals of the San Gabriel.
The Usual Q. T., a dual grade I winner, has had an eventful 2010 campaign for trainer Jim Cassidy, starting with a fourth-place finish in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) on World Cup night at Meydan Racecourse in March. The 4-year-old California-bred son of Unusual Heat went on to score a two-length victory in the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) at Del Mar Aug. 28 before concluding the year with three successive losses in grade I events.
He ran fifth in the Pacific Classic (gr. IT) over Del Mar's Polytrack, then returned to the turf for a runner-up effort in the Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) Sept. 19. He led at the sixteenth pole before yielding to Court Vision by 1 1/2 lengths.
The gelding then turned in a strong performance in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs Nov. 6. Though rank to start, he battled on at odds of 22-1 to finish just two lengths behind female turf star Goldikova.
Don Van Racing and partners own The Usual Q. T., who leads the San Gabriel field in earnings with $1,405,240 while winning eight of 18 lifetime starts. Regular rider Victor Espinoza is back aboard. They'll break from post 3 under 123 pounds.
Also carrying 123 pounds is Unusual Suspect, who, like The Usual Q. T., is a California-bred son of Unusual Heat with more than $1 million in career earnings. The 6-year-old horse went over the earnings milestone (he's now at $1,035,171) and snapped a 16-race losing streak with a thrilling head victory over Temple City in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) at odds of 10-1 Nov. 13.
Unusual Suspect was closer to the leaders than usual in the Turf Cup and was able to wear down Temple City in the final strides.
Barry Abrams trains Unusual Suspect, a veteran of 55 lifetime starts with nine victories, and owns him in partnership with Dyan and Barry Abrams, who bred him. Corey Nakatani, who rode Unusual Suspect in the Turf Cup, is back aboard and they'll break from post 2.
The other millionaire in the field, the German-bred Proudinsky, drew the rail for trainer Humberto Ascanio and gets three pounds from The Usual Q. T. and Unusual Suspect. The 7-year-old son of Silvano returned from an 11-month absence to run a surprisingly strong second at 15-1 to Victor's Cry in the Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Hollywood turf Nov. 27.
In his previous start, in December 2009, Proudinsly scored a neck victory at 9-5 over Loup Breton in the San Gabriel. He also won the race in 2008 when he was the 6-5 favorite. Now owned by Stella Perdomo, Proudinsly has a lifetime mark of 7-5-2 in 23 starts while banking $1,275,963.
Two others coming out of the 1 1/16-mile Citation bear watching. Wertheimer & Frere's Meteore was a fast-closing third for trainer Richard Mandella; Violon Sacre ran out of steam in the stretch and finished eighth after shipping from the East Coast for trainer Patrick Biancone. Winner of Belmont Park's Knickerbocker Stakes (gr. IIIT) over yielding ground in October, he has worked well since his disappointing Southern California bow.
Trainer Steve Asmussen enters Expansion, winner of the 2009 Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct. The 5-year-old son of Maria's Mon has dropped seven straight races since then while competing mostly in Kentucky and New York against top-caliber company. Expansion ships West off a sixth-place showing in the River City Handicap (gr. IIIT) Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.
Jeranimo, winner of the Strub Stakes (gr. II) on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface last winter, makes his second start on grass for trainer Michael Pender and owner B. J. Wright. The 4-year-old Congaree colt won his grass debut last time out, taking care of an allowance field at 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood one month ago.
Grade II winner Medici Code was a close third behind Proudinsky in the 2008 San Gabriel. The 6-year-old gelding makes his return to stakes action for trainer Darrell Vienna in his third start following a year's layoff. He finished second in Oak Tree's 2009 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (gr. IT) over the Santa Anita course in his previous stakes try.
$150,000 San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT, Race 8, 4 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Proudinsky (GER), P A Valenzuela, 120, H Ascanio
2. Unusual Suspect (CA), C S Nakatani, 123, B Abrams
3. The Usual Q. T. (CA), V Espinoza, 123, J M Cassidy
4. Jeranimo (FL), R Bejarano, 120, M Pender
5. Violon Sacre (KY), J Rosario, 118, P L Biancone
6. Medici Code (GB), M A Pedroza, 118, D Vienna
7. Expansion (KY), G K Gomez, 118, S M Asmussen
8. Meteore (KY), A Quinonez, 118, R E Mandella
9. Spurrier (KY), A Gonzalez, 118, B Baffert
10. Riviera Cocktail (KY), M E Smith, 118, N D Drysdale