Since trainer James Cassidy switched The Usual Q. T. to the turf to break his maiden in August, all the California-bred son of standout sire Unusual Heat has done is win. He ran his streak to five races against a powerful field Nov. 29 in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) (VIDEO).
Always looking like the winner, Victor Espinoza guided the Usual Q.T. past 75-1 shot Acclamation inside the eighth pole and he was not challenged. The gelding won by 1 1/2 lengths while completing the 1 1/4-mile event for 3-year-olds in a time of 1:59.69 over firm ground. That was a couple of ticks off the stakes record of 1:59.35 established by Showing Up in 2006.
"Everything went my way,” Espinoza said. “At the half-mile, he was just cruising, I mean really, really strong. In the middle of the turn, I looked back and nobody was coming. I had so much horse, I was just waiting for somebody to come up behind me, but there wasn't anybody. Turning for home I let him go and he just cut. The way he ran today was unbelievable.”
Being a Cal-bred, the Usual Q.T., who went off at odds of 9-2 in spite of his gutty victory in the Nov. 7 Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) in his last start, is usually overlooked, Cassidy readily acknowledged.
"He had a perfect trip,” Cassidy said. “He was loaded down the backside. Coming down the stretch, I think if he gets beat, he has to fall down because I know what he can do down the stretch. He’s an absolute amazing horse. It’s a shame he’s a Cal-bred because they kind of look down their nose at Cal-breds. But he beat an awful good field today.”
The Usual Q.T. is owned by Don Van Kempen with partners Michael Nentwig, George Saadeh, and Thomas Braden.
Race favorite Battle of Hastings closed much ground to be second but was no threat to the winner. Acclamation finished third, with New York invader Al Khali fourth.
The Usual Q.T. lost the first five races of his career -- including four runner-up finishes -- and is unbeaten since. He defeated state breds three times at Del Mar and Santa Anita, capped by a win in the Cal Cup Mile Handicap, before his victory over open company in the nine-furlong Oak Tree Derby.
In that race, the Usual Q.T. battled to get the lead mid-stretch and managed to hang on by a head over the late-running Battle of Hastings. With the added furlong in the Hollywood Derby, fans favored Battle of Hastings, who went off at 5-2.
In a 12-horse field, Straight Story took the early lead over Acclamation and dual grade I winner Take the Points and was in control after a half-mile in :48.35. Mike Smith, aboard Straight Story, attempted to slow the pace on backstretch but David Flores aboard Acclamation would have none of it, pushing the leader into the final turn and emerging with the lead approaching the stretch. The six-furlong split was 1:12.82. The Usual Q.T., stalking along the inside in third with Take the Points, moved out three wide for the drive, sweeping past the tiring Straight Story and taking aim at Acclamation.
The Usual Q.T. was soon in charge and was not to be denied while edging clear under urging from Espinoza. Battle of Hastings, ninth with a quarter-mile to run for Garrett Gomez, launched his powerful late bid to get second by a half-length over the tiring Acclamation, who nonetheless nosed Al Khali for third.
The winner earned $180,000 for his fifth victory in 10 starts and boosted his career earnings to $456,670. Carlee Van Kempen bred the Usual Q.T., who is out of the Western Fame mare Lunge.
Racing at equal weight of 122 pounds, the Usual Q.T. paid $11.40, $5, and $4 as the co-second choice. He topped a $42.40 exacta. Two-time grade II winner Battle of Hastings returned $4 and $2.80 and has now finished second in three of his past four starts for trainer Jeff Mullins. Acclamation, turning in a game effort for trainer Donald Warren, was $18.60 to show.
Al Kahli was followed by Rescue Squad, Meteore, Take the Points, Black Bear Island, Straight Story, Sal the Barber, Sir Al and Blazing Spirit.