San Gabriel Preview
The Usual Q. T. looms large in San Gabriel
Dual Grade 1-winning millionaire THE USUAL Q. T. (Unusual Heat) holds a class edge over his nine rivals, including two-time defending champion PROUDINSKY (Ger) (Silvano [Ger]), in Monday's $150,000 San Gabriel S. (G2) at Santa Anita. Most recently third to European superstar Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa) and dual Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat) in the November 6 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs, the Jim Cassidy charge returns home to put his perfect record on the Santa Anita turf on the line.
The Usual Q. T. sports a three-for-three mark over the local sod, comprising last year's Oak Tree Derby (G2) at this 1 1/8-mile trip as well as the Sir Beaufort S. (G3) and California Cup Mile H. Those victories were part of a six-race winning streak that also included the 2009 Hollywood Derby (G1). The California-bred gelding hasn't put together such a gaudy campaign in 2010, but his only poor efforts have come on synthetic surfaces. When kept on the grass, The Usual Q. T. has continued his high level of form. He outclassed his opponents in the Eddie Read S. (G1) at Del Mar this summer, and finished a commendable runner-up in the Woodbine Mile (Can-G1) prior to his game third in the Breeders' Cup.
Regular rider Victor Espinoza will guide The Usual Q. T., the 123-pound co-highweight, from post 3 on Monday. Cassidy has cautioned, however, that he would be scratched if the race is rained off the turf.
Proudinsky has prevailed in the past two editions of the San Gabriel, but must lift his game to accomplish the unprecedented three-peat. Sidelined for 11 months following his successful title defense, the multiple Grade 2 hero did not reappear until the November 27 Citation H. (G2), where he checked in second in a fine performance off the layoff for Humberto Ascanio. Proudinsky, whose only loss on the Santa Anita turf was a runner-up effort in the 2007 San Gabriel, picks up the services of Pat Valenzuela and will break from the rail.
Grade 2 veteran MEDICI CODE (GB) (Medicean) is likewise a name from San Gabriels past, having garnered third in both the 2007 and 2008 runnings of this event. The Darrell Vienna pupil missed the 2009 renewal and ended up spending a year on the sidelines. The six-year-old resurfaced this fall and has run decently in a pair of optional claimers, but it remains to be seen whether Medici Code is still up to competing at this level.
Besides Proudinsky, two others are also exiting the Citation: third-placer METEORE (Pulpit) and eighth VIOLON SACRE (Stravinsky). Meteore, the 2009 La Jolla H. (G2) victor, has been an honest type all season for Richard Mandella. The Patrick Biancone-trained Violon Sacre, who had posted good-looking wins in the Knickerbocker S. (G3) and P.T.H.A. President's Cup S. back east, had a nightmare trip along the fence in the Citation and gets a key rider switch to Joel Rosario.
Like The Usual Q. T., fellow co-highweight UNUSUAL SUSPECT is a California-bred, Grade 1-winning millionaire by Unusual Heat. His career high came last time out in the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G1) on November 13, which snapped a 16-race losing streak. In its aftermath, trainer and co-owner Barry Abrams revealed possible designs on Australia for this tough customer with 55 career starts to his credit. Although Unusual Suspect was second in the 1 1/8-mile California Cup Classic H. on Cushion Track two back, this distance has tended to be on the short side for him in recent years. On the plus side, he renews his profitable partnership with Corey Nakatani here.
An intriguing new shooter in the local turf division is JERANIMO (Congaree), who captured the Strub S. (G2) on the Pro-Ride earlier this year and followed up with a fourth in the Santa Anita H. (G1). The Michael Pender trainee was not seen again for more than seven months, but in his second start back, he tried the turf and rolled to a smart score in a November 27 Hollywood Park allowance. Jeranimo's promising turf debut was enough to keep Rafael Bejarano in the saddle for this test.
Rounding out the field are Grade 2 winner EXPANSION (Maria's Mon), who makes his California bow off a pair of disappointing runs for Steve Asmussen; Grade 2-placed stakes scorer RIVIERA COCKTAIL (Giant's Causeway), freshened by Neil Drysdale since winding up 10th in the Woodbine Mile; and recent Native Diver H. (G3) runner-up SPURRIER (Dixieland Band) from the Bob Baffert barn, who might be hoping for a transfer to the main track.
One race earlier, seven state-bred juvenile fillies will contest the $100,000 California Breeders' Champion S. going seven furlongs on the dirt. CALIFORNIA NECTAR (Stormy Atlantic) and WARREN'S FLYER (Doc Gus) just missed in a three-way photo in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies S. two back. Their subsequent efforts in open company yielded a couple of fourths, with California Nectar filling that spot in the grassy Miesque S. (G3) and Warren's Flyer capping the superfecta in the Moccasin S. Their leading rivals are Hollywood optional claiming romper TEDDY'S PROMISE (Salt Lake) and maiden winner GOING FOR A SPIN (Ministers Wild Cat). Though still a maiden, SCREAMING REGAL (Old Topper) is worth a look after playing second fiddle both to California Nectar in her debut and to Going for a Spin in the wake of a rough start.
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