The Usual Q.T. seeks his fourth straight victory and his first in graded company Saturday in the Grade II $150,000 Oak Tree Derby at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
“He’s really quite a nice horse,” said trainer Jim Cassidy when asked if the gelded son of Unusual Heat had exceeded his expectations. “I don’t know how nice he is, but I’ll find out. He hasn’t done much wrong. That one race (fifth by 11 lengths at Hollywood Park last July 5), we showed too much speed and he didn’t run well.
The Usual Q.T. has a 3-4-0 record from eight starts, with earnings of $186,670 for owners Don Van Kempen, Michael Nentwig and George Saadeh, et al.
Meteore comes back in the Oak Tree Derby after a brief respite following a solid fourth-place finish in the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 6.
“There was nothing of great consequence that precipitated giving him two months,” Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella explained. “It was just that I had run him three times at Del Mar, and I thought for his best chance in the Oak Tree Derby, I’d give him the two months between and train him up to it. He’s been working nicely, and I don’t see a mile and an eighth being an issue for him.”
Meteore, a son of Pulpit, won Del Mar’s Grade II La Jolla Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf Aug. 15. He has a 3-0-2 record from 10 starts. The chestnut colt has earned $184,916.
The field for the Oak Tree Derby, which goes as the 10th and final race on Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup card: Acclamation, Joe Talamo; Augustusthestrong, John Velazquez; Meteore, Rafael Bejarano; No Inflation, Julien Leparoux; Oil Man, Rajiv Maragh; Massone, Frankie Dettori; Rendezvous, Joel Rosario; The Usual Q.T., Victor Espinoza; Battle of Hastings, Tyler Baze; Quindici Man, Edgar Prado; Gretsky, Kieren Fallon; and Tamborim, Richard Migliore.
ONE MILE LAS PALMAS IDEAL FOR TIZAQUEENA ON FRIDAY
Discretion being the better part of valor, trainer Michael Stidham entered Darley Stable’s Tizaqueena in Friday’s Grade II $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap at one mile on turf, rather than a race worth 10 times as much, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Fillies & Mare Turf at 1 1/4 miles the same day.
“She’s been running against some stiff competition, and the only reason we didn’t run her in the Filly & Mare Turf was the mile and a quarter is a little too far for her,” Stidham said.
Tizaqueena, a 4-year-old daughter of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, was second by three-quarters of a length in the Grade I First Lady on a “soft” turf course at Keeneland in her most recent start, Oct. 10. It was her first race since Aug. 8, when she led in the Grade I Beverly D at Arlington Park before finishing fourth by a length and a half in the 1 3/16-mile grass event.
“We just gave her a little break after Arlington and got her ready for the First Lady,” Stidham said. “She almost won the thing.”
Tizaqueena has a 5-3-1 record from 10 starts, with earnings of $442,956.
The field for the Las Palmas, which goes as the ninth and final race Friday: Bahama Mama, David Flores, 30-1; Captain’s Lover, Julien Leparoux, 8-1; Closeout, Jose Lezcano, 8-1; Cat by the Tale, Kieren Fallon, 20-1; Zardana, Victor Espinoza,15-1; Teamgeist, Robby Albarado, 8-1; Bel Air Sizzle, Joe Talamo, 20-1; Meydan Princess, Mike Smith, 20-1; Quiet Meadow, Javier Castellano, 8-1; Tuscan Evening, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Internallyflawless, Garrett Gomez, 9-2; Royal Taat, Rajiv Maragh, 10-1; Tizaqueena, Jamie Theriot, 7-2; and Exquisite, Alex Solis, 20-1.
MAJOR ROCK STAR SET FOR RETURN IN DAMASCUS STAKES
Initially, it wasn’t Mike Mitchell’s intention to run Major Rock Star in Saturday’s $100,000 Damascus Stakes, the lid-lifter on Breeders’ Cup Classic day at Oak Tree.
But the son of E Dubai owned by Roddy Valente was training so well, Mitchell felt the stars were properly aligned to run in the seven-furlong race. Major Rock Star has not raced since last Feb. 26, when he won an allowance race at Santa Anita.
“The fact that I entered speaks volumes,” Mitchell said. “If he hadn’t been doing so well, I would have waited. The distance should suit him, and he drew a nice outside post. On paper, he fits well.”
Mitchell claimed Major Rock Star for $32,000 last Jan. 14, promptly stepped him up to an allowance race and won gate to wire going a mile and a sixteenth. Major Rock Star has four wins from seven starts.
The field for the Damascus, Saturday’s first race: Coronet of a Baron, Julien Leparoux; Smart Bid, Jeremy Rose; M One Rifle, Mike Smith; All Saint, Felipe Valdez; Supreme Summit, Rafael Bejarano; Major Rock Star, Tyler Baze; Viscount, Garrett Gomez; and Dave’s Pacemaker, Omar Berrio.
ALL’S ‘FAIR’ FOR HOFMANS IN CLOSING-DAY CASCAPEDIA
After breaking her maiden at seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride last Jan. 25, Air Fair returns to that distance in Sunday’s closing-day feature, the $58,000 Cascapedia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
In between, Air Fair ran in five straight turf races, winning an optional claiming test and finishing fourth in her last three starts.
“We’re going to try her back and see,” trainer David Hofmans said in explaining his move back to synthetic at seven furlongs. “She looks like a come-from-behind sprinter, and this looks like a good spot.”
Air Fair, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Yes It’s True, is owned by Rod and Lorraine Rodriguez of Redding, Calif.
The field for the Cascapedia, race eight on a 10-race program: Kays and Jays, Joel Rosario; Irish Gypsy, Garrett Gomez; Kaweah Princess, David Flores; Air Fair, Michael Baze; Music Magic, Alex Solis; Ciel Rouge, Rafael Bejarano; Saucey Evening, Jeremy Rose; and Emmy Darling, Joe Talamo.
BREEDERS’ CUP SHUTTLE BUSES AVAILABLE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY
The Oak Tree Racing Association and Breeders’ Cup Ltd. will run continuous shuttles between Santa Anita and the Sierra Madre Villa Train Station in East Pasadena between 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, and between 7:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.
It is estimated that buses will arrive at the station every 45 minutes. Shuttle buses will be marked with a purple “Gold Line Shuttle” sign and will be parked in berth 4 on the ground level of the Sierra Madre Villa Station. Friday and Saturday’s weather forecast for Arcadia calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures ranging from the mid 50s to the mid 70s.
FINISH LINES: Track superintendent Richard Tedesco is pleased with the response from horsemen on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride main track. “The track has been excellent,” Tedesco said. “I’m getting such good feedback from everybody here. They tell me the track is consistent and feels good. I hear the word ‘awesome’ a lot, and we expect it to continue. The weather’s going to be good (through closing day, Sunday), so nothing should change.” . . . Joel Rosario held a 27-26 lead over Rafael Bejarano in the race for Oak Tree riding honors with four racing days left. “I feel really good, I’m working hard, and I hope I get it,” said Rosario, who missed several days recently with the flu. “That probably cost me two or three winners,” he said . . . With seven wins from 14 starters and earnings of $158,720 through Wednesday, Eric Kruljac has experienced an Oak Tree meet beyond his fondest expectations, but he would trade each victory for a profitable performance from California Cup Juvenile Fillies winner La Nez in Friday’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. “I would take an oh-fer if I could just run third or better Friday,” said the 56-year-old trainer, who recently moved his base of operations from Turf Paradise in Arizona to Southern California. “We’ll see what happens. She’s doing awfully good, and this meet’s been unbelievable. Things have just fallen my way. Maybe we’ve won some races we shouldn’t have, and other races have come up incredibly easy.” Kruljac has the same number of horses he started the meet with, 14, “but things look good” for an increase in stock, thanks to his .500 batting average. Third place in the Juvenile Fillies Turf is worth $99,000 . . . Agent Tommy Ball reports that Aaron Gryder took off Blackman Bay for trainer David Bernstein in Thursday’s second race to depart for Churchill Downs, where he rides for trainer Steve Asmussen on Friday . . . Sunday marks the final Family Fun Day at Oak Tree this meet. Free activities for kids in the Santa Anita infield include an obstacle course, super slide and a moon bounce. Plus, kids can play carnival-type games and get a picture taken on a pony ride. There is a $2 charge for pony rides and face painting . . . There were 16 participants still alive in Oak Tree’s online handicapping contest ShowVivor prior to Thursday’s races. In the event of a tie at the end of the contest on Sunday, the first tie-breaker will be the one highest show price of all horses selected before Breeders' Cup weekend. The second tie-breaker is the highest show price in the last three days of the contest. The third tie-breaker is total show prices of all horses selected during the entire contest.