With no established front-runners in Monday’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes, the question is, who will set the pace in the mile and one eighth turf race?

Could it be favored Jeranimo, or will it be The Usual Q.T., who will be making his first start in more than seven months?

“We’ve got some speed if we want to use it, but it’s a mile and an eighth,” said Jim Cassidy, trainer of The Usual Q.T. “But being off since last May, he’s going to be fresh, so he’ll be pulling early. As the race draws a little closer, I’ll examine the past performances a little closer.

“Somebody will inherit the lead. I don’t necessarily think it will be me, but somebody will be out there. Somebody’s going to try and steal it.”

Victor Espinoza, who has ridden The Usual Q.T. 15 times in his 22-race career, the last 14 in a row, was not committed to pre-race strategy.

“We’ll see what happens when the gates open,” Espinoza said. “He hasn’t run for a while and I don’t know how the race is going to set up but I just want to let him do his thing and go from there.”

The field for the San Gabriel: Sandor, Corey Nakatani; Ashtar, Kevin Krigger; Norvsky, Rafael Bejarano; Jeranimo, Martin Garcia; The Usual Q.T., Victor Espinoza; and Imponente Purse, Chantal Sutherland.

Santa Anita will offer bargain concession fare on Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with $2 beers, hot dogs and soft drinks. First post time is 12:30 p.m.


Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Amazombie, a finalist for an Eclipse Award as outstanding sprinter, worked six furlongs before sun up on Santa Anita Anita’s fast main track Saturday in 1:15.60.

“He started slow but finished fast,” said trainer Bill Spawr, adding that “I’m not sure I’m running (in next Saturday’s Grade II Palos Verdes Stakes at six furlongs).”

Regular rider Mike Smith will be aboard Amazombie if he runs in the Palos Verdes. Smith has ridden the California-bred son of Northern Afleet in 16 of his 23 career races, the last five in a row, including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Smith will be a member of Spawr’s party that will attend Monday night’s dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel at which the Eclipse Award winners will be announced. The 46-year-old Hall of Fame jockey is hopeful Amazombie is named champion sprinter, but has learned not to be overconfident.

“I thought I was going to win that a few times and didn’t, with some other horses, not to mention their names,” Smith said, chuckling, “so you never know. But boy, Amazombie sure deserves it, so hopefully we get it.”

Probable for the Palos Verdes: Amazombie, Mike Smith; Courtside, Joel Rosario; Euroears, no rider; and M One Rifle, Joe Talamo. Possible: Frumious, Galientos, Mensa Heat and Sway Away.


Even though he led all trainers in purse earnings last year with more than $17 million, Todd Pletcher summarily dismissed any hopes of winning an Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer of 2011 over other finalists Bob Baffert and Bill Mott.

“I don’t think I have ANY chance whatsoever,” Pletcher said by phone. “From everything I’ve read so far, the dozen or so reporters who have cast their ballots on line or in articles, it’s very closely split between Mott and Baffert.” Reminded that his horses did out-earn both Baffert and Mott in addition to wins leader Steve Asmussen, Pletcher readily took solace with that achievement.

“I’ll take the money title over the award any day,” he said.


One might characterize Ultrafleet as the “queen of the hill” in terms of broodmares, points out Jon White, who makes Santa Anita’s morning line and provides television commentary from the paddock for the track’s simulcast network.

“What Ultrafleet has accomplished as a broodmare in terms of Santa Anita’s unique hillside course is remarkable,” White said. “Ultrafleet has had three offspring race down the hill and they are a combined 13 for 17. The three are Cambiocorsa, California Flag and Platinum Mine.

“Cambiocorsa, who now is a broodmare, won the first eight times she raced down the hill and wound up eight for 10. California Flag is four for six down the hill, including a win in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Platinum Mine is one for one down the hill. And Vader will become the fourth horse out of Ultrafleet to run down the hill in the first race Sunday.”

Vader, a son of Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and Eclipse Award recipient Vindication, will be making his second career start Sunday. He finished ninth when making his debut in a grass sprint at the Hollywood Park fall meet for trainer Brian Koriner, who conditions California Flag.

“It will not be surprising if Vader runs better Sunday with a race under his belt,” White said. “And you certainly have to say he’s bred to love the hill."

An additional note on Cambiocorsa—she is the dam of the Mike Puype-conditioned Vionnete, winner of last Sunday’s sixth race, a maiden special weight run at (you guessed it) 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course.

FINISH LINES: Santa Anita Handicap winner and Eclipse Award finalist for Older Male Game on Dude worked six furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Saturday in company with Star Presence. Martin Garcia was aboard Game on Dude, who is ticketed for the Grade II San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 5 in his first start since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last Nov. 5. Game on Dude was clocked in a bullet 1:12.60, fastest of 19 drills at the distance, while Star Presence was clocked in 1:14.80 . . . Eoin Harty reports that leading Triple Crown candidate Out of Bounds is doing well as he prepares for the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 10. The trainer hopes to have Garrett Gomez back aboard the son of Discreet Cat for the San Felipe despite the fact that Gomez underwent surgery for a broken left heel on Thursday and is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks. “I’ll have to see how Garrett’s doing,” Harty said, “but I won’t have any trouble getting a rider.” . . . Congratulations to Santa Anita’s current riding leader, Joel Rosario, on the occasion of his 27th birthday today. Rosario is scheduled to work unbeaten Cat’s Cradle Handicap winner Tiz Flirtatious at Santa Anita Sunday for trainer Marty Jones as the California-bred daughter of Tizbud prepares for next Sunday’s Grade II La Caňada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. Other candidates include Railbird winner May Day Rose and Raven Run winner Great Hot, who will be ridden by Chantal Sutherland . . . With 166 players falling by the wayside backing 11-10 favorite Woebegone in Friday’s second race in which she finished fourth of five, 326 contestants remained alive in Santa Anita’s on line handicapping contest, ShowVivor, going into Saturday . . . Corey Nakatani has been suspended three racing days (Jan. 22, 26 and 27) for causing interference into the Club House turn aboard Strasbourg in last Sunday’s seventh race.