A resurgent Victor Espinoza, in a three-way battle for the lead in Santa Anita’s jockeys’ race, hopes to continue his surge on Saturday when he rides streaking winner The Usual Q.T. in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic presented by Pepsi Cola.

“Victor’s riding great,” said agent Tony Matos, “even though we haven’t ridden that many horses. Right now we’re riding at the highest percentage among the leaders and have ridden fewer horses.”

Through Thursday, Espinoza was second to leader Rafael Bejarano, 23-22, and one in front of Joel Rosario, currently serving a three-day suspension. Bejarano had 116 mounts for an average of 20 percent; Rosario also was at 20 percent with 104 mounts, while Espinoza stood at 22 percent from 98 rides.

“Hopefully,” Matos continued, “we’ll pick up some more business, because Victor wants to ride every race.”

Meanwhile, Espinoza is not concerned with The Usual Q.T. transferring his winning form to synthetic from turf, where he has won six in a row, including three graded stakes.

“I don’t think it will make any difference,” Espinoza said. “He’s run on synthetic before (finishing a close second in a maiden allowance race at Hollywood Park last June), so we’ll see.”

The field for the Classic: Jeranimo, Brice Blanc, 6-1; Unusual Suspect, Alonso Quinonez, 30-1 Enriched, Michael Baze, 6-1; Palladio, Mike Smith, 30-1; Unusual Smoke, Martin Garcia, 30-1; Bad Action, John Velazquez, 12-1; The Usual Q.T., Victor Espinoza, 5-2; Compari, Garrett Gomez, 3-1; Bold Chieftain, Russell Baze, 6-1; Wicked Style, Rafael Bejarano, 10-1; and Acclamation, David Flores, 15-1.

Bad Action also was entered in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream and will run there instead of the Classic.


Legendary actor and avid horse owner Jack Klugman is looking forward to attending the races at Santa Anita tomorrow to watch Pretty Unusual run in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino.

“I spoke to his wife, Peggy, and he’s excited about coming out,” said Barry Abrams, who trains Pretty Unusual, a 4-year-old filly Klugman owns with Madeline Auerbach and Murray Goda. The 87-year-old star of sitcoms, movies, television and Broadway shows was at Santa Anita on Jan. 17 to see Pretty Unusual register a 29-1 upset in the Grade II El Encino Stakes.

Abrams trained Pretty Unusual’s dam, Sci Fi Kin, for Klugman. Sci Fi Kin’s dam was Akinemod, who was owned by Klugman and won the 1990 El Encino by 18 lengths under Gary Stevens.

The field for the Filly & Mare Turf at 1 1/8 miles: Closeout, Jose Lezcano, 4-1; Tight Precision, Joel Rosario, 7-2; Pretty Unusual, Chantal Sutherland, 6-1; You Lift Me Up, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1; Bootleg Annie, Garrett Gomez, 9-2; Saucey Evening, Jose Valdivia Jr., 5-1; Catsalot, Alonso Quinonez, 12-1; and Century Park, Tyler Baze, 9-2.


Sunday marks the end of one phase in Gary Stevens’ multi-faceted career. The 46-year-old Hall of Fame jockey will send out his last runner as a trainer when he saddles Diamondrella in the Grade I $250,000 Santa Monica Handicap for older fillies and mares at seven furlongs, a race he won five times as a rider.

Critically acclaimed for his acting debut as George (The Iceman) Woolf in the 2003 hit film, “Seabiscuit,” and currently an analyst for HRTV and NBC, Stevens will put training on hold for the time being to devote time to other commitments, including family.

“I love what I’m doing, but you can only do so many things,” Stevens said. “There are only so many hours in a day and I know where my bread’s buttered, and it’s covering races. I enjoy that, although I’ve loved this last nine months (as a trainer). It’s hard leaving the shed row. I went from 16 horses to three in about 10 days, and I had to let the staff go. It’s sad, but I’m sure I’ll feel a sense of relief on Monday morning.”

Diamondrella, meanwhile, is cutting back in distance and changing surfaces in the Santa Monica. The 6-year-old English-bred mare owned by IEAH Stables finished fifth in the Grade II San Gorgonio Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on grass Jan. 2. The daughter of Rock of Gibraltar has eight wins from 20 starts, with earnings of $823,576.

“She’s equally as good at either distance,” Stevens said. “But it’s definitely a lot easier shortening up than stretching out. She’s only worked a couple times since the San Gorgonio, but I’ve sharpened her up and she’s happy.”

Come Monday, ditto for Gary Stevens.

The field for the Santa Monica: Diamondrella, Garrett Gomez; Cherryblossommiss, Alonso Quinonez; Evita Argentina, Joel Rosario; Captain’s Lover, Alex Solis; Made for Magic, Omar Berrio; Free Flying Soul, Mike Smith; Proviso, Rafael Bejarano; Tuscan Evening, Tyler Baze; Czechers, Chantal Sutherland; Sweet August Moon, Joe Talamo; Gabby’s Golden Gal, Martin Garcia; and Gilded Gem, Victor Espinoza.


Long-time turf writer Larry Bortstein is unconscious and in critical condition at Arcadia Methodist Hospital, where he has been since Saturday night, according to his wife, Pat. Bortstein apparently suffered an aneurism, and although still unconscious, Pat Bortstein said doctors remain hopeful.

A New York native, Bortstein currently covers horse racing for the Orange County Register and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

FINISH LINES: The popular Magna 5 wager returns Saturday. It’s a challenging $1 minimum bet requiring handicappers to select winners from Thoroughbred tracks coast-to-coast in one hour. If no one selects all five winners, a portion of the pool will carryover to the following Saturday. Tomorrow’s Magna 5 lineup with scheduled post times: Laurel ninth race, 1:53 p.m.; Gulfstream ninth, 2:08; Santa Anita sixth, 2:18; Gulfstream 10th, 2:43; and Santa Anita seventh, 2:52 p.m. . . . Trainer Mike Machowsky said unbeaten California Breeders’ Champion Stakes winner Caracortado and impressive maiden winner Nextdoorneighbor are on course for the Grade II $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 6 and the Grade III $150,000 Sham Stakes on Feb. 27, respectively. Meanwhile, Sunland Park Derby winner Kelly Leak began his comeback for Machowsky, working three furlongs on Pro-Ride Friday in :37.20 . . . Ron McAnally said Massone is being pointed to the Grade II $200,000 Strub Stakes on Feb. 6 . . . Santa Anita offers a $40 handicapping contest every Friday, Saturday and Sunday this meet, excluding the final Sunday, April 18. It’s a “real money” tournament, with any dollar amount remaining on the wagering card at the conclusion of the contest going to the player. For more information, visit Santa Anita’s Main THOUROUGHBREDS Center in the East end of the Grandstand on the main floor, or log onto . . . Former jockey and head of Santa Anita’s ticket department Jerry Truman and his wife, Kathy, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Kauai. Jerry is the older brother of trainer Eddie Truman . . . Entering Friday’s races, there were 11 contestants alive in ShowVivor.