12/24/2010 3:31PM

Blue skies and fast track on Christmas Eve at Santa Anita


The “fast” track at Santa Anita was a beehive of activity Friday as the notebook filled up quickly, with stuff like this …

# The Usual Q.T. is favored Monday in the San Gabriel Handicap, but trainer Jim Cassidy was unhappy with the fast time of his half-mile work Friday. “I thought he would go a nice, easy half … but no,” Cassidy said. He hoped for 48 seconds. He got faster. “I’m going to say 47 (seconds), but I am lying,” Cassidy said. The official time was 47.40.

# If a too-fast work by The Usual Q.T. compromises his chances, it boosts the stock of Jeranimo, last year’s Strub winner whose terrific recent turf comeback gives trainer Mike Pender another surface option. Jeranimo is poised to upset The Usual Q.T. on Monday.

# No such thing as a cinch, but it sure looks like Arresting Officer will be loose on the lead Sunday in race 5, the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes. On paper, the 2-year-old colt races gate to wire as the “most probable” winner on the card. Arresting Officer is 9-5 in the program, and probably going lower.

# Looking for an upset on Sunday, opening day? Buzz is building for Malibu Stakes longshot Setsuko. Although he has not raced since April, Setsuko has trained super for his race-8 comeback. Listed at 20-1 in the program, Setsuko fly late trying to catch Twirling Candy, Caracortado and Smiling Tiger.

# No matter who wins the race-6 La Brea Stakes on Saturday (Switch is the 3-1 favorite; Malibu Pier is worth a bet at 6-1), things will get tougher when Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Blind Luck returns Jan. 16 in the El Encino. Blind Luck worked six furlongs Friday at Hollywood Park in 1:15 over a “fast” track that produced slow times. The fastest six-furlong time was 1:14.60.

Hollendorfer worked 32 horses Friday at Hollywood. “It’s the most we have ever worked,” assistant trainer Dan Ward said. Dakota Phone went five furlongs in 1:03.20; he runs Jan. 8 in the Grade 2 San Pasqual.

# As for La Brea starter Malibu Pier, trainer Carla Gaines is eager to run Sunday on traditional dirt. “We think it might be her best surface,” Gaines said, admitting “we’re basing our opinion on works alone.” Malibu Pier, 3-of-4 on turf and synthetic, worked super recently on the new Santa Anita dirt and worked similarly last spring on the dirt training track.

# Save the date: Feb. 12 is when Clubhouse Ride returns in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. An unlucky third in the Hollywood Futurity, Clubhouse Ride should relish the Lewis distance. “It’s a mile and one eighth, that’s why he’s running there,” trainer Craig Lewis said. “If he runs well, he goes in the Santa Anita Derby.” And if he runs well there, well, you know what is next. Clubhouse Ride will start twice leading to the Kentucky Derby. He wants every bit of a mile and one quarter.

Clubhouse Ride has a score to settle with Comma to the Top, whose paddock-delayed Futurity win was partly the product of a perfect trip sitting second. But knock him at your own risk. Fast horses almost always get good trips. “Now we know he can rate,” trainer Peter Miller said.

Miller said Friday that Comma to the Top came out of the Futurity win “super” and tentative plans call for three starts leading to the Kentucky Derby. Comma to the Top was to return to the track Sunday.

# Rain is in the forecast Saturday night into the opening-day card Sunday. But on Friday morning, the weather was clear and the dirt track was fast. Almost time to unbuckle.

# And finally, Merry Christmas!