07/20/2010 2:08PM

Cassidy in line for big weekend at Del Mar


DEL MAR, Calif. – The day before Del Mar was to open, and only days before his two best horses were to run in significant stakes races, trainer Jim Cassidy said he was “relaxed.” Not so the day before, when he was “very stressed.” But after The Usual Q.T. and Evening Jewel put in flawless works on the turf here Monday and were fine the next morning, Cassidy allowed himself to look forward to what could be a lucrative weekend.

On Saturday, The Usual Q.T. looms as the likely favorite in the Grade 1, $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes for older turf horses. And on Sunday, Evening Jewel, best known for her heartbreaking loss in the Kentucky Oaks, will head the field in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Clemente Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on the turf.

“She’s doing too well,” Cassidy said at his barn Tuesday morning. “She’s just been wild. They’re both doing very well.”

The Usual Q.T. seems ready to resume a promising career that took a minor detour earlier this year. After winning five straight races, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, The Usual Q.T. ran poorly on the main track in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita, then was fourth of 16 in the Dubai Duty Free. He was off for three months, before returning with a sharp comeback win in a money-allowance at Hollywood Park on June 27.

“He came back from Dubai perfect,” Cassidy said. “We gave him some time but didn’t want to turn him out. The second day he jogged, he pulled a shoe and hurt a muscle in his back. We worked on that for over a month before we finally got that straightened out.”

Cassidy was reluctant to bring back The Usual Q.T. in the American Handicap. He said he asked Martin Panza, the racing secretary at Hollywood Park, to write an allowance race for The Usual Q.T. and was gratified when the race drew enough entries.

“Martin got that race to go,” Cassidy said. “He ran well and came out of the race super.”

Assuming The Usual Q.T. runs well Saturday, Cassidy said the most likely next step would be the Arlington Million on Aug. 21. But he will monitor the weather there.

“I don’t want to take him back there and have it rain,” Cassidy said. “If the course is bottomless, I wouldn’t run.”

What then? Cassidy said a back-up plan would be the Pacific Classic here Aug. 28.

“It’s something to consider,” he said. “I wouldn’t have a problem running him again on the main track.”

The Usual Q.T.’s opposition in the Eddie Read should include Crowded House, Enriched, Hyades, Loup Breton, and Victor’s Cry. Acclamation, Battle of Hastings, and Temple City are possible.

The San Clemente will have a large field. In addition to Evening Jewel, the race could include All Due Respect, Bonnie Blue Flag, City To City, Conniption, Crisis of Spirit, Crisp, Glory Pride, It Tiz, Southern Fireball, Switch, and Weekend Magic.

Hall of Fame clocker at Del Mar

Perched atop a viewing area where trainers congregate on the backstretch the other morning was Don Pierce, the retired jockey who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next month in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Pierce is working as an assistant to the clocking crew this summer, a job he agreed to take because the crew was short staffed.

He took it with one stipulation.

“I only work in the mornings,” he said. “I golf in the afternoons. I tee off at 12:15 today.”

Pierce, a resident of nearby Encinitas, is a 10 handicap at a game he plays three or four times a week. He rarely comes to the track, though earlier this month he presented the trophy for the Triple Bend Handicap after being invited by Hollywood Park.

Of his short-term job this summer, Pierce said, “It’s nice to be on the backside again, seeing a lot of old friends.”

CHRB to consider Valenzuela reinstatement

As early as Thursday, jockey Patrick Valenzuela could be approved to ride again in California, a scenario that seemed highly improbable after his last transgression in this state, when violation of a conditional license caused the California Horse Racing Board, approving the recommendation of an administrative law judge, to revoke his license and recommend he never again be re-licensed in the state.

That was nearly two years ago. On Tuesday morning, Valenzuela was in the stable area at Del Mar with Tom Knust, who will be Valenzuela’s agent should he get another chance. Though both men politely declined to elaborate on the status of Valenzuela’s latest bid to ride here, Mike Marten, a spokesman for the CHRB, said Tuesday that the racing board has the Valenzuela matter on its docket for discussion during the closed-door, executive-session portion of its monthly meeting on Thursday at Del Mar.

Valenzuela is currently riding at Louisiana Downs.