01/28/2010 12:00AM

Cassidy's star provides reason for enthusiasm


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jim Cassidy's attention will be back to the sport of racing full-time this winter, which for him is something of a relief.

Cassidy ends a tumultuous term as president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers this week. Saturday, he starts stable star The Usual Q.T. in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita.

Those two events seemed unlikely six months ago. In the second half of 2009, a group of trainers formed an organization determined to take control of the CTT's board of directors. Cassidy was not allied with that group, and when elections for the board were held recently, Cassidy did not seek to retain a seat.

During those months, the focus of his stable increasingly centered on The Usual Q.T., a gelding that needed five races to beat maidens and then won a race at Del Mar and has not lost since.

Cassidy, who excelled in past years with European imports such as Katdogawn, Singhalese, and Ticker Tape and the former-claimer-turned-millionaire Moscow Burning, has found another nationally prominent horse.

"Without the big horse, it's difficult to be enthusiastic all the time," he said.

Cassidy's enthusiasm for The Usual Q.T. is high, but his interest in racing's front-office affairs, and politics in general, is at a low.

His decision to leave CTT management is tinged with aggravation. The organization has always been restricted in its actions to some extent, since the Thoroughbred Owners of California is recognized as the state's official representative for horsemen.

"I thought we were making inroads with management, but it wasn't enough for those guys," Cassidy said of the trainers who sought change. "I couldn't bring anything to the [new board] besides disagreement. If they go forward with an aggressive agenda, it will make people mad, and it will get worse than it is now."

One hot-stove issue among trainers is synthetic tracks in California. Some want them to stay, others want them out as soon as possible. Cassidy acknowledged that synthetic tracks have not had the positive impact many expected, but he said he fears what racing would have been like last week, when the track lost three days of racing because of insufficient drainage, had there been a dirt track at Santa Anita.

"As far as the racing surface is concerned, I've had injuries," he said. "We've all had injuries. If we'd had a dirt track, there would have been fatalities, I assume."

Such grim subjects are on the everyday agenda for a CTT president, who hears constant reminders from fellow trainers.

For Cassidy, his cell phone will continue to ring constantly, but mostly from clients seeking updates on their runners. Just keeping the partnership that owns The Usual Q.T. up to speed is a chore. The team includes Don Van, Michael Nentwig, George Saadeh, and Jeffrey Byer.

They are expected at Santa Anita on Saturday to see if The Usual Q.T. can win his fifth consecutive stakes, and the most lucrative of his career, in the Sunshine Millions Classic, which is run over 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic main track for California-breds and Florida-breds.

The Sunshine Millions Classic will be The Usual Q.T.'s first stakes appearance on a synthetic track. His four-race winning streak was accomplished on turf - the California Cup Mile in October, the over a mile here Dec. 26.

The buzz around the barn began at Del Mar last summer, when The Usual Q.T. beat maidens by 2 1/2 lengths Aug. 5 and came back to win an optional claimer for statebreds by four lengths Sept. 2.

"I knew the horse had talent," Cassidy said. "I didn't know he'd do this. After the [optional claimer], I said I'd run in the Cal Cup. When he won the Cal Cup, we had no choice but to run in the Oak Tree Derby. After that he really blossomed. He trained so good."

In the $300,000 Hollywood Derby, The Usual Q.T. stalked the pace to early stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths over four-time stakes winner Battle of Hastings. The Hollywood Derby was Cassidy's first Grade 1 win since the 2006 Frank Kilroe Mile with Milk It Mick.

In the last decade, Cassidy has taken advantage of the large market for horses of racing age in England, particularly horses reaching the end of their 2- and 3-year-old seasons that did not appear to be stakes prospects for English trainers. Such horses can suit California racing if they have allowance-class conditions or if they are bleeders that could benefit from the addition of Lasix.

But for this year, he added four horses from Europe instead of the typical double-digit infusion from preceding years. The difference was caused by the recession, and the way it affected some of his clients.

"I didn't have the money this year," said Cassidy, who trains 30 horses.

The group of Europeans imports includes Hasty, who was third in the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes at Newmarket last October and is owned by Forging Oaks Farm. Cassidy is also eager to start Full Mandate, who finished eighth in the at Hollywood Park in November in her U.S. debut. Those fillies will be pointed to races such as the American Oaks this summer at Hollywood Park, which Cassidy won in 2004 with Ticker Tape.

That was the year he guided Moscow Burning to the title of California-bred Horse of the Year.

"I would have taken her to any track and run against any field at any time," Cassidy said. "That's how much respect I had for her."

Whether Cassidy will some day say the same of The Usual Q.T. depends on races such as Saturday's Sunshine Millions Classic.