01/14/2012 2:45PM

Santa Anita: Jeranimo becomes the target in San Gabriel

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Benoit & Associates
Jeranimo came from far back when he won the Citation (above), but ran close to the front when he took the Oak Tree Mile.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Jeranimo has won his last two starts in Southern California and is the defending champion in Monday’s $150,000 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita. When the San Gabriel was last run in December 2010, Jeranimo was 4-1. Expect a much shorter price on Monday.

“Now, we’re the target,” trainer Mike Pender said.

Owned by B.J. Wright, Jeranimo won the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile here in October, finished seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5, and was an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 26.

Jeranimo was near the front throughout the Oak Tree Mile and closed from sixth to win the Citation. His ability to adapt could be vital in the San Gabriel, which is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf and lacks a clear front-runner among the six entrants.

“He can be placed anywhere,” Pender said. “He’s been his old self. I think his best distance is a mile and an eighth.”

Jeranimo will be ridden by Martin Garcia, who was aboard in the Oak Tree Mile and BC Mile. Garrett Gomez rode Jeranimo in the Citation, but is sidelined with a heel injury.

Pender cited soft turf for Jeranimo’s loss in the BC Mile when he finished 5 3/4 lengths behind upset winner Court Vision. “When he came back to the barn after the race, his shoes were literally falling off,” Pender said.

Firm turf is expected for the San Gabriel.

Jeranimo is the most accomplished runner in the field in the last year, though the 6-year-old gelding The Usual Q.T. has the highest career earnings, at $1,513,240. Trained by Jim Cassidy, The Usual Q.T. has not started since finishing third in the Grade 2 American Handicap at Hollywood Park last May. The Usual Q.T. is winless in seven starts since taking the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar in July 2010.

Cassidy expects The Usual Q.T. to race near the front in the San Gabriel, but is concerned about the distance. He had considered waiting and starting The Usual Q.T. in the $150,000 Arcadia Stakes over a mile on turf on Feb. 4, but decided not to pass up this opportunity.

“He can be close,” Cassidy said. “I wish it was a mile and not a mile and an eighth. I can hope for a placing. I’d prefer to wait for the Arcadia Mile, but if something goes awry I’d be mad at myself.”

The race has three other stakes winners from the last year. Norvsky won the California Cup Classic here in October, but was fifth in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Nov. 19. Ashtar won the El Derby in Chile last February, but is winless in four starts in this country. Imponente Purse won the Grade 3 Sunset Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf last summer.

Sandor, who makes his graded stakes debut, will be an outsider. He was fifth in an optional claimer on Jan. 5.