04/07/2009 11:00PM

Unusual Smoke proves a productive claim

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ARCADIA, Calif. - For more than a year, trainer A.C. Avila has had his eye on Unusual Smoke.

"He acted like a late-developing horse," Avila said.

When Unusual Smoke was entered in a $12,500 claimer in January, Avila jumped at the chance to buy the 4-year-old. It has turned out to be an astute claim. Unusual Smoke will be after his third consecutive win - all for Avila - in an optional claimer over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Santa Anita on Friday.

Avila thinks that the distance and surface of Friday's race is an ideal fit for Unusual Smoke, whose winning streak began with a starter allowance over a mile on turf Feb. 19 and continued in an allowance race for California-breds on the main track March 19. Avila was more impressed with the turf race.

"I think there is a big difference between the grass race and the synthetic," Avila said. "On the grass, he ran so easily."

Owned by Santa Ines Stable, Unusual Smoke has earned $57,200 since being claimed. Avila nearly claimed Unusual Smoke for $25,000 at Golden Gate Fields in December but was glad he waited a month.

"For the price, I thought I'd take a chance," he said. "I thought he'd be good with age."

Friday's race will be the longest race of Unusual Smoke's career, which includes 3 wins in 10 starts.

The race drew seven entrants, four of which are not eligible to be claimed - Catastaire, Dynamalt, Master Daniel, and Unusual Smoke. They are the only horses among the 62 entered on the eight-race card that cannot be claimed. Four of the eight races are for maiden claimers.

Isipingo is eligible to be claimed from for $40,000. Trained by Craig Dollase, Unusual Smoke's first trainer, Isipingo was second in optional claimers over 1 1/4 miles on the main track here in February and March. He has excelled over 1 1/2 miles on turf, finishing second in the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap here in October 2007.

Catastaire, who has one victory in 18 starts, and Master Daniel, who ran in two sprint stakes last fall, are trying 1 1/2 miles on turf for the first time. They were second and third in an allowance race over 1 1/4 miles on turf March 8.

Master Daniel was the 3-2 favorite in that race and was beaten two lengths.