10/22/2010 2:59PM

Unusual Suspect targets Cal Cup Classic


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The progeny of leading California stallion Unusual Heat have formed the basis of trainer Barry Abrams’s stable in the past few years, and may provide him with a milestone win in the $150,000 California Cup Classic at the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meeting next Saturday.

Abrams is turning to the older veteran Unusual Suspect to win the biggest prize on a day for statebreds and further enhance Unusual Heat’s status in the state.

Unusual Suspect is winless in 12 starts this year, but 10 of those starts were in graded stakes, including second-place finishes in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, by a half-length, at Santa Anita in April, and the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar in July.

The Cal Cup Classic represents a drop in class from those races, as well as the 6-year-old horse’s last start, a sixth in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Invitational over 1 1/4 miles on turf here on Oct. 3.

“He’s been in tough races,” Abrams said. “The distance races are paceless races. When he comes in one-two-three, it’s exciting for me because of the breeder awards.”

Abrams’s brother, David, bred Unusual Suspect and shares ownership with Barry and his wife, Dyan. The Cal Cup Classic will be the fourth consecutive year that Unusual Suspect has run on the showcase day for statebreds. After winning the 2007 Mile on turf, Unusual Suspect was fifth in the 2008 Mile and sixth in the 2009 Mile. The same race was not an option this year, according to Barry Abrams, who would prefer a longer race and to stay away from Liberian Freighter, who won the Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile on Oct. 9.

“He’s more of a mile and an eighth horse,” Abrams said. “He’s not going to beat Liberian Freighter. Those horses are too sharp right now. He’s an old-timer.”

Unusual Suspect has won 8 of 53 starts and $855,171. Interestingly, he followed his win in the 2007 Mile, with a victory in the defunct Hollywood Turf Express over six furlongs on turf, his last win in a sprint. This year, his shortest race has been a mile, a third in the Windy Sands Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 4.

Unusual Suspect has been a mainstay in stakes for Abrams this year during a season in which the trainer says his team is not as strong.

“I don’t have a stellar list of horses this year,” Abrams said. “I’ve got a lot of allowance horses.”

Unusual Heat leads California’s stallion in 2010 progeny earnings with $3,616,871. For the 2011 season, Unusual Heat has been moved from Old English Rancho in Sanger, Calif., to Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif. The fee will remain $20,000, according to stallion co-owner Madeline Auerbach.

“We’ve had a good response,” Auerbach said. “We’re close to doing what we hope to do to get his book full. We’re hoping he still feels as good. He looks fabulous.”

Unusual Heat will be 21 in 2011 and Auerbach said “at his age, I’m hoping for 60 or 70 mares or so. You have to make a concession. They don’t have horsey Viagra.”

The California Cup has a different format this year, with seven stakes and three overnight races. The starter handicaps over six furlongs and 1 1/2 on turf and the Distance Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/4 miles on turf that were run in past years have been eliminated. In place of those races there are $40,000 maiden races over six furlongs on the main track for 2-year-olds and 2-year-old fillies, and a six-furlong maiden race on turf for 3-year-olds and older.

The seven stakes range in value from $150,000 for the California Cup Classic to $75,000 for the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies.