12/23/2010 3:30PM

The Usual Q.T. has been keeping classy company

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Benoit & Associates
The Usual Q.T. will make his first start since finishing third behind Goldikova and Gio Ponti in the Breeders' Cup Mile when he runs in Monday's San Gabriel.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Finishing third to the best turf mare in the world, and the best male turf horse in North America, is quite an accomplishment, so it could be safely argued that The Usual Q.T. is coming off the best race of his life.

Third last time in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, The Usual Q.T. on Monday heads the field in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Gabriel Stakes, highlight of Day 2 at Santa Anita. And while there is no one of the caliber of Goldikova or Gio Ponti in the 1 1/8-mile grass race, the field is deceptively deep, and the possibility of soft turf is another wrinkle facing handicappers.

“Assuming it’s soft, there’s not much we can do about it,” Jim Cassidy, the trainer of The Usual Q.T., said Thursday morning. “He’s missed several works, and there’s not much we can do about that either.”

Those concerns are mitigated by having a top-class horse on his hands. The Usual Q.T. has been the best middle-distance grass horse on this circuit for a year, and he and jockey Victor Espinoza lost the Breeders’ Cup Mile by only two lengths, while finishing just a neck behind Gio Ponti.

“He ran great,” Cassidy said. “The turns were a little slick, so I told Victor to take a hold of him at the three-eighths pole. That kept him from moving too early. It would have been nice to finish second. No one was going to beat Goldikova. Being beat by those two is nothing to feel bad about.”

The Usual Q.T. faces nine others in the San Gabriel, most notably Proudinsky, who is seeking his third straight win in this race. He was second in the Citation Handicap last time out at Hollywood Park in his first start in 11 months, since last year’s San Gabriel.

Meteore was third in the Citation in his last start.

“That was one of his best races,” said his trainer, Richard Mandella. “It’ll take one like that to beat The Usual Q.T.”

Jeranimo figures to be a major player based on his eye-catching victory in his turf debut last month at Hollywood Park.

Unusual Suspect is shortening up after winning the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup in his last start.

In previous years, the San Gabriel was a handicap. But almost all Santa Anita stakes races this year are no longer handicaps. The Usual Q.T. and Unusual Suspect carry top weight of 123 pounds, with the other runners carrying 120 or 118 pounds, their allowances based on performances in graded stakes.