01/30/2010 12:00AM

The Usual Q.T. in surface test

Benoit & Associates
The Usual Q.T. wins the Sir Beaufort last time out over the Santa Anita turf. He tries Pro-Ride in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The Usual Q.T. won four stakes on turf in the final three months of 2009, going from being just a California-bred stakes winner in October to the winner of three graded stakes by Christmas.

Next is a challenge that could lead to even bigger prizes. The Usual Q.T. makes his synthetic-track stakes debut in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic over 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita, a race that could lead to a start in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

"The thing about this horse is that we haven't changed anything," trainer Jim Cassidy said. "He's lovely to be around. He trains and he's aggressive."

While enthusiastic about The Usual Q.T.'s development, Cassidy has some reservations about Saturday's race.

"I don't know if he's as good on synthetic tracks as he is on turf," he said last weekend.

The Usual Q.T. has won six consecutive races, starting with a maiden win on turf at Del Mar last August. The highlight was a comprehensive victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby over 1 1/4 miles in November.

The Classic, restricted to California-breds and Florida-breds, is the richest of six Sunshine Millions races at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita on Saturday. The California track is also hosting the $200,000 Filly and Mare Sprint and the $300,000 Filly and Mare Turf, which along with the Classic are the sixth through eighth races on an 11-race program that begins at 11:30 a.m. Pacific. The races will be televised on HRTV.

Four of the Sunshine Millions races - the Distaff and Turf at Gulfstream and the Filly and Mare Sprint and Filly and Mare Turf - are part of the $1 Magna 5 bet, which combines five races run at tracks owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. in a bet that takes a little more than one hour to complete.

The Classic is dominated by California-based runners. There are only two shippers - Palladio, the winner of two stakes at Woodbine last year, and Wicked Style, who placed in stakes at Arlington Park and Keeneland last year.

The race drew 11 runners but is expected to have a field of 10. Bad Action, trained by Todd Pletcher, will stay in Florida for Saturday's Sunshine Millions Turf at Gulfstream Park, according to Pletcher's California-based assistant, Michael McCarthy.

The Usual Q.T. will be favored, and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who has been aboard for his last three wins, including the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort Stakes over a mile on turf on Dec. 26. Expect The Usual Q.T. to stalk the pace.

"I wouldn't want to have him too close too early," Cassidy said.

Cassidy he anticipated that Compari, a rival sent out by trainer Marty Jones, would go to the lead, "and hopefully somebody else will go with him." He said he was hoping that The Usual Q.T. would be "about four or five lengths off the pace."

"He gets a little keen going to the first turn, but Victor can get him to settle," Cassidy said.

Compari, a California-bred, is seeking his fifth consecutive win. He is proven over 1 1/8 miles, having won the Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-old statebreds at Hollywood Park last April. Plagued by foot problems last summer, Compari has won twice in the last two months in turf sprints, an allowance race at Hollywood Park in December and the Sensational Star Handicap on the hillside turf course here on Jan. 1.

The California-breds outnumber the Florida-breds, 7-4, in the race. The California-bred contingent includes Bold Chieftain, who won the California Cup Classic here in October, and Acclamation, who was third in the Hollywood Derby in November.

The Florida-bred Palladio is quite capable of winning the Classic. Trained by Roger Attfield, Palladio has not started since winning the Grade 2 Autumn Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Woodbine last November, and has worked quickly at Payson Park in Florida in recent weeks.

While Palladio was 12th in the 2009 Sunshine Millions Classic at 49-1 on a dirt track at Gulfstream Park last year, he has won four stakes on Woodbine's Polytrack surface. He has never run on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride.

"They tell it's pretty consistent," Attfield said. "Right now, we feel he's in very good shape."