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Grade 1 winners highlight Sunshine Millions card at Santa Anita

The Usual Q. T.'s last win came in the Eddie Read (Benoit Photos)

New York City-born trainer James Cassidy figures to be a force on Saturday in Santa Anita's portion of the ninth annual Sunshine Millions competition when he saddles multiple Grade 1 winners THE USUAL Q. T. (Unusual Heat) and EVENING JEWEL (Northern Afleet) in their respective events.

Conducted in concert with Gulfstream Park, the bicoastal event offers purses of $1.8 million and is comprised of six races exclusively for California- and Florida-breds. The Usual Q. T. will be the leading challenger to Floridian multi-millionaire PRESIOUS PASSION (Royal Anthem) among eight entrants in the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf while Evening Jewel heads a cast of nine in the $300,000 Distaff. The $200,000 Sprint, featuring COST OF FREEDOM (Cee's Tizzy), completes the Sunshine Million races at Santa Anita.

The Turf, set for 1 1/8 miles over Santa Anita's Camino Real turf course, has attracted a formidable lineup that includes such notables as Florida-bred JERANIMO (Congaree) and Cal-bred CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams), in addition to Presious Passion and The Usual Q. T.

The Mary Hartmann-trained Presious Passion has amassed $2,679,099 in earnings while racing 49 times, compiling a mark of 14-7-2 along the way. The eight-year-old gelding will be joined in the Turf by Elvis Trujillo, aboard for his last 16 races.

Presious Passion won Oak Tree's Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship S. (G1) by 2 1/2 lengths over the Santa Anita turf in October of 2009 before losing by a half-length to Conduit (Ire) in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita. No stranger to The Great Race Place, he was second in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita in January of that year.

Presious Passion is no stranger to Santa Anita's turf (Benoit Photos)

The veteran campaigner, who clearly likes the grass course at Santa Anita and does his best running on the front end, will be attempting to end a five-race losing streak when returning to Southern California.

The Usual Q. T. is exiting a third-place run in the San Gabriel S. (G2), but before that one was third by two lengths in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) behind Cartier Horse of the Year Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa) and Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat). Those two just repeated as champion turf female and horse, respectively, on Monday at the Eclipse Awards.

Cassidy gave The Usual Q. T. a brief freshening following his Breeders' Cup run, and the five-year-old gelding returned as the favorite in the San Gabriel on December 27, but was upset by Jeranimo when fading to third.

The Usual Q. T., who will have regular rider Victor Espinoza aboard for Saturday's event, needed the race according to Cassidy.

The San Gabriel was the second win in as many turf tries for Jeranimo, who captured a 1 1/16-mile grass allowance at Hollywood Park in late November. The Mike Pender-trained five-year-old also scored in the Strub S. (G2) and finished fourth in the Sunshine Millions Classic last year on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

"This horse is as good as he's ever been," Pender said, with jockey Rafael Bejarano adding, "He's really improving."

Caracortado may have found a new home on turf (Benoit Photos)

Caracortado was an impressive winner in his only race on turf, a sprint at Hollywood Park in November. He came back to run third at seven furlongs in the Malibu S. (G1) behind a track-record setting Twirling Candy (Candy Ride [Arg]) and Smiling Tiger (Hold That Tiger) on Santa Anita's opening day, December 26.

Trained by Michael Machowsky, the four-year-old captured the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) at Santa Anita as a sophomore to extend his then unbeaten streak to five races. His turf score came following an extended vacation after the chestnut ran seventh in the Preakness S. (G1), and Machowsky is welcoming the change in surface back to turf.

"I'm kind of anxious to get him back on the grass," he said.

Caracortado prepared for his Sunshine Millions engagement with a five-furlong work on Saturday at Santa Anita in 1:01.

"He's great," Machowsky said. "He worked (Saturday) and flew home down the lane. He looks great this morning so we're good to go. My horse is doing well right now."

 Joe Talamo has been aboard since Caracortado came back to competition and has the call in the Turf.

Evening Jewel (inside) proved herself in route events last year (Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs)

Evening Jewel finished third behind Dubai Majesty and Switch (Quiet American) in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) at Churchill Downs on November 5, but Cassidy doesn't expect the stretch-out to 1 1/16 miles in the Distaff to be a challenge for the filly.

The four-year-old California-bred hadn't been off the board since her maiden debut at Del Mar in August of 2009 until reappearing on January 2 in the Monrovia S. (G3) at Santa Anita, where she wound up fifth on the wire.

During her sophomore season, Evening Jewel posted Grade 1 triumphs in the grassy Del Mar Oaks and the Ashland S. on Keeneland's Polytrack while also losing a pair of Grade 1 events by a nose in the Kentucky Oaks and Las Virgenes. Those two losses came at the hoofs of recently crowned champion three-year-old filly Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision), whose own recent return resulted in a runner-up finish in the El Encino S. (G2) last Sunday.

Evening Jewel's primary competition in the Distaff might come from trainer Vladimir Cerin's BRIECAT (Adcat), a six-year-old Florida-bred mare who won the Las Palmas H. (G2) at Hollywood Park last October before venturing to Delta Downs to take the Treasure Chest S. by 5 1/2 lengths. Patrick Valenzuela, who was aboard for both those wins, has the return call.

ALL DUE RESPECT (Value Plus), who finished ahead of champion Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision) in last year's Santa Anita Oaks (G1), also went on to place in the Railbird S. (G3), Iowa Oaks (G3) and Harold C. Ramser Sr. H. (G3). She prepped for the Sunshine Millions with a swift second-level allowance score on December 27 over a mile.

In search of his fourth straight win, eight-year-old Cost of Freedom will take some beating in the six-furlong Sprint. The John Sadler-trained Cal-bred has won 11 of his 21 starts, including the 2008 Ancient Title S. (G1) at Santa Anita two races after being claimed for $50,000.

Cost of Freedom wasn't seen again until finishing fourth in the 2009 Pirate's Bounty S., which he used as a stepping stone to that year's Ancient Title. The dark bay ran fourth as the defending champ, but subsequently put together a bang-up third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita when crossing the wire just a neck behind of the winner.

Cost of Freedom is going for stakes win number 4 (Benoit Photos)

Talamo guided Cost of Freedom in his final three races of 2010, which resulted in victories in the Vernon O. Underwood S. (G3), California Cup Sprint and Miles Tyson S., and will be back at the controls of the gelding on Saturday.

QUICK ENOUGH (High Brite), who finished 4 1/2 lengths behind Cost of Freedom when second in the December 11 Miles Tyson, may be among the most formidable challengers on Saturday.

The seven-year-old gelding was claimed for $40,000 in August by trainer Doug O'Neill and went on to win the Morvich H. (G3) on turf the following month. O'Neill is optimistic about Quick Enough's chances in the Sprint following a nice five-furlong breeze in 1:00 4/5 on Saturday.

"He's doing fantastic." O'Neill said Sunday morning at Clockers' Corner. "He breezed yesterday, came out of it in great shape and we entered today with Pat Valenzuela."

Quick Enough is O'Neill's lone entry in the Sunshine Millions on either coast.

"I wish we had more but he's the only one we have," O'Neill remarked. "I would trade places with maybe Cost of Freedom but other than that I wouldn't trade places with anybody. I like the way we're going and he's training great."

On a 10-race program beginning at noon (PST) Saturday, Santa Anita will commence its Sunshine Millions stakes races with the Sprint going as the 5TH race. It will be followed in succession by the Turf and Distaff.


 


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