ARCADIA, Calif. -- Graded stakes wins on Santa Anita's turf course give Jeranimo and The Usual Q. T. an advantage in Saturday's $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf here. They will need it.
Jeranimo won the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes on the course over 1 1/8 miles, the same distance as the Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds. The Usual Q. T. was third in that Dec. 27 race, and won the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby in 2009 over the same course and distance.
For Jeranimo, the San Gabriel Stakes was his turf stakes debut, and trainer Mike Pender says the horse adores the surface.
"He was born for the turf," Pender said. "He's an example of a good synthetic horse who made the transition to the grass. All systems seem set for go."
Pender needs Jeranimo at his best in the Sunshine Millions Turf. The field of eight includes five other stakes winners -- Caracortado, No Inflation, Pickapocket, Presious Passion, and Soul Candy -- and Mobilized, who was stakes-placed last year.
The Sunshine Millions Turf is part of a 10-race program that features two other stakes in the Sunshine Millions series -- the $300,000 Distaff over 1 1/16 miles and the $200,000 Sprint over six furlongs. First post is noon Pacific.
Jeranimo had an outstanding 2010, winning the Grade 2 Strub Stakes on Santa Anita's then-synthetic main track in February. He made his turf debut at Hollywood Park in November, winning an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles. A 5-year-old owned by B.J. Wright, Jeranimo has shown the maturity and consistency in recent starts that Pender long expected.
"The difference is he's older and he's wiser," Pender said.
Jeranimo will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the leading rider at Santa Anita. Bejarano will have Jeranimo off the pace for the first six furlongs, with Presious Passion, a two-time Grade 1 winner, and No Inflation, a stakes winner in 2009, expected to set the pace.
Presious Passion, who has won 14 of 49 starts and $2,679,099, was a brave second in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita in November 2009, but has one win in seven subsequent starts. No Inflation won the Grade 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park in 2009 and was third in the Oak Tree Derby that year.
The two-time stakes winner Caracortado is making his turf stakes debut. He won an optional claimer over six furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park in November, his first start since a seventh in the Preakness Stakes last May. While Caracortado was third in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs on Dec. 26, trainer Mike Machowsky expects more in the Sunshine Millions Turf.
"He's got two races under his belt, and I think we'll see further improvement on Saturday," Machowsky said.
The Usual Q. T. is the other millionaire in the field, with a record of 8 wins in 19 starts and earnings of $1,423,240. Trained by Jim Cassidy, The Usual Q. T. won the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar last July, but has lost his last four starts, including a third to Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile in November.
Cassidy said that The Usual Q. T. bled in the San Gabriel loss, but remains confident that the 5-year-old gelding can perform well on Saturday.
"On his best day, I don't care who is in the race," Cassidy said. "They don't have a chance."