INGLEWOOD, Calif. (Nov. 29, 2009) — California-bred The Usual Q.T., given a perfect stalking trip by Victor Espinoza, took command early in the stretch and went on to score his fifth consecutive victory in Sunday’s 68th running of the $300,000 Hollywood Derby (video) at Hollywood Park.
The Usual Q.T., giving an on-track crowd of 9,814 an encore less than an hour after super mare Zenyatta was given a send-off by Hollywood Park and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, became the first Cal-bred to win the Grade I event since Slew The Dragon in 1985.
The bay gelding, by popular California sire Unusual Heat, covered 1 ¼ miles on the Lakeside Turf Course in a snappy 1:59.69 while traveling the distance for the first time in his career. The third choice, he was not seriously challenged while holding off 5-2 favorite Battle of Hastings by 1 ½ lengths. Acclamation, a 75-1 shot, was another half-length back in third, a nose in front of Al Khali.
Rescue Squad finished fifth in the field of 12, followed by Meteore, second choice Take the Points, Black Bear Island, Straight Story, Sal the Barber, Sir Al and Blazing Spirit.
“Everything went my way,” Espinoza said. “At the half-mile, he was just cruising, I mean really, really strong. In the middle of the turn, I looked back and nobody was coming. I had so much horse, I was just waiting for somebody to come up behind me, but there wasn’t anybody. Turning for home I let him go and he just cut. The way he ran today was unbelievable.”
The Usual Q.T., owned by a partnership headed by Don Van Kempen which also includes Michael Nentwig, George Saadeh and Jeff Byer, did not break his maiden until his sixth start. Since then he has not been beaten. He won the Oak Tree Derby in his previous start.
“Victor did a nice job,” trainer Jim Cassidy said. “Victor told me before the race — and I’m not a betting man — but he told be before the race that he’d win. But I’ve had jocks tell me that before.
“He had a perfect trip,” Cassidy added. “He was loaded down the backside. Coming down the stretch, I think if he gets beat, he has to fall down because I know what he can do down the stretch. He’s an absolute amazing horse. It’s a shame he’s a Cal-bred because they kind of look down their nose at Cal-breds. But he beat an awful good field today.”
The Usual Q.T., who banked $180,000 to raise his earnings to $406,670, paid $11.40, $5 and $4 while helping set up a Pick Six carryover of $249,255. Battle of Hastings returned $4 and $2.80, while the show payoff on Acclamation was $18.60.
In the co-feature, Joel Rosario rode eastern invader The Mailet to an upset victory in the $100,000 Miesque Stakes (video) for owner Jose Singer, who convinced trainer Bruce Levine to send the filly west.
“We had Joel Rosario, who used to ride my horses in the Dominican Republic,” Singer said. “I started Joel off there. Then last year I brought Joel in December to Puerto Rico and he won the big race (Clasico del Caribe) with Sicotico. It was a big deal because a Dominican hadn’t won that race in 40 years. Today he rode the race the way we had it in our heads.”
The Mailet covered one mile on turf in 1:35.05 to win for the second time in four starts, paying $25.40, $9.40 and $6. In the Slips, a half-length back in second, paid $5 and $3.40 while favorite Connie and Michael returned $3.
Zenyatta, meanwhile, the super mare who became the only female winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic earlier this month at Santa Anita Park to finish her career with a perfect 14-for-14 record, was saluted by fans following the seventh race.
She paraded with exercise rider Steve Willard up before visiting the Governor, owners Jerry and Ann Moss, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, groom Mario Espinoza, his wife and hotwalker Carmen Zamora and others in the winner’s circle to the great enjoyment of the crowd.
Patrons cheered the finish of the Classic when it was replayed and gave Zenyatta a huge ovation when she left the winner’s circle for the last time, heading back to her Hollywood Park stall with trainer John Shirreffs and her team in tow.
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