Awesome Gem
Photo: Benoit
Awesome Gem

Terry Finley and his wife, Debbie, started West Point Thoroughbreds in 1991. Their first horse was a $5,000 claimer from Philadelphia Park. At that time, the Finleys were just trying to scrape together enough money to cover training and feed bills.

Sixteen years later, things have certainly changed. West Point Thoroughbreds is now one of the premier racing syndications in the country and will have five starters on Breeders’ Cup weekend, including its first Classic runner, Awesome Gem.

“It’s great. We’re very proud,” said Terry Finley, who runs the operation out of his Mt. Laurel, New Jersey office. “We’re really blessed to be in the situation we’re in. Having it at Monmouth this year makes it really neat.

“When you’re at Philly Park just trying to make ends meet, you can dream about the Breeders’ Cup. But 10 years ago to think we’d have five Breeders’ Cup starters wasn’t really plausible. Things have kind of just rolled and rolled as we built the infrastructure of the company.”

West Point manages the portfolios of more than 300 investors, with offices also in Kentucky, California and New York. Currently it has about 80 horses in syndication, with more than 50 either racing or in training.

Before this year, West Point has had two Breeders’ Cup starters: Ethan Man, who was 10th in the 2003 Sprint, and Yolanda B. Too, a 12th-place finisher in the 2005 Distaff. This time around, West Point figures to have a much better chance of hitting the winner’s circle.

Aside from Awesome Gem, West Point will trot out Dream Rush in the Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), Lear’s Princess in the Distaff (gr. I), Irish Smoke in the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), and High Finance in the Dirt Mile. In total, West Point has had five grade I winners in 2007.

Awesome Gem, by Awesome Again, out of Pentelicus mare Piano, is not among those grade I winners. But with any luck, the 4-year-old gelding could have four graded stakes wins. Trained by Craig Dollase, the California runner has been a hard-luck second in three consecutive graded stakes tries, including a half-length defeat to Student Council in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and most recently, a nose back of Tiago in the Goodwill Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Sept. 29.

Despite the string of second-place finishes, Awesome Gem, who was bred in Kentucky by Runnymeade Farm Inc., Catesby Clay and Peter Callahan, has shown he can compete with the best. It gives Finley hope he will surprise people in the Classic, even with such a deep field.

“He’s not a super fast horse, but he likes to mix it up,” said Finley, who bought him as a 2-year-old for $150,000 and had to give him nine months off because of a pair of ankle chips. “He’ll have to run the race of his life and get a couple breaks to win, but you never know. I’m confident that he will run really well. Anything can happen in a mile-and-a-quarter race. We hope he can pick up the pieces.”

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