Countdown to the Cup: Hidden Gem
Are you looking for an early Volponi for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I)? Well, you just might have seen him on Saturday…on the grass…finishing second. When it comes to the hard-knocking Awesome Gem, who has his good days and his bad days, I can’t help hearing Ralph Kramden (yes, I’m a Honeymooners fanatic): “One of these days...one of these days – Bang! Zoom!”
Awesome Gem has shown he can give you that “bang” on any given day, against top-class horses, but he hasn’t yet been able to add the “zoom.”
Going into the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Volponi had a record of 23-7-7-3, and had won one grade II and two grade IIIs, and placed in a grade I, while going back and forth from grass to dirt, from one mile to 1 1/2 miles.
Awesome Gem has a record of 27-5-10-3, winning one grade II and placing in four grade Is, while going back and forth from grass to dirt to synthetic, from one mile to 1 1/4 miles. He has finished second (beaten a half-length) in the grade I Pacific Classic on Del Mar’s Polytrack; second in the grade I Goodwood Stakes (beaten a nose) on Santa Anita’s Cushion Track; second (beaten a length) in the Eddie Read Handicap on Del Mar’s turf; and third (behind Curlin and Hard Spun) in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on a sloppy dirt track at Monmouth.
To show just how versatile he is, he has finished in the money going:
6 1/2 furlongs on dirt at Del Mar
Granted, he doesn’t win a lot, but neither did Volponi, and it only takes one race for a horse to run the race of his life, as Volponi did in the Classic. If Craig Dollase can get him to peak and run the best race of his life on Nov. 7, he has proven he can run with the best horses in the country. In his victory in the San Fernando Stakes, he defeated eventual two-time Sprint champion Midnight Lute and multiple graded stakes winner Brother Derek. In addition to finishing third to Curlin, he’s been second to Kip Deville, beaten a length; second to Student Council , beaten a half-length; and third to Well Armed and Heatseeker, beaten 1 1/2 lengths. Even in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, in which he was in tight quarters, he was beaten only 4 1/4 lengths by Goldikova. He has finished ahead of Lava Man, Street Sense, Lawyer Ron, Any Given Saturday, Tiago, and Monterrey Jazz.
So, if he should keep moving forward off his strong, fast-closing second in Saturday’s Eddie Read, gets back on the synthetic surface, and puts it all together on Breeders’ Cup day, he could be very live to win or at least finish in the money in the Classic. Yes, it’s a stretch, but we’re talking about a 40-1 or 50-1 shot right now in a year when who knows who will be running in the Classic. West Point also has a top older horse in Macho Again, but he has not exactly distinguished himself on synthetic surfaces, and even if he does run in the Classic, there’s nothing wrong with running two.
The bottom line on Awesome Gem is, he’ll like the track, he’ll like the distance, he has the right running style, he has a hungry veteran rider who has already won the Classic, and he’s rounding into perhaps the best form of his career, with five straight big efforts on all kinds of surfaces.
Following Saturday’s Stoute rout in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I), look for Sir Michael to come to Santa Anita fully loaded, as usual. King George winner Conduit (winner of last year’s BC Turf), runner-up Tartan Bearer, and third-place finisher Ask are all top-class horses from the Stoute barn who could have a major say in the Turf. But if he’s only going to send one, it obviously would be Conduit.
Just look at some of the titans and Amazons in Europe this year: Sea the Stars, Fame and Glory, Sariska, Stacelita, Mastercraftsman, Conduit, Tartan Bearer, Ghanaati, Vision d’Etat, Rip Van Winkle, Delegator, and Paco Boy, just to name a few. If only half of these come we better have some heavy hitters waiting for them.
Watch out for the first four finishers in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Del Mar July 25, as all look to have tremendous potential. The winner, Tiny Woods, trained by Bob Baffert, has a ton of speed and showed a lot of tenacity in the stretch. Runner-up Sidney’s Candy, is a hard-running colt who also can fly and has a low-to-the ground, efficient stride. Third-place finisher Samardo ran a fantastic race, coming from last with a wide move and was flying at the end; but it is his sweeping stride that really caught the eye. He covers a lot of ground and has tremendous extension. Fourth-place finisher Marcello, another Baffert horse, also closed fast after altering course to the inside, and he, too, is an excellent mover. This could very well prove to be as strong a maiden race as you’ll see at the meet.
Strike the Tiger proved his Windsor Castle Stakes victory at Royal Ascot was no fluke, as he scored a 3 1/4-length victory in the 5 1/2-furlong Chenery Stakes at Colonial Downs to remain unbeaten. Not bad for a former $30,000 claimer.
Summer Bird looked terrific breezing at Monmouth Monday morning, coming home in :11 2/5 over a slick, muddy track Kent Desormeaux said he was kind of tentative over in the beginning. He was caught “galloping” out another eighth in :12 and change. Physically, this colt has made dramatic improvement since the Kentucky Derby. He was a little on the light side then and there was nothing really all that special about him. He improved a great deal at the Belmont and started filling out into a handsome individual. At Monmouth, he’s filled out even more, his muscle lines are more defined, and he now makes a grand appearance. The only thing that hasn’t changed about him is that he still loves his long van rides and likes to lie down and go to sleep at just about the same time every day…and can often be heard snoring away. With only five career starts, we really don’t know how good this horse is or how good he will be by the end of the year.
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