Veteran gelding Awesome Gem, a lifetime earner of more than $2 million in 36 races, reached the pinnacle of his career when he rallied along the inside to upset odds-on favorite Rail Trip by a half-length in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) (VIDEO) July 10.
It was the first grade I victory for the well-traveled Awesome Gem, a 7-year-old son of Awesome Again out of the Pentelicus mare Piano. An 8-1 shot in the Gold Cup, he is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Craig Dollase.
With David Flores aboard, Awesome Gem took advantage of a dawdling pace to stay in touch with the field while saving ground, enjoying a clean run through at the rail to challenge Rail Trip past mid-stretch. He took over under urging from Flores near the sixteenth pole and held off the desperately finishing Rail Trip, who was trying to become the third horse to repeat in the Gold Cup.
The winning time for the 1 1/4-mile distance was a slow 2:03.31 over the Cushion Track and earned Flores his third Gold Cup win. He previously won the race with Siphon in 1996 and Marquetry in 1991.
"It was a very slow pace, and everybody was looking for a position,'' said Flores, who was next-to-last in the early going. "Everybody went at the half-mile, and I tried not to lose my position and wait for that pocket to come at the end.''
Rail Trip, who won last year's Gold Cup by three lengths, was stuck wide throughout with Rafael Bejarano aboard. He was an unlucky loser as the 2-5 favorite in the field of seven, but the difference was the trip.
Richard's Kid, winner of last year's Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar, finished third.
Awesome Gem picked up his first win since taking the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) last fall in Illinois. He had lost five races in a row since then. The Hollywood Gold Cup victory was just the seventh overall for the chestnut. But with 13 seconds and four thirds in top company since 2007, Awesome Gem boosted his career earnings to $2,274,682.
"This horse can run over anything—synthetic, grass, mud, you name it,'' Dollase said after his first Gold Cup victory. "He's like fine wine. He's just getting better with age. I have to give a lot of credit to my help keeping this horse around. Keeping him sound and stopping on him when it has been necessary, and here we are.''
The Gold Cup took a different slant right out of the gate when Tres Borrachos, expected to be running freely on the lead, missed the break by a couple of lengths. That left Compari and MIke Smith out in front, and they slowed things to a crawl, going :25.82 for the opening quarter-mile, :50.95 for the half and 1:15.12 for six furlongs.
With no one willing to push the tempo, Compari continued to maintain a one-length advantage over Richard's Kid into the stretch. The stalking Rail Trip, always close while three or four paths wide, fell back a bit on the final turn, then came on again under pressure from Bejarano heading into the stretch.
Bidding four wide, Rail Trip took the lead from Compari past mid-stretch, but was quickly engaged by Awesome Gem. The latter came out a bit in the lane but was angled to the inside off of heels by Flores, who found the rail open and charged through. Under left-handed encouragement from Flores, Awesome Gem gamely prevailed over Rail Trip, who fought back valiantly.
"Mike Smith (aboard Compari) was about ready to shut off the hole, but he looked like he ran out of horse so it was very nice of him to leave me that spot,'' Flores said. "When that hole opened up, I couldn't look for any better spot than that.''
Richard's Kid, who was pulling early for Martin Garcia while racing on the inside of Rail Trip, found room between rivals near the eighth pole but could not match the first two and finished 2 3/4 lengths behind Rail Trip while a clear third. It was the first start for Richard's Kid since running seventh in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) at Meydan Racecourse March 27.
Tres Borrachos, who never recovered from his poor start, was 1 3/4 lengths farther back in fourth. He nosed Compari, with Cigar Man last.
Awesome Gem, who includes 10 turf races in his career, has just four starts on the Hollywood main track with one win. He had never raced in the Hollywood Gold Cup before. His most recent race at Hollywood came in a winning allowance effort at 1 1/16 miles more than a year ago.
Besides the Hawthorne Gold Cup, his only other grade win came in the 2007 San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) against 4-year-olds at Santa Anita. He placed in both the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and the Goodwood Stakes (gr. I) in 2007.
Awesome Gem was coming off a runner-up finish in the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) May 31. He also finished second in the Charles Town Classic and third in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds this year.
Runnymede Farm, Catesby Clay and Peter Callahan bred Awesome Gem in Kentucky.
Sent off as the fourth choice in the compact field, the winner carried 116 pounds and paid $18, $4.40 and $2.40 while topping a $32.20 exacta.
Rail Trip, who toted top weight of 123 pounds, returned $2.20 and $2.10.
"Rough trip,'' trainer Ron Ellis said of Rail Trip. "It just didn't work out. He was wide. I don't know why.''
Winner of the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and the Californian (gr. II) this spring, Rail Trip was bidding to become the first since Eleven Stitches in 1981 to sweep all three of the Hollywood's major handicap stakes in the same season. He also could have joined Native Diver and Lava Man as the only repeat winners of the Gold Cup.
Richard's Kid, who carried 121, was $2.20 to show.
"My horse usually comes from way off the pace, but this time they were all just galloping,'' said Garcia, who rode Richard's Kid for trainer Bob Baffert. "Nobody wanted to go.''
Tap It Light scratched.
The Gold Cup's purse was slashed by $250,000 to $500,000 this year.