Seven-year-old Awesome Gem, the pride of the ownership syndicate West Point Thoroughbreds and trainer Craig Dollase, takes his record fourth shot at the $1 million Pacific Classic Presented by TVG (gr. I) as one of the favorites in a field of 10 Aug. 28.
A lifetime earner of $2,274,682, Awesome Gem broke through with his first grade I win in the Hollywood Gold Cup July 10.
“It was very gratifying for me, and for the horse,” said Dollase, who has trained Awesome Gem since the chestnut gelding began his career, during an Aug. 24 news conference. The Gold Cup, like the Pacific Classic, is contested at 1 1/4 miles.
Awesome Again has won just seven times in 36 starts but has earned the admiration of everyone in the business with a competitive streak that has seen him finish second or third 17 other times against the best around. He's won over just about every surface except Del Mar's Polytrack, where he has three seconds in five starts. In his prior efforts in the Pacific Classic, the son of Awesome Again ran second in 2007 and seventh in each of the past two renewals.
The 2010 Pacific Classic, now the only regularly run race in California that is worth $1 million, is the eighth event on the Del Mar program with a post time of 4:30 p.m. PDT. All 10 older horses will carry 124 pounds. The winner's share of the purse, $600,000, as well as a starting berth in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, are at stake. The Pacific Classic is part of an outstanding Del Mar card that includes the Pat O'Brien Stakes (gr. I) for sprinters and the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT).
The 3-1 morning line favorite is The Usual Q. T., who has done his best running on turf and is coming off a sharp two-length victory in the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) July 24. Second choice is Richard's Kid, who won the 2009 Pacific Classic by a neck over Einstein at odds of 24-1.
Awesome Gem finished third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic after running second in the Goodwood (gr. I) and if anything, only seems to be getting better. He ran second in last year's Eddie Read on the turf as well as the Longacres Mile (gr. III) on dirt, and he won the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) on dirt as well. He has finished in the money in his last four starts this year -- at four different tracks.
“He’s been a real gem of a horse,” Dollase said. “He shows up. He’s a trainer’s dream.”
Dollase appreciates Awesome Gem most for his durability and credits Jeff Bloom, vice president of West Coast operations for West Point Thoroughbreds, for the partnership's patience.
"He's always been a pretty easy horse on himself," Dollase said. "I guess I should be a little surprised that he's running as well as he is at 7, but really I'm not. I think it has to do with the way he treats himself, and with the way we've campaigned him. I think Jeff and I have done a good job with that, and we don't mind giving ourselves a little pat on the back."
Dollase said he learned from his father Wally to give horses a "brain break," a chance to freshen up with a short break. "I'm a big advocate of that," the trainer said. "What we've been able to do with 'Awesome' is a credit to the entire team, owners included. When he's needed some time off we've always stopped on him and given him that time. Because of that, he's rewarded us with some great efforts. He's the kind of horse that shows up every time."
They'll hope for the best this weekend.
“I think he really prefers the Hollywood surface,” Dollase said. “He trains there 10 months of the year. But he’s moving good over this (Del Mar) surface.”
David Flores has the mount and they break from post 9, just inside of The Usual Q. T.
Trainer James Cassidy opted to stay home after the big win in the Eddie Read with The Usual Q. T. rather than take the 4-year-old gelding east for the major turf events there. The California-bred son of Unusual Heat has eight wins from 15 starts and a bankroll of $993,320.
All of his victories have come on the lawn, where he is 8-for-10 lifetime with one second. Last year, he won the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT), Hollywood Derby (gr. IT), and Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIIT) in succession. But in his most recent start on a synthetic track, The Usual Q. T. faded to last after pressing the pace in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita Jan. 30.
Victor Espinoza will be aboard The Usual Q. T., who has won both of his starts since finishing fourth in the Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) March 27 at Meydan. The Usual Q.T. was clocked in :58 3/5 for five furlongs at Del Mar Aug. 23, co-fastest of 59 workers at the distance. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 under Espinoza.
Richard's Kid got up for jockey Mike Smith last year in the Pacific Classic after a furious stretch run. The 5-year-old Lemon Drop Kid horse raced in the silks of Arnold Zetcher that day, but subsequently was sold to his current connections, Zabeel Racing International. The Bob Baffert trainee has won once in six starts since the 2009 Pacific Classic, taking the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February.
Third in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Richard's Kid is coming off a third-place effort in the 1 1/2-mile Cougar II Handicap (gr. III) at Del Mar July 30, the same race he used as prep for last year's upset. Richard's Kid drilled four furlongs in :46 4/5 at Del Mar Aug. 23, getting the last eighth of a mile in :11 1/5 while working in company.
Dakota Phone, a 5-year-old Zavata gelding trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, enters off a late-running half-length victory in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at nine furlongs July 31. Dakota Phone closed from last in the field with a five-wide move into the lane to score a mild upset. Joel Rosario says aboard.
Drawing the rail was Battle of Hastings, an accomplished turf runner who finished a strong second in the San Diego, his first time racing on anything but grass. The 4-year-old gelded son of Royal Applause, a multiple grade II winner trained by Jeff Mullins, drilled five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at Hollywood Park under Brice Blanc Aug. 23.
The only cross-country shipper coming for the race, WinStar Farm's Hold Me Back , arrived Aug. 23 from Belmont Park and is under the care of Leanna Willaford. She has been an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott for 10 years and spent time at Santa Anita this past winter with a Mott string.
Hold Me Back, who won Woodbine's Dominion Day Handicap (Can-III) July 1, jogged Aug. 24 and galloped a mile the following morning. The 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway will be ridden by Garrett Gomez, who has won the Pacific Classic four times, most recently in 2008 aboard Mott's Go Between. Gomez won in 2000 and 2001 aboard Skimming and won again in 2005 on Borrego.
Spendthrift Farm's Temple City , a 5-year-old son of Dynaformer trained by Carla Gaines, won the Cougar II in gate-to-wire fashion by 3 1/4 lengths in his last start. Unusual Suspect ran second in the same race.
Trainer Ben Cecil entered a pair in the Pacific Classic. They are British group I winner Crowded House, fourth in the Eddie Read in his U.S. debut last time out, and Isle of Giant's, fourth in the San Diego in his stakes debut.
$1 Million Pacific Classic Presented by TVG (gr. I, Race 8, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/4 Miles (Synthetic)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Battle of Hastings (GB), B Blanc, J Mullins, 10/1
2. Isle of Giant's (KY), P A Valenzuela, B D Ceci, 30/1
3. Dakota Phone (KY), J Rosario, J Hollendorfer, 6/1
4. Temple City (KY), R Bejarano, C Gaines, 5/1
5. Unusual Suspect (CA), A Quinonez, B Abrams, 20/a
6. Richard's Kid (MD), M E Smith, B Baffert, 7/2
7. Hold Me Back (KY), G K Gomez, W I Mott, 8/1
8. Crowded House (GB), C S Nakatani, B D Cecil, 20/1
9. Awesome Gem (KY), D R Flores, C Dollase, 9/2
10. The Usual Q. T. (CA), V Espinoza, J M Cassidy, 3/1
All carry 124 pounds.