Awesome Gem, the richest horse to ever race in Washington, was too much for local star Noosa Beach in the $200,000 Longacres Mile Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Emerald Downs Aug. 21.
Sent off as the slight 8-5 favorite over Noosa Beach in the field of 11 for Washington's signature race, Awesome Gem launched his bid from the outside rounding the far turn and overtook the pacesetting Noosa Beach in the stretch. Under steady handling from David Flores, the 8-year-old son of Awesome Again opened up a clear advantage at the furlong pole and won comfortably by 1 1/2 lengths.
Noosa Beach, who captured the Longacres Mile last year, settled for second this time.
Awesome Gem, winner of the 2010 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), came into the race with earnings of more than $2.5 million.
Racing in the black and gold silks of West Point Thoroughbreds, Awesome Gem had to overcome the far outside post and a quick run to the first turn. But in spite of being wide on both turns, he handled all the obstacles in fine style, completing the trip in a solid 1:34.80 on a fast track. He became the second horse to win the Longacres Mile from post 11 in 42 tries.
Noosa Beach, one slot to his inside, was also compromised by the post, and jockey Gallyn Mitchell had to use a bit of his speedy 5-year-old Harbour the Gold gelding to clear the field into the clubhouse turn. In addition, Noosa Beach shouldered top weight of 125 pounds, three more than Awesome Gem.
With Awesome Gem rating well off the early leaders in mid-pack while carried wide into the first turn, Noosa Beach led Slew the Man and Posse Power through pressing fractions of :23.95, :46.62, and 1:10.37. Mitchell knew he was in trouble, going to his whip early as Awesome Gem swung into gear and emerged as a major challenger on the outside.
Noosa Beach fought back but could not keep up as Awesome Gem took the lead and proved best all the way to the wire.
"I just followed Noosa Beach to the rail and settled behind the leaders," Flores said of his tactics aboard the winner. "He's such an easy horse to relax that if I let him relax too much, he'll fall asleep. I wanted to keep my horse within range, with my eyes targeted on the leader.
"When I asked him to go, he started cruising," added Flores who also won the Longacres Mile aboard Isitingood in 1996. "My horse was making such a big run that when we went by, I saw (Noosa Beach) fight back, but by that time it was too late. I never gave them a chance. I give all the credit to the horse. He shows up every time."
Noosa Beach came home a clear second by two lengths. Posse Power finished third with former Washington resident Russell Baze aboard.
"Everything went as planned," Mitchell said. "(Noosa Beach) broke great and we got over to the fence without any problems. He was doing it easy on the front end just pricking his ears. I wanted to keep him off the fence a little bit because the rail was a little deep. He just kept digging in the whole way.
"This horse has never quit for me once this year. I'm really proud of him, and I'm glad to be a part of him. I take nothing away from the winner. That's a nice horse."
Trained in Southern California by Craig Dollase, Awesome Gem ran second to Assessment in the 2009 Longacres Mile, the last time the imposing chestnut raced at one mile on dirt. Bred in Kentucky by Runnymeade Farm, Catesby Clay, and Peter Callahan, the gelding is out of the Pentelicus mare Piano.
Awesome Gem has now raced 46 times in his career, amassing a record of nine wins, 14 seconds, and five thirds. He extended his lifetime earnings to $2,688,270 with the winner's share of $110,000. He has now finished in the top three in 18 graded events during his lucrative career and has five wins and six placings in 15 starts on natural dirt.
"David Flores rode a great race; he helped overcome the outside post and gave the horse a chance to win," said Dollase, who watched the race from a Del Mar suite with Terry Finley of West Point and a group of friends. "And then Awesome Gem showed his true heart down the lane. You don't see horses like him too often. I'm very excited to finally get a Longacres Mile, because we've tried so hard to win this race."
Assistant trainer Sergio Martin saddled Awesome Gem in place of Dollase.
Noosa Beach, who put in a game effort for second, was looking for his eighth consecutive win -- all in stakes -- for trainer Doris Harwood.
Awesome Gem paid $5.20, $3, and $2.80. Noosa Beach returned $3.20 and $2.80 and completed a $14 exacta. Posse Power was $5.20 to show.
Posse Power finished 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Crew Leader in fourth. He was followed by 2008 Longacres Mile winner Wasserman, a 9-year-old making his fifth consecutive appearance in the race. J P Jammer, Winning Machine, Assessment, Slew the Man, Honour the Deputy, and Saratoga Boot completed the order of finish.
St Liams Halo was scratched.