He's the gift that keeps on giving and the equine version of the Energizer Bunny, one who has definitely lived up to his name. Making the 52nd start of his career Aug. 19, 9-year-old Awesome Gem steps forward to defend his title in the $200,000 Longacres Mile Handicap (gr. III) at Emerald Downs.
The Longacres Mile is race eight on a 10-race card, with an approximate post time of 5:39 p.m. PST. Grade I-winning Awesome Gem carries high weight of 123 pounds and will break from post 3 under David Flores as the morning-line favorite at odds of 5-2.
"We haven't over-raced him, we've kind of picked our spots, and he's handled every challenge in good shape," said trainer Craig Dollase, who saddles the son of Awesome Again for West Point Thoroughbreds. "We love the timing between this race and his last race, and of course he's the defending champ so we're looking forward to going up there and getting the job done."
Awesome Gem won the Longacres Mile by 1 1/2 lengths in 2011; it was an event in which he was the runner-up in 2009. This year the chestnut gelding has won two of four starts, an allowance April 11 and the May 28 Berkley Handicap (gr. III) (both at Golden Gate Fields) with a third last time out in the June 30 Cornhusker Handicap (gr. III) at Prairie Meadows behind eventual Whitney Handicap (gr. I) winner Fort Larned and Successful Dan.
His only off-the-board finish in 2012 came in the May 5 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Betfair Hollywood Park. He won the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) in 2010.
Awesome Gem's record of 11 wins, 15 seconds, and six thirds in 51 starts, with $2,851,370 in winnings, make him the richest horse to ever race in the state of Washington. He last worked Aug. 12 on the turf at Del Mar, going six furlongs handily in 1:15 4/5.
"He shows up in the afternoons, that's the key," Dollase said. "He's never really been a great workhorse in the mornings. I've worked him on the turf course the last couple times; two long turf works. He handled that fine and we're happy with where he's at. He's nine years old and we've got to take care of him; we space his races and everything very carefully now, picking our spots, so to speak. We like the way he's coming into this race."
Awesome Gem is scheduled to leave Del Mar with the John Sadler-trained Gladding, 3-1 second choice on the morning line, late on Aug. 16. The two are expected to arrive at Emerald Downs around 4 a.m. PDT Friday after vanning from Del Mar to LAX to catch a flight to Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, then a van to Emerald Downs.
C R K Stables' Gladding, 6 1/2-length winner of the Alamedan Handicap going 1 1/16 miles at Pleasanton last out, seeks his first graded victory since taking the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park in February 2011. Although the 5-year-old Sarava gelding ran 11th in his 2012 debut in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3, he came back with a runner-up finish in the Santana Mile Stakes March 18. His other start this year resulted in a fifth-place finish May 5 in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II). John Saddler trains and Juan J. Hernandez will ride the speedster from the rail.
Gladding, who carries 119 pounds, worked six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 on the all-weather track at Del Mar Aug. 12 in preparation for his Longacres Mile bid. The move was best of nine at the distance on the day.
Hudson Landing, carrying 122 pounds including jockey Frank Alvarado from post 5, is 5-1 on the morning line. The Blaine Wright-trained son of Maria's Mon has won four of six starts since being claimed by Jared Chappell, including his most recent start, the Mt. Rainier Handicap at Emerald.
Bailouttheminister and Taylor Said, both at 6-1, get well-known jockeys in Hall of Famer Russell Baze and Mario Gutierrez, respectively. Bailouttheminister breaks from post 8 under 118 pounds; trainer Keith Nations most recently sent him to a sprint stakes win in Northern California July 4 for Theresa and Edward DeNike.
Taylor Said, who will leave post 10 carrying 122, is unbeaten this year at Golden Gate and Hastings Race Course and has won four straight Hastings stakes, last the 1 1/8-mile Redekop British Columbia Cup Classic Handicap. He is seeking to become the first horse since Silver Double in 1970 to win The Mile after making his previous start in Vancouver. Mike Puhich trains for Glen Todd's North American
Thoroughbred Horse Company, which also owns St. Liams Halo.
St. Liams Halo drew the outside post coming off a runner-up finish in the Mt. Rainier Handicap. Fleur De Lis Stable's Winning Machine, a two-time stakes victor at Emerald for trainer Frank Lucarelli this season, is the top local hope.
Jebrica, Gallant Son, and Assessment complete the field. Jebrica is trained by five-time Mile-winning trainer Jim Penney, while Gallant Son was the top 2-year-old at Emerald in 2008. Assessment took the Longacres Mile in 2009.