Despite the string of second-place finishes, Awesome Gem, who was bred in Kentucky by Runnymeade Farm Inc., Catesby Clay and Peter Callahan, has shown he can compete with the best. It gives Terry Finley hope he will surprise people in the Classic, even with such a deep field.
Tiago loves Santa Anita, no matter the surface. In his first start at the Arcadia, Calif., track since winning the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on the old dirt track April 7, the 3-year-old colt delivered a desperate nose victory over the unlucky Awesome Gem in the $520,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup (gr. I) on the new Cushion Track Sept. 29.
Well beaten in the Pacific Classic last time out, California star Lava Man has an opportunity to prove he's as good as ever when he takes on nine rivals in the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup (gr. I) at Oak Tree's Santa Anita meeting Sept. 29.
In a sign of the times, a Midwest also-ran with a liking for Polytrack came west to win the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar Aug. 19. Student Council, purchased recently by Ro Parra's Millennium Farms to run in the 1 1/4-mile test, vanquished Lava Man and upset a large field at odds of 23-1 at Del Mar.
Lava Man and A.P. Xcellent, who staged a dramatic Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) stretch duel won by the California star by a nose on June 30, are among 13 horses entered in the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar Aug. 19.
Twenty-three horses were nominated -- with 13 considered likely -- for the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) at 1 1/4 miles on the Del Mar Polytrack Aug. 19, including defending champion Lava Man.
The leaders were seven abreast mid-stretch of the $300,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II), but it was the former claiming horse Sun Boat who finished best of all, winning in style by one length on the Polytrack Saturday at Del Mar.
Californian (gr. II) winner Buzzards Bay heads a quality field of eight for Saturday's $300,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II), a prime prep for Del Mar's signature event, the Pacific Classic (gr. I) on Aug. 19.
Lava Man, the most prosperous claiming purchase in racing history, will be out to lay claim to another distinction on Saturday when the 6-year-old gelding will be an overwhelming favorite to win a second $1 million Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manual Indian Bingo & Casino (gr. I).
Brother Derek, his career on a downturn since a fourth straight graded stakes victory in last April's Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), needs a return to his best form in Saturday's 60th running of the $300,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at his favorite track.
Upsetter Awesome Gem unleashed a terrific stretch drive to snatch victory from Midnight Lute in the final strides of the $200,000 San Fernando (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park Saturday.
Likely favorites Brother Derek and Arson Squad will switch riders for Saturday's $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) for 4-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.
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