West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem, no stranger to coast-to-coast travel, is back on the East Coast for a race his connections hope lay the groundwork for another try in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships later this year.
Awesome Gem is among the 10 horses entered in the $1 million Charles Town Classic April 17. The race will be run on dirt at 1 1/8 miles around three turns on Charles Town’s three-quarter-mile racing surface.
Earlier in April, West Point Thoroughbreds president Terry Finley said Awesome Gem, not Macho Again, was the operation’s probable pick for the Charles Town Classic. Macho Again probably will resurface in a race at Churchill Downs, which begins its spring meet April 24.
Awesome Gem, a 7-year-old gelding by Awesome Again , finished third in the grade II New Orleans Handicap in his most recent start March 27. He returned to trainer Craig Dollase’s California base before being shipped to West Virginia.
“The ultimate goal is the Breeders’ Cup,” Dollase told Charles Town officials. “The fact that the races will be on dirt in Kentucky (at Churchill) should be fun, and his numbers have improved a lot when we get him on dirt.”
Awesome Gem can run on anything, as his record attests. His last dirt victory came in the grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup on a muddy track in October 2009.
Awesome Gem has competed in the World Championships the past three years: the Classic (gr. I) in 2009, the Mile (gr. IT) in 2008, and the Classic in 2007.
Trainers in the past have noted the third turn in distance races at Charles Town can blow a horse’s mind in their first attempt, but Shug McGaughey indicated he’s not concerned about it. McGaughey trains Phipps Stable’s Gone Astray , who is entered in the Charles Town Classic.
“I think he will like it,” McGaughey said. “He likes to run around out there and he should like getting a third turn. Of course, you never know for sure until they do it, but I think he should handle it.”
Gone Astray, a 4-year-old colt by Dixie Union, has only raced on dirt in his 14 career starts. Last year, he won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and grade II Ohio Derby in consecutive starts, and most recently finished third in the grade III Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn Park March 6.
“I think we got out of (the Razorback) what we needed,” McGaughey said. “He got parked outside pretty good and maybe laid a little closer to the pace than would have been ideal, but he ran OK.”
Like Awesome Gem, Gone Astray has handled fast and off tracks. Storms were expected to hit the Charles Town area late April 16, but windy and cooler conditions April 17 should make for a fast track by post time.
Researcher, winner of the inaugural Charles Town Classic in 2009, will get a lot of support from the crowd as his former owner, the late Hermen Greenberg of Rutledge Farm in Virginia, will be honored after the third race of the evening. Greenberg died Feb. 28, and earlier the week of April 12, Researcher was sold to Zohar Ben-Dov of Kinross Farm.
Greenburg’s son, Aleco Bravo-Greenberg, said his father will be honored during a ceremony after the third race. Researcher, by Two Smart, will compete in the 10th race Classic; in 13 starts at Charles Town, where he’s based, Researcher has nine wins and three seconds.
“Dad saw his dreams realized last year when Researcher won the Classic,” Bravo-Greenberg said. “He was so proud of him. Regardless of whose colors Researcher’s wearing, my father will be watching from Heaven, quietly smiling, and all of us are pulling for this ‘least likely to succeed’ to do it again.”
Four other stakes will be run April 17 at Charles Town, where first post is set for 6 p.m. EDT. The first stakes is the $50,000 Springtime for West Virginia-breds, followed by the $75,000 Webb Snyder Stakes, $100,000 Blue and Gold Stakes, and the $250,000 Sugar Maple Stakes for fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up.
The purse for the Springtime was boosted from $35,000 to $50,000 when both Nay's Tap and Russell Road, two of the top West Virginia-breds in training, entered. Russell Road, who has 11 wins in 14 starts at Charles Town, was considered for the Classic but opted for the seven-furlong Springtime.
The card includes a weight-by-claiming-price mini-marathon at 1 1/4 miles. The 129-pound highweight is in for a $25,000 tag, and the 109-pound lightweight is in for $5,000. The purse is $21,000.