West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem, graded stakes-placed eight times in his career but with only a single blacktype victory, will look to shed his bridesmaid status when he takes on 11 rivals in the Emerald Downs’ signature race—the $300,000 Longacres Mile (gr. III) on Aug. 16.
Installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the main track event, Awesome Gem was second-best for the 10th time in his 27-start career last out in the July 25 Eddie Read (gr. IT) on Del Mar’s turf course. It was his fifth time as runner-up in a graded stakes race. The 6-year-old son of Awesome Again —Piano, by Pentelicus, posted his lone victory in five starts this year June 27 in an allowance contest on the Hollywood Park turf.
This will be just the eighth start on natural dirt for Awesome Gem, but he does have a win in the 2007 San Fernando (gr. II) at Santa Anita and a third-place finish in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) on Monmouth Park's slop, both over natural going.
Craig Dollase trains the chestnut gelding, who was bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm, Catesby Clay, and Peter Callahan. An earner of more than $1.3 million, Awesome Gem will break from post 7 with Russell Baze aboard.
The top local horse in this year’s Mile, which will earn the winner a berth in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, is Tice Ranch’s Assessment, but the 5-year-old gelded son of Jump Start will be parked out in post 12, a position which has produced just one winner in the 73-year history of the race. Assessment (6-1) has won three times and finished runner-up three more times in six starts in 2009. His most recent start was a 2 1/2-length score in the Mt. Rainier Handicap on July 26 in Washington.
Gallyn Mitchell will have the mount for trainer Howard Belvoir, who is still optimistic despite the post position.
“The three horses directly to his outside all have speed and will go,” Belvoir said. “Gallyn might be able to tuck in right behind them into the first turn. It could work out well for us.”
Belvoir will also send out last year’s Mile winner, 7-year old Wasserman , a gelded son of Cahill Road that he also bred and owns. Wasserman (10-1) posted a 10-1 upset win in the 2008 Mile. He has won just once in seven starts since then and is 0-for-6 this season. Regular rider Jennifer Whitaker will have the mount.
Another local contender is Governor's Handicap winner Atta Boy Roy , who drew post 9 and is 8-1 on the morning line. In his two races at the Emerald Downs meet, Atta Boy Roy has run the fastest six furlongs (1:07 2/5) and 6 1/2 furlongs (1:14 1/5). Ricky Frazier, the meet's leading rider with 116 wins, takes over the mount for trainer Valorie Lund.
“We've been thinking about this race for more than a year,” Lund said. “(Owner) Roy Schaefer has been dreaming about it. The Longacres Mile is the holy grail of racing for the Northwest.”
In total, the 12-horse field is composed of five runners from Emerald Downs (Gallon, Wasserman, Kruger Park, Atta Boy Roy, Assessment), five from California (Trumpet Player Jay, Awesome Gem, Autism Awareness, Crafty Power, Sierra Sunset), and two from Canada (Bank Emblem, Teide).
The second choice on the morning-line is Sierra Sunset (7-2), best known for winning the Rebel (gr. II) at Oaklawn last year. The 4-year-old son of Bertrando (video) returned from injury this season and has won one of two starts for trainer Jeff Bonde, that victory coming by five lengths in the Alamedan Handicap at July 5 at Pleasanton.
Also on the Aug. 16 card is the $100,000 Emerald Distaff, which drew a field of seven.