08/20/2010 3:25PM

Awesome Gem looking in Classic form

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Benoit & Associates
Awesome Gem, winning the Hollywood Gold Cup with David Flores aboard, will start in a fourth straight Pacific Classic.

DEL MAR, Calif.-Awesome Gem can no longer be taken for granted in major stakes.

After winning the biggest race of his career in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last weekend, Awesome Gem is scheduled to start in the $1 million Pacific Classic for the fourth consecutive year next Saturday, trying to improve on a second in 2007 and seventh-place finishes in 2008 and 2009.

Considering Awesome Gem’s recent form, trainer Craig Dollase thinks the summer of milestones can continue in the Pacific Classic. “He’s coming off a freshening and he has a new lease on life,” Dollase said.

Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, Awesome Gem is based with Dollase at Hollywood Park for most of the year. The 7-year-old gelding may prefer that track’s Cushion Track synthetic surface to the Polytrack surface at Del Mar, Dollase said.

“It’s not his best surface but he’s good over it,” Dollase said of Del Mar.

Friday, Awesome Gem worked seven furlongs in 1:27.20 under jockey David Flores, his last major workout before the Pacific Classic, which is run over 1 1/4 miles.

“He finished up in 23 and change,” Dollase said. “The last quarter-mile was strong. We needed to see that.”

Flores was happy with Awesome Gem’s workout, but weary of the gelding’s record at Del Mar.“He’s never been big on this track, but he handled it well today,” Flores said. “He’s come back really good. I like his chances.”

Awesome Gem, who has started in 26 graded stakes in his 36-race career, is a leading contender in the Pacific Classic, which is likely to have a field of nine or 10. The Usual Q.T., the winner of the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes on turf here on July 24, is likely to go favored even though he has never won a stakes on a synthetic track.

The Usual Q.T. was ninth as the even-money favorite in the Sunshine Millions Classic on a synthetic track at Santa Anita in January when he failed to settle and faded through the stretch.

Probable starters also includes Coolcullen Times, Crowded House, Dakota Phone, Hold Me Back, Isle of Giant’s, (defending champion) Richard’s Kid, Temple City, and Unusual Suspect.

Temple City, the winner of the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on the main track on July 30, worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Friday, the fastest of 34 recorded works at the distance. Trainer Carla Gaines considered starting Temple City in the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf on Aug. 29, but said on Friday that the Pacific Classic is the goal.

“He’s doing well and he likes this track,” Gaines said. “I guess it’s time to try it.”

Quinonez has another longhot winner

Jockey Alonso Quinonez continues to deliver with unexpected winners this summer.

Thursday, Quinonez rode Ralphie Ole ($134.80) to an upset in a maiden claimer for sprinters, a victory that surprised the 26-year-old jockey. Ralphie Ole had finished seventh in his debut at Hollywood Park last month, showing little after a poor start.

In Thursday’s fifth race, Ralphie Ole rallied from last to win by a length over 3-2 favorite Tuba Man.

“He’s a big horse and I let him get going,” Quinonez said. “When he got going, I thought, I hope no one stops me. A hole opened and I had plenty of horse.”

Of his seven wins at the meet, Quinonez has won on Premier Pegasus ($90.80), Georgia’s Friend ($48), and Bonifacio ($42). Sunday, he rides Silver Swallow in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo Handicap and Bran Jammas in the Solana Beach Handicap. Neither is expected to be a long price.