07/11/2010 11:00PM

Awesome Gem looking good as gold

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Benoit & Associates
Awesome Gem, with David Flores riding, ends a five-race losing streak with a victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The moods of man and horse ranged from delighted to irritable at trainer Craig Dollase's stable at Hollywood Park on Sunday morning.

Dollase himself was the happy one, basking in the afterglow of a victory by Awesome Gem in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on Saturday, the 7-year-old gelding's first Grade 1 win.

Awesome Gem himself was a little more ornery. "He's irritable, and when he's irritable, he's tired," Dollase said.

Awesome Gem could have been any mood he wanted on Sunday and Dollase and his team would have accepted the consequences. The Gold Cup ended a five-race losing streak for Awesome Gem, dating back to the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup in Chicago last October, and was the gelding's 13th start in a Grade 1.

Over the years, Awesome Gem was third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, behind Curlin and Hard Spun. He got beat a nose by Tiago in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita in 2007. "Tiago just got his nose down," Dollase said, recalling that race.

Last year, Awesome Gem was second in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar. "He ran huge in the Eddie Read," said Jeff Bloom, who manages the West Coast horses for Awesome Gem's owners, West Point Thoroughbreds.

"If you look at the horses he's run against, it's mind-boggling," Bloom said. "His r sum has always been strong."

Awesome Gem has won 7 of 36 starts and $2,274,682. The Gold Cup was his first stakes win in Southern California since the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita in January 2007.

On May 31, Awesome Gem was second to Redding Colliery in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas, beaten 6 3/4 lengths. As the Gold Cup approached, Awesome Gem began to impress Dollase and Bloom with his workouts. Bloom had a better perspective of the situation than most racing managers. An ex-jockey, he was aboard Awesome Gem for a five-furlong workout in 59.60 seconds at Hollywood Park on June 25.

Afterward, Bloom told Dollase "this is good as the horse has finished. He's got more interest in finishing up."

The Gold Cup became the logical spot for Awesome Gem's next start. Sent off at 8-1 and carrying 116 pounds, Awesome Gem was fifth behind a slow pace for the first mile of the Gold Cup, moved to the inside to avoid traffic in the stretch, and closed well on the rail under jockey David Flores to finish a half-length in front of 2-5 favorite Rail Trip, who carried 123 pounds. The final time was 2:03.31 for 1 1/4 miles.

"He finished like he did the last two works on this track," Dollase said in the winner's circle. "He's really in his prime right now. Awesome Gem is not a good work horse and in his last two works he's been on edge."

Awesome Gem gave Flores his third Gold Cup win, preceded by Marquetry (1991) and Siphon (1996). This year's win had a more personal feel. Dollase's wife, Nancy, is godmother to Flores's daughter, Christina.

"This means a lot," he said. "It's a lot like family."

Awesome Gem, Rail Trip and third-place finisher Richard's Kid will be pointed for the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 28. After that Dollase wants Awesome Gem to start in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. If so, it would be Awesome Gem's fourth consecutive appearance in a Breeders' Cup race. In 2008, he was sixth in the BC Mile. Last year, he was seventh in the BC Classic.

Before those plans are finalized, there is the possibility of a return trip to the Hawthorne Gold Cup in October. "We've decided that any race named Gold Cup, we'll look at it," Dollase said.

Awesome Gem has run at 11 tracks in two countries; he was 12th in the $2 million Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin in 2008. In five starts this year, Awesome Gem has raced at Santa Anita, Fair Grounds, Charles Town, Lone Star Park, and Hollywood Park.

Dollase recalled on Sunday that travel was not an option earlier in Awesome Gem's career. "He would not go on a van when I first got him," he said.

Now, Awesome Gem has no trouble flying to other venues, but his biggest career win came at the track where he has been based for most of his career.