08/20/2008 11:00PM

Awesome Gem overdue

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DEL MAR, Calif. - A half-length here or a nose there has kept Awesome Gem from winning three stakes in the last year. He lost the 2007 Pacific Classic by a half-length, the 2007 Goodwood Stakes by a nose, and the Wickerr Handicap by a nose on July 25.

Eventually, the tough luck will end. At least that's what trainer Craig Dollase is hoping when Awesome Gem starts from the rail in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

"I hope he gets a clean run," Dollase said.

Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, Awesome Gem is winless in his last seven starts, a span that includes the three narrow losses as well as a well-beaten third behind Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park last October. A 5-year-old gelding, Awesome Gem has won 4 of 18 starts and $1,179,882.

The prize money would be a heck of a lot higher with an occasional win. This year, Awesome Gem is winless in three starts. At Santa Anita last winter, he was third in the San Antonio Handicap and seventh in the Santa Anita Handicap, emerging from the latter race with an illness.

"He needed a break," Dollase said.

The Wickerr Handicap, run over a mile on turf, was a more encouraging race. Racing at a distance shorter than his best trip, Awesome Gem rallied from last in a field of 10, overcoming traffic and trouble to just miss catching pacesetter One Union.

"He accelerated at the end," Dollase said. "It was good to see him back in that form and that level."

Dollase said before the Pacific Classic draw took place on Wednesday evening that he did not want to be on the rail or the outside in the 11-horse field. He let out a small groan when Awesome Gem drew the rail.

"He'll have to step up again," Dollase said. "He couldn't be coming in any better as a fresh horse. Everything is falling into place."

Ridden by Tyler Baze, Awesome Gem is a closer who will be at the back of the field early.

"He can get position through the race," Dollase said.

Dollase said he thinks that Go Between, who was second in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and the Hollywood Gold Cup in June, is a deserving 3-1 morning-line favorite and the horse to beat.

"He's proven," Dollase said. "That's the horse I'll be keying on."

From the rail, the field consists of Awesome Gem (5-1 on the morning line), Mostacolli Mort (12-1), Zappa (15-1), Surf Cat (6-1), Barcola (20-1), Go Between, Well Armed (10-1), Mast Track (6-1), Delosvientos (30-1), defending champion Student Council (7-2), and McCann's Mojave (15-1).