10/29/2009 11:00PM

Awesome Gem 'peaking at the right time'


Awesome Gem is the second-oldest horse in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, which figures. He's used to being a runner-up, the second banana. He has raced 30 times, won six, and finished second 11 times.

He's not second fiddle, though, in the barn of trainer Craig Dollase. Now 6, Awesome Gem - owned by the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate - has become a barn favorite, a consistent, hard-knocking gelding who has made nearly $1.7 million and will be racing in the Breeders' Cup for the third consecutive year.

"We're trying to catch up to Better Talk Now," Dollase said Friday morning at Hollywood Park, comparing Awesome Gem to a perennial Breeders' Cup participant this decade. "He's the ultimate professional. He's a barn favorite. He's very consistent, a blue-collar type of horse. He's not real flashy, but he shows up for work every day."

He was eager to get going Friday morning at Hollywood Park. In his final workout for next Saturday's BC Classic, Awesome Gem worked six furlongs in 1:13 with exercise rider Juan Olivera. Jockey David Flores rides him in the Classic.

Awesome Gem was winless last year, when he finished sixth in the BC Mile on turf, but he has had a far more productive campaign this year, with 2 wins in 8 starts, and five in-the-money finishes. He won an allowance race on the turf at Hollywood Park in June, finished second in the Eddie Read on turf at Del Mar in July and the on Oct. 3.

"He finally put it all together. It was very gratifying," Dollase said. "He really took to that mud. I was kidding some of the reporters there that all I had to do before the Breeders' Cup was hose down the surface and make it soup. Ha, ha."

Dollase was kidding, of course, because Santa Anita has a synthetic surface, Pro-Ride. Awesome Gem is 1 for 12 on synthetic surfaces, with five second-place finishes. He has finished seventh in the Pacific Classic, on Polytrack, the last two years.

Off that Hawthorne Gold Cup win, Dollase believes Awesome Gem is "peaking at the right time."

It has been a long time coming.

"He used to be quirky," Dollase said. "He's matured with racing. He had idiosyncracies. We couldn't get him on a van. Now he's okay. He's very focused in his old age."