08/24/2010 2:21PM

Awesome Gem takes 4th shot at Pacific Classic

Benoit & Associates
Awesome Gem comes into the Pacific Classic off a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, so too has Awesome Gem returned to Del Mar. Now age 7, Awesome Gem has become something of a fixture here. On Saturday, he will run in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic for the fourth straight year.

He finished second in the race in 2007, and was seventh in both 2008 and 2009, but he comes into this year’s race following a victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup, a performance that ranks as the highlight of his lengthy career.

“It was very gratifying for me, and for the horse,” his trainer, Craig Dollase, said Tuesday on a national teleconference.

Awesome Gem, a gelding owned by the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate, is the pride of the barn. Now age 7, he has made 36 starts since beginning his racing career in July 2006. He has won just seven times, but has finished second 13 times, usually while racing in graded stakes company, and has proven effective on all surfaces throughout the country. He has won on dirt, turf, synthetic, and mud, and most recently has finished in the money in four straight races at four different racetracks in three different time zones. He has earned $2,274,682.

The Gold Cup marked the first Grade 1 win of his career, but he has flirted with the best for years. Awesome Gem was third in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic, second in that year’s Goodwood, and last year was second on grass here in the Eddie Read, second in the Longacres Mile, and won the Hawthorne Gold Cup.

“He’s been a real gem of a horse,” Dollase said. “He shows up. He’s a trainer’s dream.”

At Del Mar, Awesome Gem has raced on the main track five times, and owns three seconds. This is a temporary home for him. The rest of the year, he trains at Hollywood Park, where Dollase is based.

“I think he really prefers the Hollywood surface,” Dollase said. “He trains there 10 months of the year. But he’s moving good over this surface.”

David Flores will ride. He has been aboard Awesome Gem for 18 of his previous 36 starts, including his last seven.

A field of 10 was expected to be entered for the Pacific Classic on Tuesday night, when post positions were to be drawn at a local hotel. On Tuesday morning, trainer Jeff Mullins said he was going to run turf specialist Battle of Hastings, who was second on Polytrack here in the San Diego Handicap in his last start. Battle of Hastings worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 on Monday morning at Hollywood Park, a drill that was initially listed as being from the gate. Mullins said Battle of Hastings worked, but not from the gate.

Brice Blanc was named to ride Battle of Hastings, Mullins said.

The field was also expected to include Crowded House, Dakota Phone, Hold Me Back, Isle of Giant’s, Richard’s Kid, Temple City, The Usual Q.T., and Unusual Suspect.

Breeders’ Cup implications

The Pacific Classic, which offers a guaranteed berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is one of four stakes races being run this weekend at Del Mar that are part of the Breeders’ Cup’s Win and You’re In program.

Also on Saturday’s card is the Grade 1, $300,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes, a seven-furlong race whose winner is guaranteed a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Among those expected for the Pat O’Brien are Crown of Thorns, El Brujo, Hard Bill, Kanan Dume, and New Bay.

Saturday’s card also includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Del Mar Mile on turf, with the winner earning a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Blue Chagall, Bruce’s Dream, Enriched, Meteore, and Scenic Blast are among those scheduled for that race.

On Sunday, long-distance turf horses will go 1 3/8 miles in the Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar Handicap, whose winner gets a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles. Buenos Dias, Champ Pegasus, Falcon Rock, Soul Candy, and Worth Repeating are expected for the race. Unusual Suspect also will be entered, and could run there instead of the Pacific Classic, according to Barry Abrams, his trainer and co-owner.

Evening Jewel ready to roll

In the immediate aftermath of Evening Jewel’s victory in the Del Mar Oaks on Saturday, trainer Jim Cassidy said the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Keeneland was the next likely spot for his filly. But he might not be able to wait nearly two months for the race, which will be run Oct. 16.

“I was going to give her four or five days to regroup, but she’s already bucking and squealing, saying, ‘Let’s get it on,’” Cassidy said. “I may have to look for something sooner, because if she’s going to be like this for the next 60 days, I’ll be in trouble.”

Band attracts a crowd

The crowd that showed up at Del Mar last Saturday was tired of living in Beverly Hills. Spurred by the popular band Weezer, which conducted a post-race concert in the infield, some 43,834 were here on Saturday, a figure that helped bring the track’s average daily attendance through the first five weeks this meet to 19,324, a gain of 6.1 percent over last year’s 18,213 for the same period of time. The crowd was the fourth-largest in track history.

The daily average handle is $11,664,333, a drop of 5.9 percent from last year’s $12,389,267.

There have been 14 fewer races (217 to 231) this year compared to last year, which impacts handle.