06/28/2009 11:00PM

The Best Day Ever moving up in life

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Benoit & Associates
Carlsbad is being pointed to Del Mar, where she may be tried in a stakes on grass.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - What is the best way of preparing a filly for Sunday's $700,000 American Oaks at Hollywood Park?

There is the conventional approach - taking a well-bred filly, winning a few conditional races, and succeeding at some level in stakes. Or, there is the 2009 Kenneth McPeek method. Take an inexpensive yearling filly, dangle her in a maiden claimer at Gulfstream Park, and then watch her improve through the spring.

The McPeek method has worked with The Best Day Ever, who was bought for $24,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale. In her 3-year-old debut in April, she won a $50,000 claiming race for maidens at Gulfstream Park, and followed with a victory in an allowance race on turf at Churchill Downs on May 17.

The race that clinched The Best Day Ever's trip to California, however, was a fast-closing second in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Churchill Downs on June 13. Making her stakes debut, she closed from seventh in a field of eight to just miss.

"She handled the mile and an eighth really well," McPeek said. "Physically, she looks like she'll run all day."

The Best Day Ever has a style that should be suited to the American Oaks distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf. She is a closer, who has already won twice over 1 1/8 miles.

The tougher competition is an unknown to McPeek.

"We don't know if we have the class to handle this type of race," he said.

The Best Day Ever was winless in three starts at 2, racing in Kentucky in October and November. A break of more than four months helped her chances to succeed this year, McPeek said.

"I like to give all of them a bit of a break after the 2-year-old season," he said. "It took her a little longer to come around. The time we gave her she seemed to change quite a bit. She put on a lot of weight."

The American Oaks is expected to have a full field of 14. Century Park and Dance Pass will not start, and have been replaced on the list of invitees by local fillies Nan, who was fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, and Pretty Unusual, who won the Melair Stakes for statebreds here in April.

The leading contenders includes the stakes winners Mrs Kipling and Well Monied, who are locally based; Apple Charlotte from England; Puttanesca from New Zealand; and Gozzip Girl from New York.

None of those fillies started in a maiden claimer. None was as much of a bargain as The Best Day Ever, either.

"We thought $50,000 was okay because she only cost $24,000 as a yearling," McPeek said. "You try to put her where she can win."

He is doing the same on Sunday, but with much more at stake.

Awesome Gem gets 'confidence-booster'

Awesome Gem earned a start in the $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11 with a victory in an allowance race on turf on Saturday.

The stylish win ended a 14-race losing streak dating back to an optional claimer here in June 2007. In between, Awesome Gem placed in eight stakes, including a nose loss in the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes in 2007, a third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park, and a third in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on May 25.

"We needed that confidence-booster," trainer Craig Dollase said of Saturday's race. "It's nice to see him back in the right spirit."

Ridden by Alex Solis for West Point Thoroughbreds, Awesome Gem ($8.40) ran 1 1/16 miles on turf in 1:40.60, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over pacesetter Crafty Power. Dollase is optimistic that Awesome Gem, a 6-year-old gelding, can win his first stakes since the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes in January 2007 in the Gold Cup.

"You know how these horses are," he said. "When they win, they can reel off a couple. We're not done yet."

Carlsbad to be back for Del Mar

Carlsbad, the winner of five stakes in her first seven starts, will run at the Del Mar meeting later this summer, trainer Jeff Mullins said.

The winner of the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks on June 7 in her most recent start, Carlsbad bled in a half-mile breeze at Hollywood Park on June 17, Mullins said. She was timed in 47 seconds, the fastest of 27 recorded works.

Mullins said he is giving Carlsbad time to recuperate from the bleeding incident, and would like to try Carlsbad on turf, possibly the $150,000 San Clemente Handicap over a mile on Aug. 1.