Updated on 08/18/2012 5:43PM

Emerald Downs: Awesome Gem defends title in Longacres Mile

Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Awesome Gem comes into the Longacres Mile closing in on $3 million in earnings.

AUBURN, Wash. – Awesome Gem, in the final stages of a remarkable career, can move ever so close to the $3 million mark in career earnings when he starts Sunday as the likely betting favorite in the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs.

The richest horse in training in North America with earnings of $2,851,370 and the defending Longacres Mile champion, Awesome Gem arrived at Emerald Downs in the wee hours Friday morning after a flight from Southern California. Also on the flight was Gladding, but that horse was said to have shipped poorly, and trainer John Sadler decided to scratch Gladding from the Longacres Mile on Saturday.

The defection of Gladding, the expected pacesetter, changes the entire complexion of the race – though none of that is a vexing concern for Awesome Gem, who likes to attack from several lengths off the pace. In his Longacres Mile victory a year ago, Awesome Gem and jockey David Flores overcame an unfavorable draw in post 11 to gain a tracking position down the backstretch, and then unleashed a powerful move on the turn to gain command with a quarter of a mile to run.

Awesome Gem, the highweight at 123 pounds, will start from post 3 on Sunday, with Flores back aboard. Assistant trainer Sergio Martin accompanied Awesome Gem to Emerald and will give Flores a leg up while trainer Craig Dollase watches a simulcast feed from Del Mar. Dollase isn’t much for airplanes, which means he has had to watch many of Awesome Gem’s best moments from afar. The venerable 9-year-old gelding has competed at 13 different racetracks, including a foray to Sha Tin to compete for a $2 million pot in the Hong Kong Mile. In his most recent outing, Awesome Gem finished third in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows, an effort that gained additional luster when the winner, Fort Larned, returned to win the Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga while recording a Beyer Speed Figure of 110.

At the one-mile distance, where speed intersects with stamina, the pace could be all-important. Without Gladding, the likely pacesetter is Taylor Said, the leading handicap horse in British Columbia, with Winning Machine, Bailouttheminister, and St Liams Halo all capable of forcing the issue from on or just off the lead.

Taylor Said, who has won five consecutive races and will have the services of Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez, is marooned in post 10, and the prevailing thought among rival trainers is that he will have to hurry to gain a favorable position during the short run to the first turn.

“I’ve got to think Taylor Said from the outside has to be more aggressive,” said Keith Nations, whose Bailouttheminister will be ridden by Russell Baze. “When I saw he drew that post, that was my first thought, that they might have to send a little bit early.”

“I think you’ll see them send Winning Machine, and then we’d be likely to send one of our horses,” said Glen Todd, who owns both Taylor Said and St Liams Halo. “But you’ve got to fear Awesome Gem – he’s won $2.8 million. . . . But I think I’ve got a good shot. I don’t know how good Taylor Said is. Maybe he doesn’t either.”