09/29/2009 11:00PM

Hawthorne Gold Cup takes on added impact


Intentional or no, the Hawthorne Gold Cup on Saturday might wind up being a key prep toward the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon. Nite Light, the top-ranked horse in the initial Daily Racing Form ratings for the Marathon, "might run at Hawthorne before we ship him out for the Marathon," said Michael McCarthy, the Kentucky-based assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher, while second-rated Awesome Gem is a definite Gold Cup starter for the prominent West Point Thoroughbreds Stable.

Nite Light was an easy winner of the Sept. 12 Turfway Fall Championship, one of the few prep races specifically designated toward the 1 1/2-mile Marathon, while Awesome Gem has spent the year facing rugged opposition in races such as the Grade 1 Eddie Read and Grade 1 Pacific Classic.

West Point representative Jeff Lifson said the Marathon "hasn't been discussed in particular" for Awesome Gem, based in California with trainer Craig Dollase, "but I wouldn't say it's a bad idea at all," adding that what transpires Saturday at Hawthorne will largely determine which Breeders' Cup race to target.

Meanwhile, from Florida, Soldier's Dancer recently shipped north for an impressive win in the $250,000 President's Cup at Philadelphia Park and has developed into quite a force in longer races. The gray 5-year-old Soldier's Dancer has 19 first or seconds from 31 starts and has earned more than $1.4 million.

A host of California-based prospects would seem like intriguing Marathon possibilities, including Temple City, Bold Chieftain, Sir Dave, Unusual Suspect, and Church Service, while Rising Moon (New York) and Free Fighter (Chicago) also would merit respect if their connections opt this way.

From overseas, Team Valor International has come up with a viable Marathon candidate in the British-bred Gitano Hernando, winner of a minor stakes Sept. 17 over Polytrack at Wolverhampton in England, where the 3-year-old colt has raced exclusively.

Muhannak, winner of the first-ever BC Marathon last year, has gone off form badly in England and would seem a marginal prospect at best to defend his title.

One ostensible Marathon prep, the Diamond Stakes, is scheduled for Friday at Dundalk in Ireland.