09/30/2009 11:00PM

Heartland hero takes on Hollywood


STICKNEY, Ill. - Awesome Gem has been to two different Breeders' Cup races. Jonesboro has been to Louisiana Downs. Awesome Gem traveled to Hong Kong. Jonesboro was been all up and down the interstates of the Midsouth. Awesome Gem flew to Chicago on Wednesday from his Hollywood Park base. Thursday morning, Jonesboro came by van from Oklahoma.

Get it? It's the blue-collar heartland warrior against the glamorized Southern California dandy in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Only there is way more to the Grade 2, $500,000 Gold Cup than just that plotline.

Somewhat shockingly, 11 horses were entered in the Gold Cup, race 7 on a 10-race card that includes a pair of $100,000 turf stakes, the Grade 3 Carey and the Indian Maid. There's a chance of rain Friday and Saturday,

If you wanted to keep drawing contrasts between Awesome Gem and Jonesboro, you could. Awesome Gem has made $1.41 million because he's good enough to belong in rich, high-class races. A 6-year-old gelding, Awesome Gem has only 5 wins compared with 11 second-place finishes, but he's versatile, with wins on synthetic, turf, and dirt. Awesome Gem, a one-time winner since 2007, has lost all six of his starts at the 1 1/4 miles of the Gold Cup, but his sire, Awesome Again, won the Gold Cup, and trainer Craig Dollase doesn't have distance concerns.

"Last time he traveled and ran that distance on dirt, he finished third in the Classic," Dollase said, referring to the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park.

Awesome Gem most recently finished a close seventh in the Pacific Classic on Polytrack. Prior to that, he was a wide second in the Longacres Mile on dirt at Emerald Downs.

The 7-year-old Jonesboro has run in lesser races, but has 14 wins and 11 seconds with earnings of $1.46 million. Second in the 2007 Gold Cup, Jonesboro depends less on being on or near the lead now than he was then, which could help him win for the first time at 1 1/4 miles. Jonesboro is 7, but might well have run the best race of his 41-start career winning the June 27 Cornhusker Handicap.

Jonesboro didn't race again until Sept. 7, but the break came by design, trainer Randy Morse said. In his comeback, Jonesboro tracked a fast pace, made the lead in the stretch, but was passed late by Gold Cup entrant Going Ballistic, finishing second in the Governor's Cup at Remington.

"I had missed quite a bit of training with him," said Morse, "and he wasn't near 100 percent ready to run."

Alcomo finished third behind Going Ballistic and Jonesboro last out at Remington, but ran well here in the spring, and excels at the Gold Cup distance. You and I Forever still may be rounding into form for trainer Marty Wolfson, and showed ample talent last year at 3. Nite Light will take more money than Eldaafer, but Eldaafer beat him twice over the summer. Both probably prefer 1 1/2 miles.

And don't sleep on locally based Stonehouse. His trainer, Spanky Broussard, won the 1992 Gold Cup with Irish Swap, and Stonehouse has a special fondness for Hawthorne dirt routes.