05/01/2012 2:51PM

Hollywood Park: Gem of Soul looks tough on drop in class

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Gem of Soul will be favored in a second-level allowance/optional $62,500 claimer on Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Bettors looking for a slam dunk Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park may appreciate the optimism from A.C. Avila, trainer of race 7 favorite Gem of Soul.

“I think she’s a cinch,” Avila said.

Eight fillies and mares entered the feature race at 1 1/16 miles on turf. The second-level allowance/optional $62,500 claimer represents a drop in class for Gem of Soul, listed as the 5-2 favorite by Hollywood linemaker Russ Hudak.

Victor Espinoza rode Gem of Soul in her U.S. debut, a sharp 2 3/4-length allowance victory March 8 at Santa Anita. But when Gem of Soul returned April 7 in a minor stakes, Espinoza was out with a broken hand. Her new rider was unable to manage the filly’s finicky behavior.

“She’s the kind of filly that you have take back and let her go her way,” Avila said. “But he fought with her.”

Gem of Soul pulled under Edwin Maldonado, made a run at the leaders on the far turn, then flattened out and finished sixth. She lost by two lengths. Thursday, Gem of Soul drops into a second-level allowance and is reunited with Espinoza.

In the one month since her last start, Avila said Gem of Soul has blossomed.

“She is doing unbelievable,” he said.

Gem of Soul has won 3 of 5 and is expected to be strongly favored Thursday.

Beyond the favorite, the field includes front-runners Let’s Go Cheyenne and Bwana Babe. With similar styles, those two could compromise each other on the lead. Yet the Hollywood turf course opening week favored horses with tactical speed, and if they avoid a duel, both have a chance.

Let’s Go Cheyenne has won two of her last three for hot trainer Vladimir Cerin, who had 9 wins from 20 starters in the month of April. Joe Talamo rides the Tiznow filly.

Bwana Babe is a 9-for-29 veteran claimed last out for $62,500 and now trained by Tom Blincoe. She is making her first start since Feb. 19. Martin Pedroza rides.

If the speed backs up, Anniversary Girl might get up. Jerry Hollendorfer trains the filly, whose three starts on Hollywood turf produced a second and two thirds. She split the field in her most recent start two months ago and was given a break thereafter.

“She’s consistent,” assistant trainer Dan Ward said. “When they run a little flat, it’s good to freshen them.”

Anniversary Girl, 3 for 18, won a race last summer following a similar break.

Other entrants Thursday are Plaza de Indias, Secret Cove, Hard to Resist, and You’llalwaysbemine.