07/14/2010 11:00PM

Hollywood roundup

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HOLLOW GOLD CUP

exposed the West Coast handicap division as a feeble cast of pretenders. The pace dawdled, the final time for the 1 1/4 miles was a pathetic 2:03.31, and the winner was a horse who had failed to hit the board his last six main-track Grade 1's. It was a sorry race, indeed.

Awesome Gem ($18) won the Gold Cup, and it was really swell the durable 7-year-old gelding finally nailed a big one in the 36th start of his career. David Flores rode Awesome Gem for trainer Craig Dollase. Meanwhile, the nuts-and-bolts storyline was the bizarre strategy employed by front-runner Compari and odds-on favorite Rail Trip.

Compari is a fast horse whose weapon is speed. In six previous victories, he raced the opening half-mile in 47.60 seconds or faster. But in the Gold Cup, jockey Mike Smith slowed the pace to a crawl, rating Compari through a half-mile in 50.95 seconds and six furlongs in 1:15.12. What was the point? Instead of trying to win the race early, Compari and Smith allowed the closers to stay within contact. As expected, they swallowed Compari in the final eighth. He finished fifth.

As for Rail Trip, overplayed at 2-5, he was a fast horse once upon a time. Either he lost his speed, or Rafael Bejarano opted not to use it. Rail Trip consequently was parked wide the first turn while rated off the pace by a margin from one length to 2 1/2 lengths. He continued to lose ground on the far turn, loomed outside in the lane, but could not get past the rail-skimming winner.

If Smith and Bejarano can be second-guessed for strategy, then Flores deserves full credit for a terrific ride on the winner. Flores said afterward, "It was a very slow pace, and everybody was looking for a position. They kept going slower and slower, and I was just being patient and waiting."

Flores and Awesome Gem scooted up the rail when Smith and Compari drifted out. Awesome Gem won by a half-length with a 100 Beyer.

Richard's Kid, a deep-closing comebacker somehow positioned in front of Rail Trip on the backstretch, finished third. After the race, Richard's Kid's jockey, Martin Garcia, proclaimed, "Next time, nobody's going to beat him." Sure, kid.

It is more likely that the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 28 at Del Mar will be won by a 3-year-old, a turf horse, a shipper, or a mare.

WHO'S NOT HOT

M One Rifle is off form. Despite a conspicuous pace advantage as the only front-runner in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Triple Bend, he was under a drive at the quarter pole and weakened to fourth. Triple Bend favorite Gayego finished third while racing for the first time since March 27 in Dubai. Can't really knock Gayego for his comeback, but his 4 1/4-length loss was not exactly stellar.

Early in the meet, trainer Walther Solis was on fire with 2-year-olds. He won seven maiden races the first five weeks of the meet. But hot streaks are invariably followed by cold streaks, and from May 29 through July 11, Solis was 0 for 24. His good filly Belleofthebridle finished third in the Landaluce.

The quality of spring-summer 2-year-olds has taken a tumble. The low-rated theme of the season continued July 11, when Dawnie Macho won the $100,000 Landaluce by three-quarters of a length with a 73 Beyer Figure (six furlongs in 1:10.75).

With four racing days left, only two juveniles had topped 80 Beyer on the main track -- Hollywood Juvenile winner J P's Gusto and debut winner Belleofthebridle, who has regressed since. At this point in the 2009 meet, 14 juveniles had earned an 80 or higher. At this point in the 2008 meet, 17 juveniles already had topped 80.

WHO'S HOT

Cost of Freedom looks better all the time. On June 5, Cost of Freedom defeated E Z's Gentleman and My Summer Slew. Both returned to win stakes. My Summer Slew won a turf sprint June 27; E Z's Gentleman ran the fastest seven furlongs (1:21.11) of the meet July 10 in the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap. E Z's Gentleman won by more than three lengths, earned a 108 Beyer, and will be tough to beat in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Pat O'Brien on Aug. 28 at Del Mar. Cost of Freedom runs Aug. 1 in the six-furlong Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes. Good luck to his rivals.

Martin Pedroza rode E Z's Gentleman. It was the veteran jockey's 1,000th win at Hollywood Park and first Grade 1 at the track. Pedroza, whose 45th birthday is July 20, was winning his first Grade 1 since Feb. 11, 2006, when Star Parade won the Santa Maria Handicap. Pedroza entered the week seventh in the standings, despite having nearly twice as many runner-up finishes as wins. Pedroza had 24 wins and 45 seconds.

E Z's Gentleman is trained by Bob Baffert, who completed the exacta with Sangaree. The last time Baffert ran one-two in a Grade 1 stakes? It was May 6, 2006, at Churchill Downs, where Pussycat Doll and Behaving Badly finished one-two in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff.

HANDICAPPING AND BETTING

Living Word was hard to find July 10 in a one-mile $25,000 turf claimer. He was facing a ton of speed; his recent races were poor. But at 78.60-1, the gelding raced to the front, opened up with an aggressive ride by jockey Paul Atkinson, and wired the field by 2 3/4 lengths at $159.20, second-highest payoff of the meet. It was the same type of ride Atkinson gave Bonita Sonador on Jan. 1 at Santa Anita, a mile turf race Atkinson won at $119.80. Have to start paying attention when Atkinson rides overmatched front-runners in turf routes.

Despite the longshot win by Living Word in the first leg of the Gold Cup Day pick six and subsequent upsets, one ticket was live into the final race to Willis.

Willis, however, broke slowly from post 1 and finished fifth. It created a double carryover of $514,128 into the July 11 card. Pick-six bettors chasing the double carryover wagered $2,192,724. There were two winning favorites, a dead heat, and one double-digit winner. The $2 pick six returned $5,543.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Jockeys Joe Talamo and Martin Pedroza will be Kurt Hoover's guests Saturday on "The Inside Scoop." Talamo swept the major 2-year-old stakes with Dawnie Macho (Landaluce) and J P's Gusto (Hollywood Juvenile); Pedroza rode E Z's Gentleman to victory in the Triple Bend. The Inside Scoop begins at noon at the Paddock Tote Board.

Saturday is a big day for Del Mar, because entries will be taken for the July 21 opening-day card. The summer seasons begins with the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes, a mile turf race for 3-year-olds in which front-runner Twirling Candy and late-runner Bogie are expected to run.

HORSES TO WATCH

Don Perico

Trainer: Marty Jones

Last race: July 9, 6th

Finish: 3rd by 4

This first-time starter ran surprisingly well from the inside post in a fast-paced maiden sprint won by favored stablemate Blue Jay Attack. A 3-year-old gelding by In Excess, Don Perico set a lively pace (45.27-second half-mile) before weakening in the lane. He should be live next out for a trainer who does super with second-start maidens.

Donato

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Last race: July 10, 4th

Finish: 5th by 16 3/4

A 3-year-old first-time starter with fast works, this colt was bet to be the 5-2 second choice, but steadied on the turn, and then merely went through the motions in a race won by favored stablemate Z Z Warrior. With a clean trip and a prep race, Donato should move up a ton.

Hammurabi

Trainer: Jack Carava

Last race: July 11, 4th

Finish: 4th by 7

A blistering half-mile in 45.05 seconds led to defeat in a $40,000 claiming race at one mile on turf. But this front-running gelding was reclaimed by his original trainer Carava (from Mike Puype), and can drop back to a sprint this summer at Del Mar. Carava is always dangerous off the claim.

Mensa Heat

Trainer: Jack Carava

Last race: July 11, 7th

Finish: 4th by 3 1/2

This honest gelding had a tough trip in a first-level allowance sprint. Unable to establish position early, he was steadied and shuffled back on the turn, then made minimal impact in a race dominated by front-runners. He likes Del Mar (maiden winner in 2008), and can show up in a similar allowance sprint.