08/13/2007 11:00PM

The quiet man packs a punch


DEL MAR, Calif. - The last name was only going to take Craig Dollase so far in Thoroughbred racing. It helped him get started in the 1990's, when he broke away from assisting his father, the successful trainer Wally Dollase, but it did not guarantee success.

"I was waiting for the challenge," he said recently, reflecting on his start.

Craig Dollase was on his own when he won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Sprint with Reraise. At 27, he was the youngest trainer to win such a race. The record stands.

Dollase is 36 now, with a wife, two young daughters and a 34-horse stable. His father spends most of the year racing in the Midwest and New York, leaving Craig on his own in California.

The son is now building on his own name.

Since Reraise's heyday, Dollase's stable has always had an important stakes winner. This summer, the stable is loaded with stakes runners for major races in coming weeks.

The most lucrative chance comes when Awesome Gem starts in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic, the richest race of the Del Mar meeting. Dollase also has Isipingo for the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 26, Bai and Bai for the $85,000 Adoration Handicap on Aug. 30, Dancing Edie as a candidate for the $250,000 Palomar Handicap on Sept. 1, and Treadmill for the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 3.

Ten a Penny, fourth in the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap on Saturday, may return in the $400,000 Del Mar Derby on Sept. 2, if he can gain a berth in the race.

There could be a Breeders' Cup runner, or two, lurking in that group, though Dollase is reluctant by nature to hype their status. He would make a rotten boxing promoter.

"I'm not as good of a talker as some of the other guys," he said.

One of his clients prefers a quiet approach.

"Even going back to the days of Reraise, he was a bashful guy," said Joe Masino of Class Racing Stable, which owned part of Reraise and co-owns Isipingo and Ten a Penny. "He's up-front."

Dollase will need to prepare a speech if Awesome Gems upsets Lava Man in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. Since January, when he won the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita, Awesome Gem has been the leading older horse in Dollase's stable.

The Grade 1 Pacific Classic will be the toughest race of Awesome Gem's career, and will determine whether a start in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27 is feasible.

"He'll have to run a career best," Dollase said. "I like the way he's coming into it."

Owned by the West Point Thoroughbreds partnership, Awesome Gem was a maiden at this time last year. He came a long way in a short time, capped by the win in the San Fernando. He followed that race with a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes in February and an eighth behind Lava Man in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March.

"After the Santa Anita Handicap, he had dropped a lot of weight," Dollase said. "We gave him a vacation."

Awesome Gem returned to racing in late May and has not been worse than second in three subsequent starts, including a second in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap over 1o1/16 miles here on July 21. He lost that race by a length to Sun Boat, who also is running in the Pacific Classic.

"I thought he ran lights out and just got beat," Dollase said. "I think a race over this track will help. We've had [the Pacific Classic] in mind for him all along."

Can Awesome Gem compete against Lava Man at equal weights of 124 pounds?

"He is one of those horses that is right there all the time," he said.

That is about all the bragging that Dollase will do over a horse, unless he is standing in a winner's circle.

In the mornings at Del Mar, Dollase often keeps to himself when he is not hosting a client. Many owners and trainers and backstretch visitors congregate on a small viewing stand to watch morning workouts. Dollase avoids that crowd, preferring to watch by himself off to the side, on the second-floor balcony of an adjacent stable.

"I worked hard to get where I'm at," he said. "I let the horses do the talking for me. The bottom line is the results."

Raised around Thoroughbreds, Dollase has followed his father's style. Like his father, he has emphasized quality over quantity. He has a strong team of stakes horses right now, even though he recently lost Wilko, the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, and Cash Included, a Grade 1 winner in 2006, to retirement.

"I'm very hands-on," Dollase said. "If you get too big, things can get out of hand. I've had up to 40. I'd rather be the guy that feels their legs."

One difference between the father and son: Wally accompanies his horses to the track on a pony. Craig stays on foot.

"He plays cowboy," Dollase said, laughing. "I don't."

When Del Mar ends on Sept. 5, Dollase will return to Hollywood Park, with a better idea of whether a trip to the Breeders' Cup is possible.

"I'm striving to get back there again," he said. "They need things to go their way. We've got some chances."