Trainer Craig Dollase made an 11th-hour decision Wednesday morning to enter defending champion Awesome Gem in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park Saturday.
“We’re running, and I like the weight too,” said Dollase in reference to a 116-pound assignment in the Grade I test at 1 ¼ miles on Cushion Track.
Awesome Gem finished second in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows in Iowa June 25 and Dollase wanted to give the horse every possible moment possible to make sure he was ready.
“The horse is in good form and likes the track,” added Dollase. “He has a good shot to defend his title.
“He bounced back from his trip to Iowa real well,” continued Dollase. “I’ve been real happy with him the last week.”
Dollase said that Awesome Gem will gallop up to the race and be reunited with jockey David Flores, a three-time Gold Cup winner. Awesome Gem drew post five in a field of eight.
Awesome Gem, a chestnut gelding, will have less time between races leading up to the Gold Cup than last year, when he upset heavily favored Rail Trip.
Last year Awesome Gem prepped in the Lone Star Handicap in Texas Memorial Day and trained up to the Gold Cup. This year he again ran in the Lone Star Handicap on Memorial Day but added the trip to Iowa.
Awesome Gem, an 8-year-old with earnings of $2,568,270, seeks to join Native Diver as the oldest horse to win the Gold Cup. He also hopes to join Native Diver and Lava Man as the only horse to win the race more than once in its 72-year history. Native Diver and Lava Man each won it three times.
A Kentucky-bred by Awesome Again, Awesome Gem is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds. Syndicate president Terry Finley is expected to travel here from New Jersey to see Awesome Gem as well as Runflatout in the $150,000 Swaps Stakes for 3-year-olds.
The Gold Cup will be televised on ESPN as the highlight of a show from 4-5 p.m. PDT with a 4:40 post as the eighth of 10 races. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs November 5.
Miss Match, a 6-year-old mare seeking to become the first female winner of the race in 43 years, worked four furlongs in 49.80 breezing for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale.
Trainer Henry Moreno, 81, hopes to spring an upset with Spud Spivens in the $150,000 Swaps Stakes, a Grade II test for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles on Cushion Track Saturday.
Moreno hopes for more pace in the Swaps than there was in the Affirmed Handicap June 11, when Spud Spivens finished third. “This is a come-from-behind horse,” said Moreno from his Santa Anita headquarters Wednesday. “The further they go, the better he is.”
Moreno seeks his first graded stakes win in 18 years, when Re Toss upset champion Paseana here in the 1993 Vanity Handicap. Moreno, who currently conditions nine horses, trained such standouts as Tizna, Sangue, Lite Light, Jalousie, Bastonera and Sam Who.
Moreno, who began as a quarter horse trainer, named Spud Spivens after a quarter horse he conditioned during the 1960’s. Bob Moreno, Henry’s cousin who works as a placing and patrol judge on the Southern California circuit, recalled that the original Spud Spivens was 17-1 hands and turned out to be a better jumper than runner.
The second Spud Spivens, a California-bred gelding by Tizbud, has blossomed at the current meet with a maiden score, an allowance win and the third-place finish in the Affirmed.
“If J.O. Tobin can beat Seattle Slew in the Swaps, then Spud Spivens can beat the Baffert barn,” said Bob Moreno. J.O. Tobin won the 1978 Swaps, with previously unbeaten Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew fourth in one of the biggest upsets in track history.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will send out heavily favored Coil, winner of the Affirmed, and Uncle Sam in quest of a record fifth Swaps victory. A field of six was entered for the Swaps, which will go as the fourth race.
David Abrams, brother of trainer Barry Abrams, reported Wednesday that the trainer came out of surgery Tuesday at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena in excellent condition.
“Overall, the operation went as well as can be expected,” said Abrams of the five-hour surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his throat. Abrams, 57, had surgery for throat cancer six years ago.
“The doctors were able to save his jugular and carotid artery, but they had to cut a little near his voicebox,” said Abrams. “His voice will be a little more raspy, so he won’t be able to yell at the jockeys as much.”
Abrams said his brother was in good spirits shortly after the surgery. “Two hours after, he was joking and had a real good sense of humor,” he said. “When I told him they were able to save his jugular and carotid, he gave me the thumbs-up. When I told him they had to cut into the voicebox, he gave me the finger.
“Later in the afternoon, he wanted to get a bet down at Indiana Downs.”
Abrams said that his brother might be able to return to his Arcadia home this weekend before being re-evaluated in two weeks. “He will need some radiation,” said Abrams. “And he will have to take thyroid medication for life.
“The doctor said the long-range prognosis is that Barry can live as normal a life as anybody who never had the cancer,” said Abrams.
“We’re hoping that Barry can make the last part of Del Mar,” said Abrams, who lives in San Diego. Assistant Richard Baltas is supervising the 32-horse stable.
Apprentice jockey Eswan Flores, who recorded his first thoroughbred victory aboard Kelly Leak in a six-furlong turf race Monday, was still accepting congratulations in the stable area Wednesday.
“I had a good night’s sleep,” said the 18-year-old high school senior from El Monte when asked how he celebrated his maiden score.
Agent Derek Lawson explained that Flores needed the rest. “He had ridden Saturday and Sunday nights at Los Alamitos and got up Monday morning to get on seven horses at Santa Anita. “I gave him Tuesday off and told him to relax.”
Flores, who had ridden 21 previous winners in quarter horse races at Los Alamitos, had never ridden on turf before his date with destiny aboard Kelly Leak. He looked like a seasoned pro, taking him back along the rail, saving ground and waiting patiently for an opening between horses in the stretch.
“I got some advice on how to ride the turf in the jockeys’ room,” explained Flores. “Octavio Vergara said not to stay too far off the rail.”
Lawson quipped, “The only time he had been on grass before was when he was mowing it in his yard.”
Flores will be back in action with one mount Thursday, two Friday night and four Saturday.
FINISH LINES—Shawn Turner, owner of Global Hunter—who was retired after suffering a serious ankle injury in winning the American Handicap in July, 2010 – reported that that the horse made a remarkable recovery and covered 10 mares this year while standing stud at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez…Blind Luck worked five furlongs in 1:01 breezing for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer for her next start in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park July 16. Garrett Gomez will ride. Hollendorfer also worked Cinderella Stakes winner Killer Graces five furlongs in 1:00 for the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes for 2-year-old fillies here July 16.
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