INGLEWOOD, Calif. (July 10, 2010)-A thirteenth appearance in a Grade or Group 1 race turned out to be lucky for Awesome Gem as the 7-year-old upset heavily-favored Rail Trip to win the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup Saturday at Hollywood Park.
The 8-1 surprise in the day’s biggest race was one of many in the latter half of the card, so there is a two-day Pick Six carryover of $514,127 for Sunday. Post time Sunday is 1 p.m. and the Pick Six begins in the fourth race.
Given a ground saving journey by jockey David Flores in a race that featured a very slow pace, Awesome Gem came through with the first Grade 1 victory of his career, winning by a half-length as the 8-1 fourth choice. The field was reduced to six after Tap It Light was scratched Saturday morning.
A gelded son of Awesome Again out of the Pentelicus mare Piano, Awesome Gem, who had been 2-3 in four of his previous Grade I starts, completed the 1 ¼ miles over Cushion Track in 2:03.31.
Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds and trained by Craig Dollase, Awesome Gem’s win was his sixth in 36 lifetime starts. The $300,000 payday pushed him over $2 million. His bankroll stands at $2,274,682.
He is also the oldest winner of the Gold Cup since Native Diver scored the last of his three wins in the race as an 8-year-old in 1967.
The victory was the third in the Gold Cup for Flores, whose earlier wins in the track’s signature race had come aboard Marquetry (1991) and Siphon (1996). Awesome Gem paid $18, $4.40 and $2.40.
Seeking to become the third multiple winner of the race and the first horse to win the Mervyn LeRoy, Californian and Gold Cup in the same year since Eleven Stitches in 1981, Rail Trip, the 2-5 favorite, paid $2.20 and $2.10.
Richard’s Kid, who finished 2 ¾ lengths behind Rail Trip, returned $2.20 to show.
“He finished like he had in his last two works over this track,’’ said Dollase, who had been disqualified out of a Gold Cup victory in 2001 when Futural crossed the wire first, but was placed third by the stewards, making Aptitude the official winner.
“This horse can run over anything. Synthetic, grass, mud, you name it. He’s very versatile and a real pleasure to train. This means a lot. A lot of work. My help and everybody have been real supportive.
“The owners have been real patient and given this horse time when he has needed it. He’s like fine wine. He’s just getting better with age. He’s in his prime right now.’’
After anticipated pace presence Tres Borrachos broke last, Compari found himself on the lead and was able to get away with extremely soft fractions – 25.82 for the opening quarter, 50.95 for the half mile and 1:15.12 for six furlongs – but he still had little to offer in the stretch and wound up fifth as the 7-1 third choice.
Meanwhile, Rail Trip, who had never been off the lead in his impressive victories in the LeRoy and Californian, was wide throughout and found himself behind the stretch running Richard’s Kid with a quarter of a mile to run.
“Rough trip,’’ said Ron Ellis, trainer of the defending champion. “It just didn’t work out today. He was wide. I don’t know why. I don’t know what it was. You would have to ask him (jockey Rafael Bejarano).’’
Looking for his first win in the race, Bejarano thought things changed for him after the opening turn.
“I was traveling well and was in good position on the first turn,’’ he said. “After the first turn, (Cigar Man) just pushed me out. I was trying to follow the speed, but they were going so slow. I didn’t want to rush him, so I waited for the half-mile.
“I don’t think he ran his race because he was so wide on the first turn and the second turn.’’
Flores had no such issues. He angled inside Compari in the final eighth of a mile and was able to guide Awesome Gem to his second victory in nine attempts at 10 furlongs.
“Everybody went at the half-mile and I tried not to lose my position and wait for that pocket to come at the end,’’ said Flores. “Mike Smith (on Compari) was about ready to shut off the hole, but he looked like he ran out of horse, so it was very nice of him to leave me that spot.
“When that hole opened up, I couldn’t look for any better spot than that. That was the most beautiful thing, when you have a horse that can accelerate like that at any time. He’s just been unlucky before, but today he did the job.’’
Two races before the Gold Cup, E Z’s Gentleman became a Grade 1 winner with an authoritative victory in the $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap.
In the process, the 5-year-old son of Yankee Gentleman and the Distinctive Pro mare Tensie’s Pro helped jockey Martin Pedroza make some Hollywood Park history.
The win for owner Arnold Zetcher and trainer Bob Baffert was the 1,000th at Hollywood Park for Pedroza, who will turn 45 on July 20.
The Panamian-born rider is only the 10th jockey to reach the milestone. He joins Laffit Pincay, Jr., who leads with 3,049, Bill Shoemaker, Chris McCarron, Alex Solis, Eddie Delahoussaye, Patrick Valenzuela, Gary Stevens, Corey Nakatani and John Longden on the exclusive list.
Pincay, Shoemaker, McCarron, Delahoussaye, Stevens and Longden are in racing’s Hall of Fame.
It was also the first win in a Grade 1 at Hollywood Park for Pedroza.
“When I used to be in the jock’s room with Shoemaker and McCarron I was the bambino,’’ said Pedroza. “That’s what Shoemaker used to call me, The Bambino.
“Now they call me the veteran here. I’m sweating so much because this is like winning the Santa Anita Handicap or six races in a day. To get my 1,000th win here in a Grade 1, it means a lot to me.’’
The win was the fourth in 15 starts for E Z’s Gentleman. He has earned $299,711.
The 7-2 third choice, E Z’s Gentleman paid $9.80, $4.80 and $3.20. Sangaree, the fourth choice at nearly 6-1 and also trained by Baffert, returned $4.80 and $2.60. He finished one length in front of 3-2 favorite Gayego. The show price on Gayego, who had won his two previous starts at Hollywood Park, was $2.40.
The final time for seven furlongs over Cushion Track was 1:21.11.
The win was the second in a row in the Triple Bend for Baffert and the third of his career. The Hall of Fame trainer won with Zensational in 2009 and with Letthebighossroll in 1996.
Before Saturday, Darrell Vienna had been the last trainer to win the Triple Bend in consecutive years. Vienna succeeded with Disturbingthepeace (2002) and Joey Franco (2003).
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