INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- So what if Awesome Gem needed 13 starts in Grade 1 races over 40 months to finally win a race at that level in Saturday's $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park?
For trainer Craig Dollase, the wait, and Awesome Gem's career along the way, made the victory even more gratifying.
"I've finally won the Hollywood Gold Cup," Dollase said. "It's pretty exciting. A lot of work went into keeping this horse sound over the years."
The senior member of a field of six, the 7-year-old Awesome Gem ($18) won the Gold Cup in an upset over defending champion Rail Trip, who won the two leading local preps in recent months the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap and the Grade 2 Californian Stakes.
Rail Trip, carrying top weight of 123 pounds and sent off as the 2-5 favorite, was wide for nearly all of the Gold Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles, and could only finish second, a half-length behind Awesome Gem. Rail Trip, who was ridden by Rafael Bejarano, led in the final furlong, but Awesome Gem, ridden by David Flores, had the momentum in the final sixteenth. Awesome Gem, who carried 116 pounds, ran the distance in 2:03.31.
Awesome Gem was behind horses in traffic in early stretch when Flores spotted space between Compari and the rail at a pivotal time. He said that was the key to victory.
"When that hole opened up, I couldn't look for any better spot than that," Flores said. "That was the most beautiful thing, when you have a horse that can accelerate like that at any time."
The complexion of the race changed significantly at the start when Tres Borrachos, who was expected to be part of the pace, broke in the air and settled at the back of the field. As a result, Compari had an uncontested lead, and set a slow pace of 25.82 and 50.95 seconds through the first half-mile.
Rail Trip was third early, but was unable to save ground throughout the race. He raced three- or four-wide on the backstretch, and was under a ride on the turn before making a three-wide move that briefly carried him to the lead.
"It was a tough trip and we gave that horse [seven] pounds," trainer Ron Ellis said. "The weight got to him. He should have gotten a good trip and he got a terrible trip."
Rail Trip finished 2 3/4 lengths clear of Richard's Kid, who was followed by Tres Borrachos, Compari, and Cigar Man. The Gold Cup was Richard's Kid's first start since a seventh in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March.
Awesome Gem was not only the oldest runner in the field, but also the most experienced. The Gold Cup was his 36th career start and improved his career earnings to $2,274,682 for the West Point Thoroughbreds partnership.
He gave Dollase a deserved win in the Gold Cup. The trainer watched Futural finish first in 2001 only to be disqualified and placed third in a controversial decision. In 2002, the Dollase-trained Momentum finished second by a nose to Sky Jack.
By Awesome Again, Awesome Gem has won seven races, but the Gold Cup was his first stakes win since the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup last October and his first in Southern California since the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita in January 2007, his second career start in a stakes.
Through the years, Awesome Gem has been second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in 2007, third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park, third in the 2008 San Antonio Handicap, and second in the Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar last summer.