HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP HANDICAP | PURSE: $500,000 | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 1/4 MILES
INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Saturday's $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup added a veteran Wednesday when defending champion Awesome Gem joined the field on the day entries were taken.
In the year since his biggest career win, Awesome Gem has been a mainstay in a handicap division that has undergone significant changes. In the 2010 Gold Cup, Awesome Gem closed from last in a field of six to beat favored Rail Trip, who is now based in New York. Richard's Kid, who finished third, was sent to Dubai last fall.
In their place, the 4-year-olds Twirling Candy and Game On Dude have inherited the roles of leaders of California's older horse division, having won four graded stakes between them since Dec. 26. Twirling Candy, who won the Grade 2 Californian Stakes on June 4 for his fifth career stakes win, drew the rail and will be favored in the Gold Cup, which is run over 1 1/4 miles.
Awesome Gem, who races for West Point Thoroughbreds and is trained by Craig Dollase, has made five starts this year, but the Gold Cup will be his first race in Southern California. His highlights this year include a win in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas on May 30 and a second as the 9-5 favorite in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows in Iowa on June 25.
Because of the two-week turnaround from the Cornhusker to the Hollywood Gold Cup, Dollase watched Awesome Gem train until Wednesday before finalizing plans for a start on Saturday.
"He's in good form and he loves this track," Dollase said. "I think he deserves a shot to defend his title. I've been really happy with him in the last week."
The Gold Cup has drawn a field of eight, including Dark Cove, First Dude, Miss Match, Setsuko, and Soul Candy. Miss Match, winner of the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational at Santa Anita in March, is the lone female in the field. She worked a half-mile in 49.80 seconds at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.
All but Dark Cove, Setsuko, and Soul Candy are stakes winners this year.
For Awesome Gem, Saturday's race will be his 16th career appearance in a Grade 1, a span of races that includes a second in the 2007 Pacific Classic at Del Mar, a third to Curlin in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth, and a second in the 2009 Eddie Read Stakes on turf at Del Mar. The 2010 Gold Cup is Awesome Gem's lone win at that level.