Ron Ellis was left scratching his head following Saturday’s $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park. He could not understand why Rail Trip, the 2-5 favorite, was four-wide much of the way and sitting third and fourth through the early stages of the race while Compari set extremely soft fractions of 25.82, 50.95 and 1:15.12 after the other speed in the race, Tres Borrachos, broke in the air at the start to compromise his chances.
“It was a rough trip,” Ellis said. “It just didn’t work out today. He was wide, (and) I don’t know why. I don’t know what it was. You would have to ask (jockey Rafael Bejarano).”
Meanwhile, winning trainer Craig Dollase was basking in the afterglow of his first Gold Cup score after a pair of bitter disappointments in 2001 when Futural was DQ’d and the following year when Momentum lost by a nose to Sky Jack.
Dollase said he had a feeling Saturday would be Awesome Gem’s day after the way the 7-year-old gelding worked during his two drills before the Gold Cup. He worked six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 and five furlongs in 59 4/5.
“I was very confident because Awesome Gem is not a very good work horse, but the last two works he’s really been on edge,” Dollase said. “The timing worked out great. We gave him a little reprieve a couple of races back and we mapped this out. We had visions of maybe going to another race, but we just stuck to the plan. We got a little break in the weights and it all worked out.”
Rail Trip, who’s been first or second in 11 of his 12 career races, spotted the winner seven pounds and it was enough to help Awesome Gem post his first Grade 1 victory in 13 tries.
Next up for the son of Awesome Again might be the Pacific Classic at Del Mar this summer, followed by his fourth Breeders’ Cup. He’s run in two Breeders’ Cup Classics and one Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Jeff Bloom, vice president of West Coast operations for West Point Thoroughbreds, agreed in the Gold Cup winner’s circle that the Pacific Classic is a reasonable next step.
“Obviously that would be what’s foremost in our minds at this point, but we’ll see how he comes out of it,” Bloom said. “Timing wise it gives him a little bit of a breather so I’ll get together with Craig, we’ll sit down and make sure that’s the right place to come back into. Definitely at this point, I would say that’s a logical next step for him.”
Awesome Gem already showed he likes Del Mar’s synthetic Polytrack by finishing a close second to Student Council in the 2007 running of the Pacific Classic. He finished seventh in the race the past two summers, but Dollase feels he’s a different horse now.
“He’s like fine wine,” the veteran trainer said. “This horse is just getting better. He’s really in his prime right now.”