The Brock Talk

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

America's Gem Or Just Awesome, Breeders' Cup Loss May Be 2012 Gain

Major League Baseball’s World Series begins tonight so I’m going to use a National Footbal League metaphor to illustrate a point about horse racing’s Breeders’ Cup. I’ll talk to my therapist about this during my next trip, but until then: bear with me.

Like most American boys, I became a football fan long before I understood the game. My mother was a St. Louis native and that is where I spent many summers, listening to Harry Carry on the radio atop my grandparents refrigerator. I would also sometimes get to a preseason football game at old Busch Stadium before returning home to Tucson, so I was a Cardinal fan – baseball and football. In 1960s and ‘70s network television, long before cable, Tucson television stations would telecast the Dallas Cowboy games nearly every week. They weren’t my favorite Cardinals, but I thought Cowboys, in particular wide receiver Bob Hayes, were pretty cool. In my little world, Hayes was thee coolest dude ever as an Olympic Gold Medalist and football player. He was literally the fastest man in the world.

But somewhere along the line, former Cowboy executives Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt decided the Dallas Cowboys were “America’s Team”. It was a great marketing ploy that exists today and I admit, was pure genius. But it very much griped me as a kid then and still as an Arizona Cardinal fan and resident of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex today. The Cowboys are much, much less American’s Team in other places compared to my measly little Cardinal red bum. Try convincing some folks at tail gate parties in Pittsburgh, New York or Philadelphia that Dallas is America's team.

My point is: one really has to earn the title as America’s Team or America’s "anything" for that matter. (Olympics and international competition obviously aside) Which finally brings me to my point about horse racing.

One advantage horse racing has over most other major sports is that occasionally we truly can produce a thoroughbred worthy of the title "America’s Horse". Yes we’ve had the American Horse of the Year now for nearly 125 years, but very few of them were special enough to be considered popular enough to become so honored as America’s Horse.

Thoroughbreds with consecutive Horse of the Year titles like Henry of Navarre, in 1894-95 and Cammando in 1900-01; were popular in their time no doubt, but only some of the greats have garned the title as America’s Horse. Horses with household recognition that have stood the test of time like Man o’War, Seabiscut, Whirlaway, Citation, Forego, Kelso, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Cigar have left legacies – not just records.

At times, however, the "America's Horse" may not be a future Hall of Famer, or even have much of a chance at their respective Horse of the Year title. Like minor league baseball players, they are the well traveled winners on the minor circuit that bring a speckle of stardom to the less glorious parks and fields of play. They may even be called up to the big leagues at times; One day knocking one out of Yankee Stadium, the next day on a bus to Altoona. One day winning the grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, another day it might be a grade 3 stake in Des Moines.

The 2011 racing season produced one such horse in Awesome Gem (photo upper right). No, he isn’t of the legendary America’s Horse variety, rather he’s the traveler of the sometimes, less glamorous tracks.

Trained by Craig Dollase for West Point Thoroughbreds, Awesome Gem has run eight times this year at eight different tracks. His past performance sounds like it should be sung by Johnny Cash….”I’ve raced at Golden Gate, Charles Town, Lone Star, Hollywood, Santa Anita, Prairie Meadows, Emerald and Churchill Downs, I’ve raced everywhere man, been on that Sutton plane man, picture taken in Seattle man, took first place in Texas man, I’ve raced everywhere.” Remember, this is in 2011 only.

Based in Dollase’s Southern California barn, Awesome Gem has been to Emerald Downs in Seattle, Washington twice,
running second in the grade 3 Longacres Mile in 2009 but returning to win the Mile this year. The son of Awesome Again has also been to Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, Texas twice with a similar pattern. Awesome Gem finished second in the 2010 Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. 3); but returning this year to win it. As indicated by their grade 3 status, the Longacres Mile and Lone Star Park Handicap are not the races that create winners of Eclipse Awards. But they are the marquee events at both tracks and create at least some additional local excitement when horses from those races compete on the international level of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

In 2008, he traveled to Hong Kong’s Sha Tin Racecourse for their group 1 Sha Tin Mile and has also made stops in New Jersey to run third in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) behind Curlin and Hard Spun. That was one of two starts in the Classic (he was 7th in the ’09 Classic to Zenyatta) and four starts in the Breeders’ Cup. He was sixth in the ’08 Mile behind Goldikova and seventh as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon last year.

Throw in a trip to Chicago to win the 2009 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. 2) and you pretty much have the highlights of his 45 career starts.

Race number 48 won’t be his record fifth Breeders’ Cup however (joining Better Talk Now, Perfect Drift and Kona Gold with five Breeders’ Cup starts.) Dollace and West Coast president Terry Finley announced on the West Point Thoroughbred web site that Awesome Gem will bypass the Breeders’ Cup. Dollase said In a prepared statement, “Awesome Gem's earned a break this season,” Dollase remarked. “He’s a game old contender who continues to live a healthy and happy life thanks to judicious placement, and we want to do the right thing by him. He came out of his last race with a very minor hind end issue that just needs some time on the farm to resolve."

The good news is that America just might see race number 48 according to Dollace. “He’ll get 60-90 days on the farm,” Dollase said. “We think we’re going to have a lot of success with him next year and he’s earned a well-deserved rest in the meantime.”

Awesome Gem may not be another Citation, Secretariat or Cigar and you can disagree with the America’s Horse moniker and have a point for debate. But that skepticism has little effect on many fans in Texas, Iowa and Washington State to name just a few stops on his $2.7 million career path.

“If you took a map and marked all the places he’s run, you’d be amazed,” Finley remarked. “He’s an aptly-named treasure for our Partners and the West Point team.” Hopefully Awesome Gem will be a treasure for American racing fans again as well.


Mark Devereux said...

Nice piece on a cool horse! minor correction, Shatin is in Hong Kong..not Japan...

Unknown said...

Thanks for the edit Mark. Much appreciated and correction made.

B Guckert said...

A good story about a great horse. The "Gemster" has been a favorite of mine for several years now. He always gets a $20.00 win bet from me whenever he races.
Enjoy your rest boy. SWee ya at the races next year.