Photo: Reed Palmer/Emerald Downs
If only all of us could age as gracefully as Awesome Gem. Eight years old, with not even a hint of slowing down, the gelded son of Awesome Again ran one of the best races of his career to score today in the 76th running of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. In the process, it likely gave his connections a clear message where the old-timer should be pointed for on Breeders’ Cup weekend.
Despite the large field of eleven, bettors zeroed in on only two horses in local favorite, Noosa Beach, and the West Point Thoroughbreds owned Awesome Gem. At post time, Awesome Gem went off a slight favorite at 8-5, with Noosa Beach at 9-5, while no one else was bet lower than 9-1. The bettors knew exactly what they were doing.
While his main competition made all the early running, Awesome Gem found a good striking position back in fifth. As soon as Noosa Beach started to leave his early pace competition a little behind, Awesome Gem made his move, and the two-horse battle was joined. Circling the leaders coming out of the turn, he quickly collared a game Noosa Beach. Awesome Gem’s head of steam would not be denied and he edged clear late to hit the wire 1 ½ lengths clear. Final time for the flat mile was 1:34 4/5 over the fast Emerald Downs’ track.
Winning rider David Flores had this to say about his mount, "I really didn't have any worries about the field. The only horse I was concerned with was Noosa Beach. Breaking out of the gate we had a huge advantage with the speed on the inside of us. I just followed Noosa Beach to the rail and settled behind the leaders. He's such an easy horse to relax that if I let him relax too much, he'll fall asleep. I wanted to keep my horse within range, with my eyes targeted on the leader. When I asked him to go, he started cruising. My horse was making such a big run that when we went by, I saw (Noosa Beach) fight back, but by that time it was too late. I never gave them a chance. I give all the credit to the horse. He shows up every time."
Today’s victory in the Longacres Mile marked Awesome Gem’s second ever attempt at Emerald Downs. In 2009, he came to the Suburban Seattle oval to contest the same race and finished a fast closing 2nd. This time he did one better by staying in closer touch with the leaders early and was ready to pounce on the far turn. For Awesome Gem, the victory was his 9th out of 46 career starts, and the winner’s share of the $200,000 pushed his career earnings to almost $2.7 million.
It was the second big win of the year for Awesome Gem, as earlier this year he defeated both Flat Out and Game On Dude in the Lone Star Park Handicap, which was run at 1 1/16 miles. The Craig Dollase trainee seems to be much more suited for middle distance races this year. Making the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile a strong possibility, as opposed to the BC Marathon that he struggled in last fall.
In defeat, local hero Noosa Beach ran a whale of race. The winner of 10 of his last 11 races going in was carrying high weight of 125 pounds, as compared to the winner who toted 122. He also had to use his speed early to clear the field from his outside post position, and then was hounded most of the race by Slew the Man through honest fractions. But when Awesome Gem ranged up to the leader, as the field spun out of the Emerald Downs far turn, he simply did not have enough to fend off his classy competitor. Noosa Beach gamely fought on to the wire to finish a clear 2nd.
Had either Awesome Gem or Noosa Beach won today, it would have proved a fitting result to an underrated and historic race. Emerald Downs attracts a solid and loyal contingent of owners, trainers, jockeys, and horses. Most outside of the region do not realize the quality of horse stabled at the Auburn, Washington oval. And the Longacres Mile is their crowning event of the year. I will always be a fan of the track, as well as, their biggest race.
This year’s Longacres Mile proved to be all about Awesome Gem. He is an ageless warrior who is every bit as good now at eight-years-old as he was at any point of his career. Do not be surprised if both him and the gallant horse he defeated today, make some serious noise come November.