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Awesome Gem Arrives for New Orleans 'Cap

Fair Grounds Race Course
Photo: CDI

West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem arrived at Fair Grounds from her California home base late Wednesday morning for Saturday’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap.


Trained by Craig Dollase, who will not be coming to New Orleans for the race as originally scheduled, Awesome Gem is being housed in the barn of Wally Dollase, Craig’s father, and was being looked after by his sister Aimee Dollase, when the 7-year-old altered son of Awesome Again was visited Friday morning.


“(Awesome Gem) jogged this morning and showed a lot of energy,” Aimee advised. “Craig got busy getting ready for the Santa Anita Derby next week and couldn’t get away. His assistant Sergio Martin came with the horse and he’ll saddle him for the race.”


However, it was Aimee Dollase who saddled Arnold Zetcher’s Zardana to upset Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in the $200,000 New Orleans Handicap two weeks ago and the young horsewoman had a theory about why Awesome Gem runs so well when he ships out of California.


“He seems to run his best races the first time he gets off the synthetic surfaces after several races on them,” she said of Awesome Gem, who flew to Chicago to capture the Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup last October and also invaded Emerald Downs in the vicinity of Seattle, Washington, to finish a close second in the Grade III Longacres Mile last August.


In addition to Awesome Gem, Wednesday’s equine charter from California was to have included Gallagher Equine’s Red Alert Day to be a contestant in Saturday’s Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap, also on the Louisiana Derby Day program, but that reservation was cancelled by Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale following a last minute change of plans for his British-bred gelding.


Did that bump up the cost of the flight for Awesome Gem?

“I really don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it could affect the price of the flight too much,” Aimee Dollase said. “There were other horses on that plane that got dropped off at Oaklawn, and there were still others aboard that were going on to South Florida after the stop in New Orleans.”


Spanky Taking a Second Shot

Veteran New Orleans-born trainer Spanky Broussard saddled Richard Rudolph and Michael Vranich’s Stonehouse to win Fair Grounds’ Grade III Mineshaft Handicap Feb. 20 as the final designed local prep for Saturday’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap on Louisiana Derby Day, and the conditioner was asked to assess his chances of repeating that upset this weekend.


“That’s a tough, tough race he’s going to be in Saturday,” said Broussard Wednesday morning, “but we’re going to take a little shot in there and see what happens.”


What happened last time was that Stonehouse paid $35.60 to win when he closed with a late rush to defeat Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters by a neck, and that owner-trainer of last spring’s Blue Grass winner was quick to compliment his late replacement gallop boy of the last three days – Ramiro Ramirez – for his excellent judgment once again Wednesday morning.


“(General Quarters) was going along at a nice open gallop this morning when another horse went right by him in a full gallop,” McCarthy said. “Naturally, my horse started to go right after him but Ramiro was able to ease him back down gradually. You can’t take too much of a hold in a situation like that because you’ll cause the horse to swerve, but Ramiro played it cool once again. He’s an excellent gallop boy – I’ve watched him gallop horses for years up in Louisville – and I consider myself lucky to have found him for these last few days.”  

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