Awesome Gem, Jessica is Back, Big Drama, and Gio Ponti. What do these four horses have in common? They were all beaten by either Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra at some point in their career then came back to score in a Grade one event.
Awesome Gem has been a gem of consistency throughout his entire career. He can race on any surface at any distance and do it effectively. Before yesterday the chestnut gelding owned two Grade two wins over conventional dirt, one of them coming over a sloppy track. He has showed his versatility by racing over both Cushion Track Polytrack, forms of synthetic, and Turf placing second in the Grade on Goodwood, Pacific Classic and Sir Beaufort Stakes.
It took him a few years to accomplish, but yesterday Awesome Gem finally got that elusive Grade one win in the Hollywood Gold Cup, besting the California sensation Rail Trip in the process. After years of knocking on the door, it was good to see the old warrior finally get his day in the spotlight.
Gio Ponti, King of the American turf, came into the Man o' War Stakes riding, not a four race winning streak, but a four race losing streak. He snapped that streak with a decisive and measured decision over 53-1 longshot Mission Approved. The dual 2009 champion raced last of eight through nearly the entire race. With early fractions of 26.13, 52.27, and 1.18.07 for the first six furlongs the race was completely paceless and not setting up well for Gio Ponti. That mattered little as the field entered the stretch and Gio Ponti turned on the afterburners, getting up by a long neck at the line. The Champion is back and ready to rock and roll.
Across the country, at Calder racecourse, the Summit of speed was taking place and their two of Rachel Alexandra's fallen foes showed what they could do when outside the brilliant filly's shadow. The little mare has proven a solid performer over her six year career, racing 42 times and finishing in the top three 28 times. It was Saturday, where Jessica is Back would stop her competitors into the ground in the Grade one Princess Rooney.
Big Drama, fifth in the 2009 Preakness, a race where he attempted to run head to head with Rachel Alexandra, came back to earn his second victory of 2010 with an easy victory in the Smile Sprint. Big Drama rated third before advancing menacingly, three wide. At the top of the stretch Big Drama opened up nearly six lengths on the field, an advantage that cut to 3 1/4 by Mambo Meister, who rallied on for second, but was no match for Big Drama, who was still on cruise control.
I understand that many may feel that the Grade one wins by Jessica is Back and Big Drama do nothing to enhance the image of Rachel Alexandra because they were only sprints. I understand that Gio Ponti was racing on his proffered surface when he earned his first Grade one of the season and that Awesome Gem had the perfect trip while giving Rail Trip seven pounds. However, no matter what way you twist it, once these four got out from the shadows of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, they went from zero to Grade one hero.