by Robert Clark
Gem has become a fan favorite. For many people it was because of his long tenure at the track where I believe he became the first million dollar earner for West Point Thoroughbreds. Before his career was through he would claim his Grade 1 victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup - as portrayed in this painting of him.
Many others have become a fan of Gem when he arrived at Old Friends in Kentucky (which is just a couple miles from my house now). There, Gem greets hundreds of fans on a regular basis.
But for me - Awesome Gem was a different kind of special and that was because a very dear friend in the sport Clyde Haugen loved this horse. I think Clyde had a piece of more than 20 different horses through West Point Thoroughbreds, but GEM was the ONE that made Clyde light up every time he talked about him. Clyde was one of the most inspiring guys you'd ever meet. He was a former fighter jet pilot and had transitioned to being a business mentor to groups of people all over the world. As much as he loved horse racing, Awesome Gem was the horse that Clyde would travel the world to watch run. Clyde even had a carousel horse made of Awesome Gem!
Clyde battled cancer for decades and never let it slow him down. He was booked to fly to Hong Kong to watch Gem race late in 2008, when he suddenly passed away only hours before his flight was to leave.
Clyde lived in Indian Harbour Beach, FL just a few blocks away from me. He traveled to Breeders' Cup events where his five daughters would join up every year. Being a military man, Clyde kept it simple in that his daughters were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. . . . they had names, I'm not sure if Clyde knew them 😉 . . . well, he never used their names anyhow.
When Clyde passed away they had a night time ceremony at his house on a canal where some ashes were slipped into the water just a few hundred yards from the ocean. We learned as they made a toast to Clyde that there were six other ceremonies going on at the same time around the world to honor Clyde. These were all filled with people that he had mentored over the years.
The last bit of ashes were in the jockey's boot in a race at Santa Anita . . . after the race, the jockey jogged back to the finish line and completed Clyde's final wish of having some of his ashes sprinkled into the track at Santa Anita.
Awesome Gem had not won his Grade 1 yet at the time Clyde passed away. We held off painting Gem until he won that G1. Then, we decided it didn't matter if he never won the G1, we were going to paint him. We even decided that Jeff Bloom, who was Clyde's agent with West Point who was a former jockey, would be the jockey in the painting. . . . . that painting for Clyde never happened due to his passing. (By the way Jeff and I were referred to by Clyde as "the sons I never wanted")
So, you see - I have much more than a mere passing affection for Awesome Gem. Clyde loved Awesome Gem, I loved Clyde; therefore I love Awesome Gem.
When Awesome Gem's career was over Terry Finley approached me to paint Awesome Gem for him. It was the race that Clyde never saw, but always knew one day would happen. I don't get too emotional when I paint, but I know I shed a tear or two when I painted this one of Awesome Gem.
Robert Clark is featured in our Artwork section for Paintings. Please visit and learn more about his beautiful work!