04/22/2011 1:45PM

Emerald Downs: Assessment starts season with eye on Longacres Mile

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AUBURN, Wash. – Assessment, now 20 months removed from an improbable victory in the 2009 Longacres Mile, headlines Sunday’s feature race at Emerald Downs, a $21,000 allowance for older horses at six furlongs.

Making his first start following a six-month layoff, Assessment is slated to meet six rivals. They include leading contenders Winning Machine, winner of both the Emerald and B.C. derbies in 2009; Our Minesweeper, a stakes winner at Golden Gate last fall; and Boundtogetbusy, a lightly raced 4-year-old with brilliant speed.

Back to Assessment’s Mile victory: It wasn’t a monumental upset – he paid $16.60 – but the way he did it, overcoming the outside post position and an impossibly short run to the first turn to prevail in the Northwest’s only graded race, was historic. He was the first Mile winner to break from post 12 since Coldwater won the inaugural running in 1935.

He’s won twice in seven starts since, taking the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap last July and a one-mile allowance in September. The Assessment of 2010 wasn’t quite as sharp as the 2009 version, but perhaps a winter’s rest will spark a revival. He has looked the part in the mornings, working six furlongs in 1:11.80 on April 11 and then breezing five furlongs in 59.40 seconds last Monday.

Assessment will have a new rider Sunday; Juan Gutierrez is replacing Gallyn Mitchell, who has opted to ride 2010 Mile winner Noosa Beach this season. Mitchell replaced Ricky Frazier, Noosa Beach’s regular pilot, after Frazier suffered a head injury that could cause him to miss the entire Emerald meeting.

The ultimate goal for Assessment’s connections – owner Lou Tice and trainer Howard Belvoir – is to get back to the Mile in August. Noosa Beach, who was scheduled to make his 2011 debut Friday at Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia, figures to be there to defend his title, and a couple of the runners in Sunday’s feature, Winning Machine among them, have legitimate Mile aspirations.

Others in the field are Wasserman, He’s All Heart, and Margo’s Gift. Wasserman, owned and trained by Belvoir, captured the 2008 Mile, but the 9-year-old gelding has won just once in his past 18 starts. He’s All Heart finished third behind Noosa Beach in the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic in his final start at 4, a possible springboard to a breakout season in 2011. Margo’s Gift is a multiple stakes winner who has earned $354,907 in 26 starts.