06/22/2011 2:40PM

Emerald Downs: Atta Boy Roy may be coming home for Longacres Mile

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Tom Keyser
Atta Boy Roy could return to Emerald Downs for the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

AUBURN, Wash. – Already well down the road to a possible return engagement in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Atta Boy Roy could make a detour to the Pacific Northwest for a start in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 21, trainer Valorie Lund said Tuesday.

Atta Boy Roy is scheduled to race Friday in the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows. If all goes well, Lund said she and principal owner Roy Schaefer would consider the Longacres Mile for Atta Boy Roy’s next start, with the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga on Aug. 7 another possibility. Atta Boy Roy finished 10th in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Most recently, he was second in the Grade 3 Aristides at Churchill Downs.

A decision to aim for the Longacres Mile could throw Atta Boy Roy into the path of Noosa Beach, who won the Northwest’s only graded race in 2010 and hasn’t lost since. It surely would be one of the most anticipated showdowns in Emerald Downs’ 16-year history.

Schaefer resides in Port Orchard, Wash., and is a frequent visitor to Emerald Downs. He would very much like to bring his star sprinter home to race in front of friends and family, even if the mile distance is slightly beyond Atta Boy Roy’s comfort zone. Atta Boy Roy has never won a two-turn race, though he gave a valiant effort in the 2009 Longacres Mile, when he set a blistering pace and hung on gamely to miss by 1 3/4 lengths after throwing a shoe on the backstretch.

“Roy and I discussed it early in the year,” Lund said. “We’re going to go race by race with Atta Boy Roy. We still believe he’s a brilliant miler, though we’ve never got to prove it. We decided we’re going to let the horse tell us what to do. Roy wanted to keep the Mile on our horizon, and that’s where we are right now. It’s a possibility.

“We’ll run this race Friday, and we’ll revisit our options. Right now, as I see it, we would have two options for the next race – the Mile in mid-August or go up to Saratoga for the Grade 1 up there.”

Doubts persist about Atta Boy Roy’s ability to get eight furlongs against the kind of horses he would see in the Longacres Mile. Lund firmly believes the 6-year-old Tribunal ridgling can handle the trip.

“I can say I think he can, but we’ve never been able to prove that,” she said. “I actually think he’d go beyond a mile. The first race of his life, he basically ran off going a mile, and the horse who came and got him was Bingham, who ended up making something like $400,000 as a closing route horse.”

Schaefer is less certain about Atta Boy Roy’s distance qualifications and more convinced that a return to Emerald Downs would be the right thing to do. Both he and Lund have roots in the region.

“She knows that my family’s here,” Schaefer said. “I feel that Atta Boy has a good fan base here, and I’d love to bring him back for the Mile just for the fans in Washington. I love Emerald Downs, I love the state of Washington. That’s where my loyalties are.”

Atta Boy Roy campaigned at Emerald Downs in 2009 and set the six-furlong track record of 1:07 (since tied by Noosa Beach). He has won 11 of 27 career starts, with earnings of $511,414. His signature victory came in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes, a seven-furlong race on the 2010 Kentucky Derby undercard.

“I would rather win the Mile than the Churchill Downs,” Schaefer said. “The thing that’s hard for me is a horse than runs as hard as he does, why would you go from a sprint to a mile when he runs the sprints as well as he does. My concern about the Mile is the same as Valorie’s: Can we get him to relax enough, can his fractions be relaxed enough, for him to win it. He can run a mile – his first out was a mile, we got beat half a head in 1:36 – but can he win the Mile?”

Ricky Frazier, who rode Atta Boy Roy in the 2009 Longacres Mile and was Noosa Beach’s regular pilot in 2010, said a meeting of the two would stir tremendous excitement at Emerald Downs. Frazier said Atta Boy Roy can win at the distance. With Noosa Beach, there’s no doubt.

“I think a mile is basically Atta Boy Roy’s reach,” Frazier said. “It’s gotta be a speed-biased track, maybe sloppy. The day we ran two years ago, the track was lightning fast. Everything set up perfect, and when he threw that shoe, that just killed him.

“The whole thing about Noosa Beach is, he’s a versatile horse. He matured so much last year, getting to where he didn’t have to be in front. He’s always going to put you up into the race. That’s essential in the Mile, you have to right up in there. Even if they ship some strong hoses, I still think he’s the horse right now. He can win on any racetrack. It doesn’t need to be fast, it doesn’t need to be wet. So if I’m there, there’s no way I could take off Noosa Beach to ride Atta Boy Roy, even though Atta Boy Roy is one of the best pure speed horses I’ve ever seen. The difference is, he’s susceptible to people pushing him. With Noosa Beach, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.”

So the plot thickens. Summer at Saratoga, or a homecoming at Emerald Downs?

“I’m a Northwest girl,” Lund said. “That race, for us, it’s like going home. That’s where his biggest fans are. It would be redeeming because of our Mile attempt when we lost the shoe. It would be very, very rewarding to win the Mile with Atta Boy Roy.”