07/23/2012 9:10AM

Emerald Downs: Hudson Landing wins three-horse photo in Mt. Rainier

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AUBURN, Wash. - Three horses with designs on the Grade 3 Longacres Mile finished heads apart Sunday in the $50,000 Mt. Rainier Handicap at Emerald Downs. Hudson Landing, making his first local start, prevailed by a head over the fast-closing St Liams Halo, with Winning Machine another head back in third. The winner ran 1 1/6 miles on a very fast track in 1:40.77 and paid $5.40.

The Mt. Rainier has served as an accurate predictor of success in the Longacres Mile, which this year carries a $200,000 purse and will be renewed for the 77th time on Aug. 19. Four of the past six Mt. Rainier winners went on to capture the Mile, and the 2011 winner, Noosa Beach, was subsequently second in the Longacres Mile behind Grade 1-winning millionaire Awesome Gem.

Hudson Landing, who had been racing on turf and synthetic surfaces in California and won the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile on grass at Golden Gate in April, will assuredly start in the Longacres Mile if he comes out of the Mt. Rainier in good order, trainer Blaine Wright said. St Liams Halo, who is based at Hastings in Vancover, British Columbia, and missed last year’s Mile because of injury, is another sure thing. And Winning Machine, already a two-time stakes winner this year at Emerald Downs, remains the best of the locally based horses after his sterling effort Sunday.

Hudson Landing saved ground around the first turn under Frank Alvarado, angle off the rail to advance down the backstretch, moved to collar pacesetters Rainier Ice and Winning Machine around the turn, surged to the front past the eighth pole, and prevailed over a tenacious Winning Machine in a long drive. St Liams Halo, in tight quarters at the top of the stretch, finished fastest of all under Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez to just miss.

“I talked to Blaine, and he told me just to play it by ear,” Alvarado said of his strategy. “We knew there would be plenty of speed in the race, so we figured to sit off the pace and save ground. I felt I had good position on the rail, but I had to move a little early to keep my position. I wanted to keep him close to (Winning Machine) because my horse is very competitive. He’s a fighter. I heard Mario coming late, but I knew the wire would come first.”

Hudson Landing won for the 11th time in 32 career starts and increased his earnings to $413,188 with his $27,500 share of the Mt. Rainier purse. Wright claimed Hudson Landing for $50,000 in February for owner Jared Chappell of Alpine, Utah, and the horse has won four of six starts since changing hands. The versatile 5-year-old by Maria’s Mon has competed at nine tracks and for six different trainers.

Slim Pickins rallied from last to finish fourth. He was followed by Rainier Ice, Couldabenthewhisky and Aaron the Baron.