08/16/2013 2:27PM

Emerald Downs: Longacres Mile at the mercy of invaders


AUBURN, Wash. – The Grade 3 Longacres Mile, once dominated by the home team, will have a touristy feel for its 78th renewal Sunday at Emerald Downs. Each of three leading contenders has arrived at Emerald only recently, with the likely favorite, Politicallycorrect, making a roundabout journey from upstate New York to compete for his Kentucky connections in the richest race in the Pacific Northwest.

With $200,000 at stake, trainer Wesley Ward convinced owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey that a side trip to Seattle could be profitable for Politicallycorrect, who finished second in a Grade 3 sprint stakes at Saratoga in his last start. It is unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, that a horse arrives at Emerald directly from Saratoga. It is doubly unusual that another leading contender, Mr. Bowling, would come in from Indiana Downs.

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The third member of this outsiders’ club, Herbie D, is based at Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia. The likely pacesetter in the Longacres Mile, Herbie D has had the benefit of a race over the surface. He won Emerald’s final prep race for the Mile, the 1 1/16-mile Mount Rainier Handicap, and did it easily while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 101.

While Politicallycorrect, Mr. Bowling, and Herbie D figure to dominate the betting, the handful of Mile starters based at Emerald Downs are likely to start at unusually long odds. During the period from 2005 to 2010, Emerald-based runners captured six consecutive Longacres Miles, a streak that ended in 2011 when millionaire Awesome Gem took the measure of local hero Noosa Beach. The losing streak grew to two last year when Taylor Said came in from Hastings to prevail narrowly.

Politicallycorrect would seem to have the tools to make it another successful day for the out-of-towners. After being miscast as a Kentucky Derby contender early in his 3-year-old year, he has matured into a standout at extended sprint distances, with a victory in the seven-furlong Damascus Stakes last fall at Santa Anita his signature achievement. Politicallycorrect also took the nine-furlong Oklahoma Derby last year, but Ward said the colt is more effective with less ground to cover. A mile, Ward said, should be firmly in his comfort zone.

Bred by the Ramseys in Kentucky, Politicallycorrect is by the Ramseys’ influential turf sire Kitten’s Joy. When he pitched the Longacres Mile to the owners, Ward suggested that a victory at Emerald Downs could do much for their stallion’s brand name on the West Coast. Ward upped the ante when he lured Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze to ride. But Ward, a Washington native with a keen appreciation for the Mile’s history, will not be on hand for the race; he’ll be in France with a handful of horses. Dennis Ward, his father, will give Baze a leg up at Emerald Downs.

Mr. Bowling, a stakes winner in Delaware and Louisiana, could offer a stern challenge to the likely favorite. The 4-year-old colt by Istan finished second after setting the pace in a 1 1/16-mile stakes race at Indiana Downs in his last start, after which he was purchased privately by Mark Dedomenico and Glen Todd with the Longacres Mile in mind. The speedy Mr. Bowling will wear Dedomenico’s trademark pink silks, the colors worn by Blind Luck when she won the Kentucky Oaks in 2010. Hastings-based jockey Aaron Gryder has the riding assignment.

Herbie D, a mainstay at Hastings, has been the picture of consistency, winning 6 of 7 starts over the past two years. In his July 21 test run at Emerald Downs, Herbie D set a relaxed pace before quickening to complete 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.52. He’ll be ridden by Amadeo Perez for trainer Robert Gilker, and the pre-race assumption is that Herbie D, breaking from post 10 in a full field of 12, will make a beeline for the front end.

Some previous assumptions about the Longacres Mile have been tested in recent years, including the notion that the outside post positions are all but impossible to overcome. In the many decades since the Mile’s inaugural running in 1933, the No. 12 post had yielded just one winner before Assessment’s improbable victory from the outside in 2009. More recently, Awesome Gem (post 11) and Taylor Said (post 9) have cleared a path to the winner’s circle after starting from outside posts.

It also was assumed, after that run of six consecutive victories, that the locals had their version of a home-field advantage. But after Awesome Gem and Taylor Said, all bets are off. In a race every Northwest horseman would like to win, the home team is on the outside looking in.