08/03/2011 3:31PM

Emerald Downs: McCanna giving Longacres Mile another shot


AUBURN, Wash. – Tim McCanna won his 800th race at Emerald Downs last week, a remarkable milestone during a run of dominance that has included 10 training titles in Emerald’s 15 seasons and will land McCanna in the Washington Racing Hall of Fame when the 2011 class is officially inducted later this month.

Still missing from McCanna’s résumé is a victory in the Northwest’s marquee race, the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. He finished second last year with Jersey Town, and he hopes to have another viable contender in Saratoga Boot when the Mile is renewed for the 76th time on Aug. 21.

Saratoga Boot won the 2010 Emerald Derby in overpowering fashion, but has been something of an enigma in 2011. He closed well in the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap in his first start following a lengthy layoff, a race he needed. But while he moved forward in his next start, the one-mile Budweiser Handicap on June 19, he faltered in the final furlong after making a looming run on the turn. He finished third, 3 1/2 lengths behind the winner, Noosa Beach, but it was a disappointing result for a horse who was identified as a leading Mile contender nearly a year ago.

Saratoga Boot failed to move forward in his most recent start, racing evenly to finish fourth in a five-horse field in the 1 1/16-mile Mt. Rainier Handicap two weeks ago. Saratoga Boot essentially got caught in between: He wasn’t quick enough to make the lead, and by moving into contention early, he lacked his customary late kick. Come to think of it, that late kick has been missing all season. Still, the Mile is on the agenda, and McCanna is doing what he can to get Saratoga Boot ready for his biggest test to date.

“We’re going to take a whack at it, what the heck,” McCanna said of the Mile, which this year carries a $200,000 purse. “My horse hasn’t really fired yet, and he got too close to the pace last time. He just hasn’t shown the speed he did in the Derby last year, but I’m working on him, trying to find the sweet spot.”

McCanna said he will bring Saratoga Boot up to the Mile with a more relaxed training schedule. He has yet to record an official workout since his effort in the Mt. Rainier. The idea is to have a fresh and reinvigorated horse on Mile Day.

“I’m going to back off him,” McCanna said. “I’ve been training him hard, and maybe I pounded too hard.”