08/09/2013 4:10PM

Emerald Downs: Mr. Bowling set to run in Longacres Mile


AUBURN, Wash. − The field for the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 18 began to firm up late last week with some defections from the original list of 28 nominees and news that Mr. Bowling, a graded stakes winner in Louisiana, had settled into trainer Mike Puhich’s barn at Emerald Downs to begin final preparations for the Northwest’s richest race.

None of the three graded stakes winners nominated by trainer Bob Baffert is expected to travel north to compete in the Longacres Mile, and several other nominees – including Shrug, Devil in Disguise, Liberty Cap, and Summer Hit – have been removed from consideration. But Emerald Downs officials expect a full field of 12, and Mr. Bowling, if he passes his final prerace test, is certain to be among them.

Purchased privately last month by Mark Dedomenico of Redmond, Wash., Mr. Bowling is a speedy 4-year-old by Istan who most recently finished second in the $100,000 Golden Bear Stakes at Indiana Downs. He took the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds in January 2012.

“He’s been here about a week now,” Puhich said Friday. “We’ll probably work him five-eighths on Sunday and cruise right into the race from there.”

“He’s just a really nice horse,” Puhich said of Mr. Bowling, who has won 4 of 12 starts and earned $270,328. “We’ve been following him for a bit, we’ve been looking for a horse for the Mile, and he’s coming out of some really good races. The last race, he finished second to a horse I really like, Agent Di Nozzo, who has won seven out of 14. He has a perfect running style for the Mile. He’s won on the lead, and he’s won stalking. I was real impressed with his last start, because he set all the fractions, and it wasn’t a real speed-favoring track, and when the winner went by him, he dug back in. And before that, he was just off the pace and won at Churchill Downs. I think it sets up good for him.”

In addition to Mr. Bowling, Puhich will saddle Tres Borrachos for the Longacres Mile and could have another starter for Hastings-based owner Glen Todd, who won the 2012 Longacres Mile with Taylor Said.

“The main thing is, we don’t want to run a bunch of horses just to be running,” Puhich said. “It takes a special horse. Taylor Said was a special horse. But I’m enthused. If Mr. Bowling can improve a little bit off his last start, he can be really tough, and I’m not giving up on Hoist. We found some things that could have been issues, and he’s been training outstanding. And Tres Borrachos is just a completely different horse now. It would not shock me if he jumps up and runs a monster.”

Metz has a live contender

Trainer Jeff Metz is in the midst of a terrific first season at Emerald Downs and will try to take down the Longacres Mile with Why Not Be Perfect. But while Why Not Be Perfect was the leading handicap horse at Turf Paradise last winter, Metz figures he will need to muster a career-best effort to hit the board in the Longacres Mile.

Metz said eight furlongs is right in his stable star’s wheelhouse − Why Not Be Perfect earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 for his victory in the one-mile Hank Mills Handicap at Turf Paradise in December. But is Why Not Be Perfect fast enough to prevail over the likes of Herbie D, runaway winner of the 1 1/16-mile Mt. Rainier Handicap in his last start, or a handful of top-class middle-distance runners being shipped in from Southern California to run in the Longacres Mile?

“I think a mile or a mile and a sixteenth is his optimal distance,” Metz said of Why Not Be Perfect. “But what kind of race is he in? When he won at Hollywood, he took them gate to wire. He’s got that front speed, but he has also laid second or third and stalked them over in Phoenix and won. So he’s versatile, but I would say he’ll have to run his career-best Beyer to be in the top three in the Longacres Mile.”

Why Not Be Perfect, by the Mr. Greeley stallion Whywhywhy, took a recent detour from Emerald Downs to compete in the Grade 3 Sunset Handicap on July 14 at Betfair Hollywood Park, a 12-furlong marathon on the grass. After pressing the pace under Emerald-based jockey Anne Sanguinetti, Why Not Be Perfect faded to finish fifth, more than 14 lengths behind the winner.

“One, we took a shot, because he had won over that course, and two, we were hoping for a short field,” Metz said of the excursion to Southern California. “It ended up with six, and in the end, it was a tad too tough for him. But he doesn’t get hurt feelings – he always tried. We’re going to take a big shot at the Longacres Mile.”

Why Not Be Perfect missed by less than two lengths in his two previous stakes appearances at Emerald, with mitigating circumstances both times. He could be a juicy price if he starts in the Longacres Mile.

“The first race, cutting back in distance, he made a run, which was nice,” Metz said. “We wanted to see if he’d get behind horses and run into the dirt, and he did. The next race, at a mile, it was just a weird race. He had a little foot issue, but he still tried. If the race were a week sooner, it would have worked perfect. But he ran a nice third, and I think he can do better.”