08/14/2013 5:02PM

Emerald Downs: Sprints should have Gladding primed for Longacres Mile

Marcel Langevin/Vassar Photography
Trainer Vann Belvoid claimed Gladding in January with an eye toward having him peak for the Longacres Mile.

AUBURN, Wash. –Vann Belvoir plans to enjoy his homecoming in the Pacific Northwest when he returns to Emerald Downs to saddle Gladding on Sunday in the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile. But for the trip to be profitable on the business end for the Southern California-based trainer, Gladding will need to be more cooperative than he was for his previous connections in 2012, when Gladding shipped north as the pre-race favorite for John Sadler, only to spike a fever and miss the race.

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Belvoir, who left Emerald Downs during the 2011 meeting to try his hand in the big leagues of West Coast racing, had the Longacres Mile in mind when he claimed Gladding on behalf of owner Gary Owens in January at Santa Anita. They paid $62,500 for the 6-year-old Gladding, and Belvoir said he has been fine-tuning the gelding for a Longacres Mile start ever since. When he leaves the gate Sunday under jockey Dennis Carr, Gladding is likely to be among the leaders in the mad dash to the clubhouse turn.

“The reason why I dropped him back into a sprint is, I wanted to get him sharp again for the Mile,” Belvoir said of Gladding’s recent activity, a pair of sprints on synthetic surfaces at Betfair Hollywood Park and Del Mar. “When we claimed him, the goal was the Mile, and I had a long ways to go to get there. I didn’t want him to peak early or late.”

Gladding long ago established the fact that a mile is his best distance. He won by more than 17 lengths the first time he tried eight furlongs on a fast track, at Calder in 2010, an effort that earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 101. He ran a mile in 1:34 at Santa Anita to win a first-level allowance race late that year, and missed by a half-length in the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star in 2011. A year later, he was a close second in the Santana Mile at Santa Anita, a prelude to his ill-fated trip to Emerald Downs.

Gladding has started just six times over the past 13 months, and Belvoir has put space between his races. Gladding sat idle for two months after being claimed, and then encountered trouble in his second crack at the Santana Mile on March 31. After another two-month break, he returned to run third in a second-level optional claimer at Hollywood Park.

In his most recent start, Aug. 1 at Del Mar, Gladding was equipped with blinkers, a career first, and they will stay on for the Longacres Mile.

“In the Santana Mile, he had kind of a rough trip . . . Then I came back, just trying to keep him healthy, and Gary Stevens rode him in a sprint,” Belvoir said. “He’s not really a synthetic horse, but he ran well, and then this time, we come to Del Mar, and I put a little blinker on him to keep his speed sharp. He was running off with Corey Nakatani, and then got boxed in down the backside. He’s a horse you don’t want to get stopped in a sprint. But he kicked for third, and that set him up perfectly for the Mile.”

Gladding was scheduled to arrive at Emerald Downs in the wee hours of Friday morning. He landed the number 4 post position when entries were drawn Wednesday morning and will carry 116 pounds.

“He will fly in late Thursday,” Belvoir said Tuesday from Del Mar. “I’ll come in Friday, and then Saturday we’ll jog, stretch his legs, let him see the place, and maybe school him in the paddock Saturday afternoon.”

Carr has never been aboard Gladding, but the Northern California-based jockey has been riding at a high level and has a history with Belvoir. After reaching out to Stevens, and then former Longacres riding champion Gary Boulanger, Belvoir opted for Carr, who finished second in the jockey standings at Golden Gate’s 2012-13 winter/spring meeting behind the inevitable Russell Baze.

“He and I have done well together with horses at Golden Gate. We rode together, we’re good buddies, and he’s a great rider,” Belvoir said of Carr. “Dennis will fit the horse, he’s rode over that surface, and obviously he was a top pick for us.”

On Saturday night, Belvoir will attend an awards dinner at Emerald Downs honoring the newest members of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame. His father, trainer Howard Belvoir, is being enshrined, along with jockey Gallyn Mitchell, breeder Czech-Mate Farm, and horses Table Hands and Military Hawk. Ralph Vacca, a prominent figure with the Washington Horse Breeders Association, will be recognized with a lifetime achievement award.

After celebrating with family on Saturday, Belvoir will get back to business Sunday. Politicallycorrect, trained by Wesley Ward, is the likely Longacres Mile favorite, but Gladding figures to be an attractive option in the wagering. As for the horse to beat, Belvoir is partial to Herbie D, a Hastings-based speedster who rolled to a front-running victory at Emerald Downs in his last start.

“Wesley’s horse is going to be tough coming in, but you have to go with the local horse, Herbie D, who’s had a race over the track,” Belvoir said. “But he’s not going to get a 47 half-mile this time . . . no one is going to get an easy lead in this race. That’s why I put the blinker on Gladding – you have to have gate speed.”