08/23/2013 3:57PM

Emerald Downs: Stryker Phd does his thing in Longacres Mile

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Erin Palmer/Emerald Downs
Herbie D runs off with the Longacres Mile, with Stryker Phd coming between horses for second.

AUBURN, Wash. – The handicap division at Emerald Downs spent much of the past week licking its wounds after a Canadian shipper dominated the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile last Sunday.

Herbie D, based at Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia, essentially toyed with the field in the Northwest’s signature race, setting a fast pace to repel his would-be pace adversaries and then easily holding off a wall of closers through the final furlong. Herbie D earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, the first triple-digit speed figure in the Longacres Mile since 2006.

Among the four Emerald-based runners to take a shot at Herbie D, Stryker Phd was most successful, though the late-running Bertrando 4-year-old never truly threatened the winner. Near the back of the field as the horses entered the backstretch, Stryker Phd and jockey Debbie Hoonan rallied steadily to finish second, a neck ahead of Southern California shipper Golden Itiz and 1 1/2 lengths behind Herbie D.

“I thought his performance was great,” trainer Margo Lloyd said of Stryker Phd, who has finished second in four successive stakes races. “He ate a lot of dirt and he kept on going. That’s what Debbie said about him. He moved up gradually, and when it was time to kick in, he kicked. But the other horse is a nice horse.

“I was really happy. Usually, when he finishes his races he gallops out on top, and sometimes he’s five in front before you know it. But after the Mile, he went to go by Herbie D, and he got a neck in front, and then Herbie D started running again and they galloped out together. That just shows you how competitive they both are.”

Lloyd said Stryker Phd would start next in the $50,000 Muckleshoot Tribal Classic on Washington Cup Day on Sept. 8. That race is restricted to statebreds but won’t necessarily be a slam-dunk for Stryker Phd. Jebrica, who made a bold move on the second turn to reach contention in the Longacres Mile and finished gamely for fourth, also is being pointed to the 1 1/16-mile Muckleshoot Tribal Classic.

Lloyd is mindful that despite his recent string of sharp efforts, Stryker Phd has just one victory. But she said the horse was “really cheerful” and full of energy after the Mile.

“I don’t think he knows he’s been running second,” Lloyd said. “Well, maybe in this one, but in the others he was in front right after the wire, and I think he thought he won. We know he’s a nonwinner of two, but he thinks he’s won a bunch of times.”

After the Washington Cup, Stryker Phd could make another start in Northern California, perhaps on the grass at Golden Gate Fields, before shutting down for the year. Stryker Phd recorded his only victory on yielding Golden Gate turf last November.

“We’ll play it by ear, one step at a time,” Lloyd said. “Debbie will go down, too, if we decide to do that. But he’s only 4, and I think 5 will be a good year, too.”

The Jebrica camp also was pleased with its runner’s effort, a significant upgrade from his troubled eighth-place finish in 2012.

“I think he put a great effort in,” said Kay Cooper, who runs day-to-day operations for trainer Jim Penney. “Obviously, he wants to go farther, and we’re eyeing the Premiers in Canada as well as the Washington Cup. He’s happy. I wish he was a little closer, but he ran a great race and beat a lot of nice horses. The one local we were worried about was Stryker Phd, and he ran an excellent race for Margo. We were very happy to be a part of it.”

Why Not Be Perfect, who finished sixth after encountering trouble on the second turn, will start next on Sept. 2 in either the $50,000 Rolling Green at Golden Gate or the $35,000 Portland Mile at Portland Meadows, trainer Jeff Metz said. Until You, who arrived from Southern California in July and finished seventh in the Longacres Mile, will stay at Emerald Downs, with the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic his next assignment.

As for Winning Machine, a gallant runner-up behind Taylor Said in the 2012 Longacres Mile, the No. 12 post position and a formidable pace rival proved too much to overcome. After pressing Herbie D’s pace for six furlongs, Winning Machine retreated to finish 10th under Javier Matias.

“Obviously, you want to win the Mile and not run up the track, but Javier got him out really good from the 12 hole,” trainer Frank Lucarelli said. “But it was too hot of a pace for him to survive it. The winner is a nice horse, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to lay right on him. From the post we had, that’s all we could do.”

If there was unanimity among Emerald horsemen, it was in the fact that the best horse won the race. Herbie D, a horse named for a stroke victim and owned by two cancer survivors, stood head and shoulders above the local contingent, turning them back early with a brilliant burst of speed and holding them off late with an impressive display of willpower.

“I think he’s pretty damn good,” Lucarelli said of Herbie D, who captured the Mount Rainier Handicap at Emerald Downs before his victory in the Longacres Mile. “When he beat us the first time, I said he’s going to be the nuts in the Mile, and then I got to looking at the field and I thought, ‘Shoot, maybe he won’t be the horse to beat.’ But he turned out to be the one.”