08/10/2012 3:57PM

Emerald: Longacres Mile field looks loaded

Shigeki Kikkawa
Awesome Gem returns to defend his title in the Longacres Mile on Aug. 19.

AUBURN, Wash. – The 77th running of the Longacres Mile, the Northwest’s richest race, is shaping up to be a barnburner. A full field of 12 is expected to compete for a $200,000 purse in the Grade 3 event next Sunday, and top to bottom, it might be the best field ever assembled at Emerald Downs.

Awesome Gem, closing in on $3  million in earnings, will be on hand to defend his Longacres Mile title. On Thursday, trainer John Sadler said Gladding, another graded stakes winner, would ship north from Del Mar to assume a role as a leading contender. Also confirming his intentions was Glen Todd, owner of the powerful Hastings-based tandem of Taylor Said and St Liams Halo. Todd said Mario Gutierrez would ride Taylor Said in the Longacres Mile, and that Leslie Mawing, the defending riding champion at Emerald Downs, would ride St Liams Halo.

Those four join graded stakes winners Hudson Landing, Gallant Son, and Winning Machine as confirmed starters in the Mile. The stakes-winning sprinters Hollywood Harbor and Bailouttheminister are all but set in stone, needing only to be among the top 12 high-weighted horses to make the field. And at least one more heavyweight could be on the way.

At Del Mar, trainer Carla Gaines was mulling her options with John Scott, who finished second in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on July  28. A fast and versatile Bertrando gelding, John Scott would be among the betting favorites should he start in the Longacres Mile. Once a Kentucky Derby hopeful, he missed all of 2010 and 2011 because of injuries.

“He ran against Lookin At Lucky in the Norfolk in 2009 and had a terrible, terrible trip,” said Gaines who was expected to make a decision by the weekend. “He lost by two lengths, but he had to lose five with the trip, and he subsequently fractured his hind leg. We had to put a screw in that leg, and it took a while to heal. Then he returned to my barn and had some tendinitis, so we turned him out again.”

John Scott has been on a steep upward trajectory since returning to the races in April. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96 for his runner-up effort behind Rail Trip in the San Diego. Gaines said the Longacres Mile would give her horse a chance to run a winning race without having to face the likes of Game On Dude and Acclamation in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic.

“He’s a very, very nice horse,” Gaines said of John Scott. “He’s never really run much on the dirt, but he’s trained very well on it, so I don’t think it would be a problem for the horse. If we continue in the mode here at Del Mar, the Pacific Classic is going to be a completely monster race, so I was looking at other options. The horse is very healthy and he’s ready to go.”

The same can be said of Gladding, who is fresh from a romping victory in the 1 1/16-mile Alamedan Handicap at Pleasanton, an effort that earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. He has won 3 of 9 starts since joining Sadler’s barn at the end of 2010. Gladding captured the Grade 2 San Antonio at San Anita in his second start for Sadler and was a close second behind Thiskyhasnolimit in the Grade 3 Texas Mile at Lone Star two months later. Sadler said Juan Hernandez would be in from Southern California for the ride.

Injury likely ends Mitchell’s meet

Jockey Gallyn Mitchell is renowned for his toughness. When he was thrown from a horse a couple of weeks ago and taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, he was back at Emerald Downs 90 minutes later, grinning ear to ear and apparently none the worse for wear. But doctors usually have the final say, and Mitchell’s latest injury, a broken right hand, is likely to keep him out for the rest of the meeting.

Mitchell, 49, suffered the injury last Sunday after his mount, Blueberry Smoothie, became agitated in the starting gate before the Angie C Stakes. The 2-year-old filly reared, tossing Mitchell to the ground, and then stepped on his hand in the ensuing melee. He underwent surgery Wednesday.

“They put pins and wires in him,” Denise Mitchell, his wife and agent, said Thursday. “It’s broken down by the joint, so they couldn’t put a plate in. It’s broken in two, right where your thumb meets your wrist.

“He came out of it really good, though he was in quite a bit of pain today,” she said. “He’ll be out about eight weeks. Of course, he thought he’d be back in a few weeks to get on horses. We’ll see how that goes. But his spirits are good.”

Mitchell is Emerald’s all-time leader in wins, stakes victories, and earnings. He’s been Mr. Reliable since the track opened in 1996, finishing in the top five in the rider standings for 16 consecutive seasons. Blueberry Smoothie’s antics brought that streak to a sudden halt.

“She kicked him around like a soccer ball,” Denise Mitchell said. “He had bruises all over his body, his arms. He’s gone down going 35  mph and hit his head and come up from that okay, but he had a horse step on him and this happens. He’s tough, but this time, he’s going to be on the sidelines for a while.”