08/07/2013 2:02PM

Evangeline Mile draws strong field

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OPELOUSAS, La. – Two of the Midwest’s higher-profile outfits are sending in raiding parties to Evangeline Downs on Saturday night with the prize being the meeting’s richest event, the $125,000 Evangeline Mile Handicap.

Steve Asmussen will be represented by starting highweight Sabercat at 118 pounds and Brethren, who was assigned 117 pounds by Evangeline racing secretary Coleman Lloyd.

Tom Amoss will send out It Happened Again, who is rated just behind Asmussen’s pair at 116 pounds. Add recent local stakes winners Unitas (116) and Smoke It Right (115) into the mix and you have all the makings of a good old-fashioned battle on the bayou.

It Happened Again comes off a 4 1/2-length win in optional $40,000 claiming company at Indiana Downs.

“We started looking around for a spot after that last win,” said Amoss. “To be honest, there really are not that many opportunities at this time of the year on dirt for his kind. The Mile seemed to be a good fit. We have a great respect for Asmussen’s horses, but he won that last pretty easy. We think we have a big shot.”

Overall, It Happened Again has won 11 of his 42 starts. The 7-year-old Proud Citizen gelding races for Maggi Moss and has banked over $613,000.

Sabercat returns to this region for the first time since capturing the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot in November 2011 at nearby Delta Downs. He has not won a race since.

Sabercat went on to finish 15th in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, then did not race again as a 3-year-old.

In seven starts this year, Sabercat has managed an 0-2-3 record at such varied venues as Fair Grounds, Sam Houston, Oaklawn Park, Churchill Downs, and, most recently, Indiana Downs, where he finished third in the Golden Bear Stakes, a race that It Happened Again won in 2012.

In an interesting sidebar, Sabercat will be reunited with jockey Gerard Melancon in the Evangeline Mile. It was Melancon who piloted Sabercat to victory in the Delta Jackpot.

Melancon was also Amoss’s first choice for It Happened Again. Amoss and Melancon have a long history together and teamed up to win the Louisiana Legends Classic here last month with Populist Politics. In Melancon’s stead, leading Louisiana Downs rider Richard Eramia picks up the mount. Eramia has been a one man wrecking crew in the Evangeline stakes ranks of late, journeying down from his north Louisiana base to capture the Louisiana Legends Turf with String King on July 6, the Matron Stakes on Miss Addison on July 20, and the colt and gelding division of the D.S. “Shine” Young Futurity with Le Gris on July 27.

“Believe me, we don’t lose a thing with Richard,” Amoss said. “He’s a class act all the way and his success rate is a tribute to his ability and hard work.”

The presence of Unitas and Smoke It Right almost guarantees that this year’s Mile will have a more-than-honest pace.

Unitas not only won the Legends Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs last month but also accounted for the Need for Speed Stakes at five furlongs on the grass in mid-May. The Brett Brinkman charge had a fortuitous draw for the Mile as he will break from the inside post under crafty veteran Mark Guidry.

Smoke It Right posted a front-running 3 3/4-length victory in the Oak Hall Stakes three weeks ago. The 5-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding has won three of his last five starts, all for trainer Benard Chatters and with Carlos Marquez in the irons.