08/21/2014 2:43PM

Shooting for an upset in Longacres Mile

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AUBURN, Wash. – Looking for a bomb in Sunday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs? While the race lured a full field of 12, bettors are likely to zero in on just three – Stryker Phd, Title Contender, and Prohibition – all 9-2 or less on the morning line. The intriguing flip side is that eight of the 12 are listed at 12-1 or higher, leaving the door ajar for a potential lightning strike.

This year’s Longacres Mile has a strong Canadian flavor, with half the field either owned or trained by Canadians – all with ample incentive to get involved following Mile victories by Hastings-based horses in 2012 (Taylor Said) and 2013 (Herbie D). Four Hastings runners are scheduled to compete Sunday, with Shooting Jacket the longest shot among them. In fact, a victory by Shooting Jacket likely would challenge No Giveaway’s $122 stunner in 2005 as the biggest upset in the Mile’s 79-year history.

[Longacres Mile: Get PPs, watch Sunday's card live]

A 4-year-old Hard Spun gelding with just two victories, Shooting Jacket would seem to be a poor candidate for success in a graded stakes event, yet the late-running Shooting Jacket has improved markedly in recent starts for trainer Dino Condilenios. In his most recent outing, in the July 20 Mt. Rainier Handicap at Emerald Downs, he closed with a rush to finish fourth, 3 3/4 lengths behind Stryker Phd. In fact, Shooting Jacket finished faster than Stryker Phd, who is likely to be favored Sunday.

Further cooling bettors on Shooting Jacket, he drew post 12, a daunting starting point because of the short run to the first turn. Condilenios conceded that Shooting Jacket will need a lot of things to go just right for him to factor into the outcome. Jockey Felipe Valdez is far more confident, paying his own airfare to Seattle for another chance aboard Shooting Jacket. Valdez rode the horse in the Mt. Rainier but has since moved to Southern California.

“Talking to Felipe, he begged me to run the horse back,” Condilenios said. “He said he’d pay his own way to ride him. He said he could have won the last race. I watched the video 10 times and thought he had a clean trip, but Felipe thinks he made the wrong move – he felt he had a ton of horse. He thinks he should have been second, anyway. From that standpoint, I thought he deserved another shot at it, and that’s why we’re coming down.”

Condilenios said he’ll ask Valdez to take the horse back and make one concerted run at the tiring leaders. The pace generally is fast in the Longacres Mile, and with the speedy Scat Daddybaby in this year’s field, the closers should have an inviting target.

“He’s going to have to go around 10 or 11 horses to get there if he’s going to get there,” Condilenios said. “There’s enough speed to set him up. That’s the plan for us, and I’m sure for Stryker Phd as well.”

Even if his horse doesn’t make the grade, Condilenios said the other Hastings-based Mile horses should be viewed as legitimate contenders. Title Contender, he said, is the best of the bunch.

“He’s pretty good – don’t sell him short,” he said of Title Contender. “I know he’s had some trouble shipping, and at the Canadian Derby last year he just melted down in the paddock. But I’m sure he’ll do better. He’s a tough horse. Mr. Bowling ran a huge one up here to beat him. Those are probably the top two horses, but all the Vancouver horses are pretty solid. They’re all in with a chance.”