08/20/2014 12:12PM

Stryker Phd shows he's ready for Longacres Mile

Reed Palmer/Emerald Downs
Mt. Rainier winner Stryker Phd is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Longacres Mile.

AUBURN, Wash. – While the field for Sunday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile took shape around him, likely favorite Stryker Phd went through his final paces this week at Emerald Downs.

In his final serious tune-up, he zipped four furlongs in 46 seconds Sunday, after which trainer Larry Ross pronounced him “pretty much ready” for a smashing effort in the Northwest’s richest race.

“He had a great work,” Ross said of the late-running Stryker Phd. “I had him in 46 and 2, and he galloped out in 58 and change. He’s had three works now, and he’s pretty much ready.”

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Stryker Phd finished second in the Longacres Mile a year ago as a 15-1 outsider. Rob Rao, Emerald Downs’s linemaker, said the 5-year-old Bertrando gelding would be the 5-2 favorite this time around, with Emerald newcomers Prohibition and Title Contender likely to be next in the pecking order. Rao was to post the morning line late Wednesday, following entries and the draw for post positions.

Prohibition hasn’t raced since May 31, when he finished fourth in the Commentator for New York-breds at Belmont Park. Zivo, who won the race, returned to upset the Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont.

“I’m leaning on Prohibition as the second favorite, likely at 7-2,” Rao said. “I know Prohibition will get a lot of play because of that last race he ran in. And he’s got a style that fits the profile of a Mile winner pretty well because he can lay close, and if need be, he can go to the lead.”

Any forward move by Prohibition would be welcomed by Ross and Stryker Phd, whose chances would surely be enhanced by a fast pace. Stryker Phd finished with a rush in the 2013 Mile after the winner, Herbie D, ran the first six furlongs in 1:09. The pace is likely to be a touch slower this time. But Stryker Phd appears to be a better horse than he was 12 months ago.

“I think he’s matured since we’ve had him,” said Ross, who took over training duties last winter after Jim and Mona Hour, Stryker Phd’s owners, switched from Margo Lloyd. “He’s 5 this year and theoretically should be at his peak. He’s trained well. He’s a little finicky, but that’s the way they are sometimes – they all have their quirks. But he likes carrots and apples.”

Leslie Mawing, Emerald Downs’s leading jockey and 2 for 2 aboard Stryker Phd, has the riding assignment. Ross said he’ll give Mawing free rein to handle Stryker Phd any way he sees fit.

“Sometimes you plan these races, and it goes just the opposite of what your mind tells you,” Ross said. “Sometimes it’s best just to let the race happen. It’s better to let the jockey decide, and I have great confidence in Leslie.”