Morning-line favorite Stryker Phd will seek to answer that question in Sunday's $200,000 race, the richest of the year at Emerald Downs.
Stryker Phd, who will break from post 9 in a full field of 12, has done everything right this season, rallying from the back of the pack to win the Mount Rainier Handicap at 1 1/16 miles in July and the Budweiser Handicap at Sunday's 1-mile distance in June. With track-leading jockey Leslie Mawing aboard, the 5-year-old gelding is the 5-2 morning-line favorite to complete the hat trick of middle-distance stakes races at the Auburn oval.
Standing in his way? Eleven challengers and a lot of history.
Only three other horses have managed to win the Mile in 18 previous runnings at Emerald Downs by rallying from far back in the field -- the last being Wasserman, who surprised at 10-1 in 2008. In most years, the eventual winner is either on the lead or within a few lengths at every call.
Stryker Phd saw that for himself in the 2013 Mile when he came flying down the stretch, only to finish second to gate-to-wire winner Herbie D.
On paper, this year's competition doesn't include anyone as accomplished as Herbie D was last year, but there are some intriguing contenders, including:
- Prohibition, shipping in from New York's Belmont Park, where he was last seen finishing fourth against some elite competition in May.
- Title Contender, a winner of three stakes races this year. He's seeking to become the third consecutive horse to travel south from Hastings Park in Vancouver, B.C., to capture the Longacres Mile.
- Mr. Bowling, another Hastings-based stakes-winning horse who made a poor 11th-place showing after breaking slowly as one of the favorites in last year's Mile.
“He should be able to get into a good position,” trainer Larry Ross said. “Being on the outside, Leslie (Mawing) can look in and monitor the pace. You couldn't really ask for anything better with his training. I think he's really good right now, for sure.”
The field from the rail out with morning-line odds and weight assignments: 1. Jebrica (15-1) 116; 2. Dontmesswithkitten (20-1) 116; 3. Prohibition (3-1) 118; 4. Twistgrips (20-1) 115; 5. Disruption (12-1) 116; 6. Boyett (12-1) 116; 7. Title Contender (9-2) 121; 8. Scat Daddybaby (15-1) 115; 9. Stryker Phd (5-2) 121; 10. Mysterious Soul (15-1) 116; 11. Mr. Bowling (8-1) 117; 12. Shooting Jacket (20-1) 115.
Notes: The 79th Longacres Mile is the seventh of 11 races on Sunday and has a 5 p.m. post time. It will be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet. The first race is at 2 p.m. The track will give away bobblehead dolls of previous Mile champion Wasserman. Sunday's card also includes the $65,000 Emerald Distaff Handicap, the season's top race for fillies and mares. It features undefeated Stopshoppingdebbie, who has won all eight of her career starts at Emerald Downs.
Longacres Mile superfecta (top 4) picks by Doug Parry, The Herald's resident horse racing expert:
- 1. Prohibition has the tactical speed to stay in the race early and the class to be in front at the end.
- 2. Disruption has the look of an improving horse and could have his head in front when they turn for home.
- 3. Stryker Phd is sure to come running and hit the board, but passing all 11 rivals is a tall order.
- 4. Title Contender would be no surprise, based on Canada's recent dominance in the Mile.
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