AUBURN — It had all the makings of a sports movie: a host of obstacles, out-of-town villains, and a hometown hero trying to win the big one a year after falling just short.
At Emerald Downs on Sunday, Stryker Phd played the role of leading man to perfection, rallying from dead last in the field of 12 to win the 79th running of the $200,000 Longacres Mile, the Northwest’s richest horse race.
As for obstacles, there were already 11 horses in front of Stryker Phd by the time the field had rounded the first turn of the 1-mile oval. After a quarter-mile, he was loping along in last place, 14 lengths behind leader Scat Daddybaby. But the pace was blistering, and that played into the hands of Stryker Phd’s jockey, Leslie Mawing, who was saving ground and conserving his horse’s energy early in the race.
“I wanted to be in a comfortable position, but I didn’t expect to be in last,” Mawing said after the race. “We were going nice and easy.”
Stryker Phd got to work after a half-mile, swinging wide to pass one horse, then another. By the time they reached the top of the stretch, he still had six horses ahead of him, but those horses’ strides were shortening while Stryker Phd had all the momentum. He reached the lead in mid-stretch and held off a game finish by Southern California-based Boyett to win by a half-length.
Stryker Phd ran the mile in a quick 1:33 3/5 and paid $4.60 to win. Boyett paid $8.80 to place and longshot Twistgrips filled out the top three, paying $9.40 to show.
It was the third straight stakes triumph at Emerald Downs for Stryker Phd, who finished second in the 2013 edition of the Mile.
The victory was clearly a popular one among fans, and not just because Stryker Phd was the 6-5 favorite in the betting. The 5-year-old gelding owned by Jim and Mona Hour of Bellevue is the first Washington-bred to win the race since 2010. His trainer, Larry Ross, is a Northwest racing legend who won the 1985 running of the Mile at Longacres racetrack with Chum Salmon. Much like in Sunday’s race, Chum Salmon won with a furious rally from far back in the pack.
“It really did remind me of Chum Salmon,” Ross said. “More than I expected, but the pace was pretty hot. That’s just his style. You’re not going to change it.”
It was the first Longacres Mile victory for Mawing, a veteran jockey who is the track’s leading rider this year.
“It’s a great feeling to win my first Mile,” Mawing said. “I’ve been here since the opening year and this race has always been eluding me. The best I’ve run in the Mile before was a fourth, so this is just fantastic.”
Notes: Undefeated Stopshoppingdebbie led gate to wire in the championship race of the meet for fillies and mares, the $65,000 Emerald Distaff Handicap. She ran her record to 9-for-9, all at Emerald Downs. As the 1-5 favorite, she paid just $2.40 to win. Live racing continues at Emerald Downs through Sept. 28, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday except for Labor Day weekend, when they will race Saturday, Sunday and Monday.