Background, in the foreground, surges past Windribbon to win the 2021 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. Background will attempt to defend his title on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Emerald Downs)

Background, in the foreground, surges past Windribbon to win the 2021 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. Background will attempt to defend his title on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Emerald Downs)

Giddyup!: Background looks to defend Longacres Mile title

The 87th running of the event takes place Sunday at Emerald Downs.

AUBURN — Background, last year’s Longacres Mile hero, is back to defend his title against 11 rivals in Sunday’s 87th running of the $150,000 Mile at Emerald Downs.

Background drew the No. 4 post-position and was made a 2 to 1 morning line favorite in his bid to become the fifth two-time Mile winner, and just the second at Emerald Downs. Trained by Mike Puhich for Bob and Molly Rondeau of Normandy Park, the 5-year-old Florida-bred has won six of 20 career starts with earnings of $430,488, including four wins in six starts at a mile.

“He’s had a bit of a gap between races, and he runs really well fresh,” Puhich said Wednesday of Background. “If (Background’s) as good on Sunday as he is this morning, he’s going to be a tough customer.”

A three-time Emerald Downs’ riding champion, Rocco Bowen guided Background to an emotional come-from-behind victory in the 2021 Mile. Bowen was injured Monday at Presque Isle Downs and underwent surgery Wednesday for a broken clavicle and is sidelined indefinitely. In his place will be Geovanni Franco, who rode Background to victories at Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs this spring. Franco also will ride probable favorite Princess of Cairo in the $75,000 Emerald Distaff and Big Java in the $75,000 Washington Oaks.

Majestic Eagle, from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale, is a 4 to 1 second choice on the morning line. A 7-year-old gelding, Majestic Eagle is an accomplished turf horse but unproven on dirt. Owned by Seattle locals Ray Morton and John Lindley, Majestic Eagle ships north after firing two bullet drills on Del Mar’s main track.

Trainer Blaine Wright has been in the thick of the Longacres Mile the last four years, compiling a win and three seconds since 2018, and saddles Top Executive, Huge Bigly, and Torpedo Away in this year’s race.

The reigning Emerald Downs’ Horse of the Meeting, John and Janene Maryanski and Riverbend Stable’s

Top Executive has won six of 11 career starts, including five of eight starts at Emerald Downs with four stakes wins. A 4-year-old gelding, Top Executive won his only race around two turns on dirt, capturing the 2021 Muckleshoot Derby at a mile and one-sixteenth.

Slew’s Tiz Whiz enters the Mile in peak form for trainer Tom Wenzel. The 4-year-old gelding has won consecutive sprints including a come-from-behind score in the Governor’s Stakes at 6½ furlongs.

Lusk Racing’s Papa’s Golden Boy, the dominant sprinter at Emerald Downs the past two years, drew the No. 12 post-position and figures to be flying early under jockey Kevin Radke. The 6-year-old gelding held on well last year and was beaten just 2¼ lengths while finishing fourth to Background.

Entries also were drawn Wednesday for the $75,000 Emerald Distaff, $75,000 Muckleshoot Derby, and $75,000 Washington Oaks. A special $0.50 Pick 4 will be offered on the four Championship Sunday stakes.

The Longacres Mile is the eighth of 10 races scheduled for Sunday. The field, with post positions, jockeys and morning-line odds:

1: Slew’s Tiz Whiz, Jose Zunino, 8/1

2: Top Executive, Evin Roman, 6/1

3: Majestic Eagle, Declan Cannon, 4/1

4: Background, Geovanni Franco, 2/1

5: Kingmeister, Javier Matias, 30/1

6: Huge Bigly, Eddie Martinez, 8/1

7: Unmachable, Kevin Orozco, 15/1

8: Hard to Deny, Jake Samuels, 30/1

9: Torpedo Away, Alex Cruz, 20/1

10: Five Star General, Leslie Mawing, 12/1

11: Spittin Image, Juan Gutierrez, 15/1

12: Papa’s Golden Boy, Kevin Radke, 10/1

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