Trainer Larry Ross was quick to acknowledge the similarities between his current star Stryker Phd and former runner Chum Salmon.
“This horse (Stryker Phd) does remind me of Chum,” Ross said. “A lot more than I realized.”
You can now add Longacres Mile winners to the list of parallels.
Heavy-favorite Stryker Phd used a huge late kick down the lane, charging from last place, to capture the 79th running of the $200,000 Longacres Mile Handicap (Grade III) on Sunday at Emerald Downs.
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The race was eerily similar to Chum Salmon’s victory in the 1985 Longacres Mile when the Ross trainee trailed by 15 lengths before crossing the wire first.\
Nearly three decades later, Stryker Phd, ridden by Leslie Mawing, had a comparable trip as the gelding was 14 lengths behind front-runner Scat Daddybaby, midway through the first turn and trailed the leader by 13 1/2 lengths at the half-mile mark.
“I didn’t expect him to be last by that much,” said Mawing, who posted his first career Longacres Mile victory. “I knew if he was that far back there had to be a hot pace.”
Scat Daddybaby provided that blistering pace, setting fractions of 22.52 seconds, 44.83, 1:08.42 and 1:20.94 under rider Gallyn Mitchell, the track’s all-time leading jockey and a two-time winner of the Mile.
Once the field hit the second turn Stryker Phd made his move, cruising by competitors before grabbing a slim advantage over Boyett at the top of the stretch.
“When we got to the backside, there were probably still 10 to 12 lengths still in front of me,” Mawing said. “I knew they were going fast and we were in a good stride, so for sure they were going to come back to me. I gave him a few taps at the three-eighths pole and he picked it up really nice. He was picking off horses one by one.”
Boyett was able to establish a slight lead into the lane and responded once passed by Stryker Phd, but was unable to overtake the eventual winner once passed, losing by a half-length.
Stryker Phd, a 5-year-old Washington-bred son of Bertrando out of Striking Scholar, crossed the wire in a speedy 1:33.67.
Going off at 1.30-to-1 odds, Stryker Phd improved his career record to 5-4-4 from 16 starts and collected $110,000 to increase his lifetime earnings to $292,751 for owners Jim and Mona Hour.
It was the gelding’s third stakes triumphs in as many starts this season at Emerald Downs, having already won the Mount Rainier and Budweiser Handicaps.
“I’ve been here since the opening year and this race has always been eluding me,” said Mawing, who has ridden Stryker Phd in all three of the gelding’s starts this year. “The best I’ve run in the Mile before was a fourth, so this is just fantastic.”
Stryker Phd finished a strong-closing second in last year’s Longacres Mile, losing to front-runner Herbie D. He becomes the first horse since Awesome Gem in 2011 to win the Mile a year after being the runner-up.
The winner returned $4.60 to win, $3.20 to place and $2.60 to show.
“This really is a tough race to win,” Ross said. “We’ve had a few seconds, but only one winner (Chum Salmon) until now. I just wish we didn’t have to wait 29 years between victories.”
Boyett, with jockey Agapito Delgadillo, finished second and paid $8.80 and $6.
“I had a very nice trip. I was behind the speed, and I was very close,” Delgadillo said. “He gave me a nice run when I asked him. We had everything go our way, we just got beat.”
Twistgrips, a near 25-1 longshot under Amadeo Perez, got up for third, returning $9.40.
Scatdaddybaby, Shooting Jacket, Mr. Bowling, Prohibition, Disruption, Dontmesswithkitten, Jebrica, Mysterious Soul and Title Contender completed the order of finish.
The victory capped an eight-day period which started with Ross, who conditions horses with his wife, Sharon, seeing former champion Chum Salmon inducted into the Washington State Racing Hall of Fame on Aug. 17.
“That was a lot fun having Chum go into the Hall of Fame,” Ross said. “He was really the horse that put us on the map.”
The undercard was highlighted by undefeated Stopshoppingdebbie winning the $65,000 Emerald Distaff. The 4-year-old filly defeated stablemate Goin to the Window by three-quarters of a length to post her ninth victory in nine career starts.
Guided by Rocco Bowen, Stopshoppingdebbie went wire-to-wire, covering the 1 1/8-mile stakes in 1:47.45.