Because of its relatively remote location the racing at Emerald Downs is pretty self-contained from year-to-year, meaning that in many races the same horses run against each other on multiple occasions, especially in stakes races. In some ways that makes handicapping easier in that there is a known quality about the contenders and their strengths relative to one another. On the other hand, it can be difficult to come to a clear opinion on a race when much of the field has spent time beating up on each other in race after race.
This year's Longacres Mile presents this time-honored Emerald Downs tradition of a stakes race filled with horses that have taken turns beating up on one another over the past two years. Below is a breakdown of the major stakes races at Emerald over the past year and how entries in the Mile have fared in those events. I've included a few races from Hastings Park in B.C. since the field has a bit of bleed over from the two tracks:
- Mt. Rainier Handicap (1 1/8 miles, 8/1/2010): Noosa Beach goes wire-to-wire for the win over Senor Rojo (2nd), Gallon (4th), Wasserman (5th), and Assessment 6th).
- Randall Plate Handicap @ Hastings (1 1/16 miles, 7/18/2010): Burj Dubai and Senor Rojo finish 2nd and 4th respectively.
- Governor's Handicap (6½ furlongs, 7/11/10): Assessment defeats Noosa Beach (2nd), Gallon (3rd), Davos (4th), Wasserman (5th), and Winning Machine (7th).
- Budweiser Handicap (1 1/16 furlongs, 6/6/2010): Almost Time defeats Teide (2nd) and Senor Rojo (3rd).
- Seattle Handicap (6 furlongs, 5/16/2010): Noosa Beach defeats Winning Machine (2nd), Assessment (5th), Gallon (6th), and Wasserman (8th).
- Allowance (5 ½ furlongs, 4/18/2010): Noosa Beach defeats Winning Machine (2nd) and Wasserman (5th).
- G3-B.C. Derby @ Hastings (1 1/8 miles, 9/27/2009): Winning Machine defeats Jersey Town (2nd), Noosa Beach (4th) and Senor Rojo (4th).
- G3-Longacres Mile (1 mile, 8/16/2009): Assessment defeats Teide (3rd), Wasseman (4th) and Gallon (8th)
There is only one horse in the field that hasn't run a race against any of his rivals in the last year and that is the morning line favorite, Gallant Son.
Here's a look at each horse in this year's Longacres Mile:
-The first of two entries trained by Frank Lucarelli, 1-Winning Machine has had a bit of a tough time in 2010 after winning the Grade 3 B.C. Derby at Hastings and the Emerald Derby in September of 2009. Since those back to back Derby wins he's 4-0-2-0 including a pair of weak performances in the Budweiser and Governors Handicap in his last two starts. He was right with Noosa Beach in April and May (and he was third to Gallant Son and Noosa Beach in the 2008 Gottstein Futurity) but he current form suggests he's in for a tough go.
-Normally based in B.C. at Hastings Park, 2-Senor Rojo made his first start at Emerald Downs in the Mt. Rainier Handicap on August 1st. He finished a second to Noosa Beach in that race but it was a well-beaten second (4 ½ lengths back). The Mt. Rainier represented one of his all-time best performances but he'll have to improve on that in order to have a realistic shot to beat Noosa Beach and Gallant Son in this spot.
-3-Wasserman is the old pro in this year's mile field, an eight year old gelding making his fourth start in the Longacres Mile (he won the 2008 race). As nice of a story as it would be to see Wasserman win this race, he's been beaten time and time again this year by many of the contenders in this field and appears to be past him top form.
-I don't think there's any question that when he's running at his best that 4-Jersey Town could be a major player in this field. I'm a bit concerned, however, with the lack of racing in 2010. After finishing second in the B.C. Derby at Hastings last September he was given a very long break following by a return to the track on July 25. He won in his comeback effort in a very professional race but that represents his only race of the year and his only prep for the Mile. Given the fact that he's probably going to be up on the lead with Noosa Beach he's got a tall task in front of him from a conditioning perspective.
-5-Noosa Beach has simply been the best horse at Emerald Downs during 2010 as he's run up a 5-4-2-0 record, including wins in the Seattle Handicap, the Budweiser Handicap and the Mt. Rainier Handicap. He wants to be up on the lead in the early stages so his biggest weakness is the possibility that he could get burned out on the front end. I don't know if that's a realistic possibility given the fact that he's demonstrated this year that he can successfully carry his sprint speed around two turns.
Noosa Beach finished third behind Winning Machine and Jersey Town in the B.C. Derby last September but I'm willing to forgive that effort since it was run in the bull-ring as opposed to a more traditional two-turn race.
-6-Gallon hasn't won a race since taking an OC/N$Y race last September and he's clearly been a notch below the top stakes horses on the ground during all of 2010. I don't like to bet against Jim Penny (or Juan Gutierrez) but I don't think Gallon is up to the task in this spot.
-Not sure what happened to 7-Almost Time in the Lt. Governor's Handicap at Hastings two races back; he'd been consistently one of the best horses on the grounds all year and then he just threw in an absolute clunker. He came back to easily win the BC Cup Sprint on August 2nd so perhaps he's back on track but I've got some apprehensions as to his true form right now.
-The morning line favorite, 8-Gallant Son, was the 2008 Juvenile Champion at Emerald Downs before shipping to California to continue his career. His best races in SoCal have come on the turf where he won the listed Pasadena Stakes and the Grade 3 Inglewood Handicap. He was also second, beaten by a length, to The Usual Q.T. in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort on the lawn at Santa Anita. Beyond the strong performances against graded stakes company in SoCal, Gallant Son possesses a running style that plays right into this year's Longacres Mile. A common occurrence in the Mile every year is the presence of a multiple speed horses that set extremely quick fractions on the front end. What we don't see a lot of in the mile are horses that do their best running by coming from well off the pace when running two turns. Gallant Son, however, demonstrated that he can win two-turn races at Emerald by sitting back in the early stages when he won the Gottstein Futurity and the WTBA Lads Stakes in 2008.
-9-Teide was third in this race last year when he closed from well back in the final quarter mile to finish a nose behind Awesome Gem. That closing kick may have been a bit of an optical illusion as he ran a final quarter split of 25.26 seconds. Since last August he's 7-4-2-0 with a 5th place finish in the Grade 2 Autum Stakes at Woodbine as his only non-top two finish. He's got the talent to win this race and his tactical speed and stalking running style should keep him right in the thick of things for most of the race.
-10-Davos is bred and owned by Emerald Downs Track President Ron Crockett and his racing career follows a similar pattern of a lot of Crockett's better horses. Davos spent much of his career running in Northern and Southern California and has been brought back up to the Northwest most likely to specifically point to this race. His last three races at Emerald have been so-so efforts and Davos is a long shot on paper to win this race. However, it's good to beware of the horse that has been pointing to one race all season long, especially one that is owned by the Track President and also sees Russell Baze make the trip up from NorCal to ride.
-The last race for 11-Assessment looks pretty bad on paper (6th of 7 in the Mt. Rainier Hcp.) but I don't think he got any help from the jockey that day when he was moved into the lead with about 3/8th of a mile to go into the teeth of fairly strong fractions. I can understand what jockey Galyn Mitchell was thinking as he didn't want to allow Noosa Beach to roll along unpressured. Unfortunately, the move to challenge the leader probably cost Assessment any chance at the victory. A better trip in the Mile should make for a much improved effort from this horse.
-You don't see horses like 12-Burj Dubai around Emerald or Hastings that often, as he was a $1 million purchase at the 2007 Keeneland September sale. Named after the tallest man-made structure ever built, Burj Dubai is a son of Distored Humor out of a A.P. Indy mare (Alchemist), and was purchased by Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, at Keeneland. He apparently didn't fit in with Sheikh Mohammed's racing plans as he was sold to Swift Thoroughbreds in a private sale sometime around March or April of this year. He made his racing debut in a Maiden Special Weight at Hastings on May 29th and promptly blew the field away by eight lengths. He followed that up with a ¾ length score in an OC/N$Y allowance and then lost by a neck after setting a hot pace in the Randall Plate Handicap. He's only had three races in his career, a number that suggests he doesn't have the experience to win in this spot, but the presence of Alex Solis in the saddle indicates that the connections think this horse is ready to run a big one. Intriguing.
Like it is many years, the 2010 version of the Mile appears to be a pretty wide-open race. There are probably only two or three horses that would be complete shockers if they were to win, with the rest of the field all having decent shots to take the top prize.
I'm going to lean on the top local horse in this race, Noosa Beach, and take him as the top choice. There is the possibility that he could be compromised by a fast pace but I think his races this year have shown he can handle quite a bit of pressure on the frontend without wilting. The big question is whether he can hold off what is likely to be a hard charging Gallant Son in deep stretch; I think he can and I'll play him to win and on top of my exactas and tris.
My long shot play in this spot is going to be the outside horse, Burj Dubai. This will be this gelding's first start on a traditional mile oval after running his first three races on the bull ring at Hastings. This horse has the potential to complete flop or an absolute freak in this spot...at 10/1 on the morning line, I'll take a stab that he might be a freak.