It's Pacific Classic day at Del Mar where Game On Dude will try to prove he's still the top horse in SoCal while three-year-old Shared Belief looks to stamp his name on the list of Breeders' Cup Classic contenders. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, it's Longacres Mile day at Emerald Downs. The Mile, first run in 1935, sports a long and stories history with prior winners ridden by the likes of Bil Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Jr., Russell Baze, Ed Delahoussaye, and Gary Stevens. This year's field doesn't contain names of that stature, but it does feature a nice, full field of 12 contesting the mile trip over Emerald Downs dirt surface.
1-Jebrica: A $50k claim for trainer Michael Puhich last time out which gives us the rare "first time off the claim in a graded stakes" angle. Jebrica has faced several of today's contenders this season but has come up on the short end repeatedly. Additionally, races at the mile distance at Emerald are heavily biased towards early speed, something Jebrica doesn't have a ton of. He's in a tough spot unless things melt down on the front and he's able to pick up the pieces. Even though there's a ton of speed in this race, closers tend to have a tough time at Emerald.
2-Dontmesswithkitten: This colt put thatcher a decent run down at Turf Paradise last winter/spring before shipping up to the Pacific Northwest where he struggled in his first two starts. The light started to come on in his second start at Emerald when trainer Chris Stenslie put the blinkers on and received that early speed needed for a winning effort at this trip. In his last race he put together his best race at Emerald, losing to today's favorite by a length after setting the pace. That's the path to victory today - go to the lead and make them come and get you. Unfortunately for the Kitten, he's drawn inside and I'm not sure his early speed is quick enough to beat some of these others into the first turn.
3-Prohibition: A New York-bred son of Lawyer Ron ships across the country in an attempt to transfer some of that Parx/Aqueduct form to the Emerald Downs main track. Prohibition hasn't raced since May 31st and sports just four works during that time frame, so I think it's good to have a bit of skepticism as to whether he's fit enough to withstand what should be a testing pace and still have something left in the end. There's a lot to like about Prohibition but his 3/1 ML odds isn't one of them; I'm leery of this guy unless I could get a better price.
4-Twistgrips: I have serious issues with this gelding getting the distance when you see the string of sprints on the form (and the one route at Emerald where he didn't run much at all). He's zip-for-two at a mile in his career and he appears to be a horse that's going to spend most of the early parts of the race near the middle of the pack. This is a tough spot for this Hasting's shipper.
5-Disruption: Of all the horses at odds of 10/1 or higher, Disruption is one that I really like in the Mile. He had to take a year off from racing and is running in only his third race since returning this past June. He was right in the mix with the favorite in the local tune-up for this race and he's put up a couple of fantastic works over the last two weeks leading to the race. Add in one of the top riders on the ground, some early speed that plays to the surface, and we have an very intriguing long shot. It's possible this race might be a bit of "too much, too soon" for this gelding, but the possibility of him moving forward off that last race would, I think, put him right in the mix at the wire.
6-Boyette: The past performance lines show a lot of early speed for this SoCal shipper, but all of them occurred on the lawn and (typically) at distances longer than today's trip. I'm not sold on a turf horse transferring his form to the hard and fast Emerald main track. He's 5-1-0-2 all time on dirt, with one of those victories coming at Emerald a couple of years ago, but it's hard for me to see this race as the best spot for a top effort from this horse.
7-Title Contender: A very dangerous shipper from British Columbia; he's tested and proven at the distance, he possesses good early speed but doesn't need the lead to win, and his connections are top notch. Title Contender drew a perfect post - he should avoid running too wide into the first turn and he'll have every opportunity to pick out the preferred pressing trip down the backstretch. If this gelding is 9/2 at post time, well, I'll run to the window.
8-Scat Daddybaby: Speed, speed, speed. Scat Daddybaby is typically alone on the lead at Emerald Downs in sprint races, but he has shaken loose to win at today's distance on a pair of occasions. He might have to put up a :44 flat half mile if this horse is two lengths clear on the backstretch, which is probably too much, too early, even on this very fast and speed-favoring main track. At a minimum, Scat Daddybaby is going to keep interesting up front early.
9-Stryker Phd: The morning line favorite comes in after winning the two local tune-ups for the Mile and in each instance he won from off the pace, an impressive feat on this track. There's no doubt he'll have plenty of pace to run at in this race but I can't help but feel the task is going to be much tougher today. The big issue for me with the favorite is whether or not he'll have enough time to run down Title Contender in the final quarter mile; Stryker Phd has run down several of today's contenders his last two but it could be argued he'll have a bit more class to chase in the late stages in this race. At 5/2 I'm not really interested in this horse for the win but he certainly won't be left out of any exotic plays.
10-Mysterious Soul: We'll get a good gauge on comparing B.C. horses against Emerald horses as Mysterious Soul is another entry in this field making the trip down from Vancouver. Unlike Title Contender, Mysterious Soul has spent most of the last two years running against allowance foes and not at the stakes level. He turned in some nice efforts down at Turf Paradise this winter but I'm a little leery of his ability to sit close to the pace in today's race. He's not a closer but he really doesn't possess a ton of good early speed even though he prefers to sit closer to the leaders. I think he might get shuffled back early or have to expend way too much energy to keep up with the legit gate speed to his inside.
11-Mr. Bowling: While this horse has found success at several other tracks around the country - Churchill, Hastings, Fair Ground and Indiana - his races at Emerald have been sub-par, at best. He broke slow and was out of last year's Mile before it began, and in his three races at Emerald this spring he's failed to find the winner's circle, including a brutally bad 6th in the Mt. Rainier Handicap on July 20th. Plus, his draw is u-g-l-y; I don't see how this horse gets position up near the front without finding himself losing a lot of ground on the first turn.
12-Shooting Jacket: Given the draw and his lack of early speed, it would appear that Shooting Jacket's best chance for success is to simply tuck inside after the break and wait for the speed to come back to him at the top of the lane. He's tried that tactic with limited success in the two local Mile preps and that's probably the best he can hope for today. I think he's got a good chance to get into the top three, so he makes sense in tris and supers, but I'm not sure he's good enough to beat this group unless things get really messy over the final quarter mile.
I feel like three horses really stand out to me in this year's Mile field: Title Contender, Disruption, and (oddly enough) Scat Daddybaby. I'm leaning towards Title Contender for the win bet play assuming he sticks around those 9/2 morning line odds, while Disruption and Scat Daddybaby are horses I'm targeting underneath in some exacta plays. For anything deeper than the top two, I'm looking to fill in with Styker Phd and Shooting Jacket. I have no idea what I'm going to do with Prohibition; I'll probably toss him in somewhere to be safe but I'd like to see those odds drift up just a bit.