In a span of about 1 minute and 34 seconds Sunday afternoon, two Emerald Downs greats could finally fill a big gap in their impressive resumes.
The odds are 15-1 against it. But bet against Winning Machine and trainer Frank Lucarelli in the Longacres Mile at your own risk. They are proven winners, and seem due to win the Grade III, $200,000 Mile. Maybe even overdue.
Lucarelli, the second-leading trainer in Emerald Downs history, is leading the standings again this year after winning the training title the past two years. Winning Machine, whom Lucarelli started training in summer 2010, has been one of the best horses on the grounds since winning the Emerald Downs Derby as a 3-year-old in 2009.
It would seem only fitting that the two can finally check off the Longacres Mile on their to-do list at the same time.
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“For anyone who races horses in the Northwest, you want to win the Longacres Mile,” said Lucarelli, 56, who remembers sneaking into Longacres in Renton when he was a kid. “It’s a race I would love to win.”
He almost did last year. Winning Machine had never been better than he was a year ago, and he took the early lead in the Mile. At the top of the stretch, favored Taylor Said, an invader from Canada, passed Winning Machine and seemed headed to an easy win.
But Winning Machine fought back and the two horses waged a stirring duel to the finish, with Winning Machine falling a head short.
“I thought we were beaten, but our horse ran on,” Lucarelli said. “It was one of the most courageous performances I have ever seen. I think he got his head back in front in midstretch. I’ve never been more happy and disappointed at the same time.
“You don’t know from year to year whether you will have a horse that can run in the Mile. Who knows, I might not have another horse like that again in my career. So to lose by a head bob was very disappointing.”
After that narrow miss, Winning Machine was sent to Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif., where he competed against some of the best horses in the country. In the Grade I Awesome Again stakes in September, he set the early pace but faded to sixth of nine.
The horse got an extended break after that, returning to action at Emerald in April. He is winless in four tries this year, with a second and a third, but Lucarelli said the horse is happy, healthy and just as good as last year. Lucarelli blames himself for a couple of the losses, saying he made bad strategic decisions.
Sunday’s task was not made easier when Winning Machine drew the No. 12 post position, which partially explains why the horse is 15-1 on the morning line.
But drawing the far outside made Sunday’s strategy straightforward. Lucarelli wants jockey Javier Matias to run the horse hard into the first turn while trying to get a spot where he is not forced too wide. With Winning Machine’s good early speed, he has a chance to make that happen.
“If you asked every trainer in the race which post they least wanted to have, I think they all would have said post No. 12,” Lucarelli said. “But we’ll be loading last, and we should be able to get in and out of there pretty quickly. Hopefully, he’ll be on his toes and ready to run. If he just had stalking speed, he would be in a rough spot. But he has enough speed and if we got the best horse, I think he can win.”
Coldwater won the first Mile in 1935 from the No. 12 post. It took 74 years for the next winner from post No. 12, when Assessment did it in 2009. Assessment was able to get a good trip under a great ride by Gallyn Mitchell, and Lucarelli hopes his horse can have the same luck. He said he would be happy if Winning Machine was running third or fourth in the backstretch.
If he gets into that spot, Winning Machine would seem to have as good of a chance as any in a deep and competitive field. In addition to a few of the top local horses, there are invaders from Canada, the East Coast, Midwest and California.
“It’s great mix of horses and it should be a good betting race,” Lucarelli said. “I don’t think you’ll see a 7-5 favorite.”
Whatever happens, Winning Machine has already cemented himself among the handful of Lucarelli’s favorite horses. He said the horse doesn’t look special, but the way he runs is.
“He is a real overachiever,” Lucarelli said. “He’s a real smooth horse, and I will tell you this: If every horse I had tried as hard as he did, I would have a lot more wins.”
|$200,000 Longacres Mile field|
|78th running. Grade 3. Post time is 5:32 p.m. Sunday at Emerald Downs.|
|1||Until You||Juan Gutierrez||David Martinez||114||30||Survived a draw to get into field; seems overmatched|
|2||Hoist||Mario Gutierrez||Mike Puhich||117||20||Jockey looks to repeat, but horse needs to rebound|
|3||Politicallycorrect||Russell Baze||Wesley Ward||121||7-2||Clearly the horse to beat|
|4||Gladding||Dennis Carr||Vann Belvoir||116||10||Good enough to contend on his best day|
|5||Stryker Phd||Debbie Hoonan||Margo Lloyd||118||12||Late closer will need some luck|
|6||Jebrica||Isaias Enriquez||Jim Penney||118||12||A great chance with a good trip|
|7||Golden Itiz||Gerry Olguin||John Sadler||116||5||His Southern Cal trainer is one of the best|
|8||Tres Borrachos||David G. Lopez||Mike Puhich||118||10||Showed little last month, but don’t dismiss|
|9||Why Not Be Perfect||A. Sanguinetti||Jeff Metz||118||15||He seems better on turf|
|10||Herbie D||Amadeo Perez||Robert Gilker||121||4||He loves to win, but drew a tough post|
|11||Mr. Bowling||Aaron Gryder||Mike Puhich||117||6||Tough post position, but not overmatched|
|12||Winning Machine||Javier Matias||Frank Lucarelli||117||15||Lost by just a head last year; sentimental pick|
|Scott Hanson’s picks: 1, Jebrica. 2, Politicallycorrect. 3, Golden Itiz. 4, Winning Machine|
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or firstname.lastname@example.org