AUBURN – The Emerald Distaff, the premier race of the year for fillies and mares at Emerald Downs, has pretty much been an afterthought for years.
That’s because it’s on the same card each year as the $200,000 Longacres Mile, the signature horse race in the Northwest. But as Joe Withee, director of publicity and broadcasting at Emerald Downs, said, “There won’t be people leaving early after the Mile this year.”
No, they won’t, not with unbeaten Stopshoppingdebbie putting her eight-race winning streak on the line Sunday, the longest in North America for an undefeated horse.
While Stopshoppingdebbie will undoubtedly go off as an overwhelming favorite in the $65,000 Distaff, the Mile drew a full field of 12 and appears to be fairly wide open, particularly once you get past the favorite, another budding star in Stryker Phd.
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Unlike most years, when the story line is usually about how the local horses will do against the talented shippers from California, this year it is about how the local horses will fare against the shippers from Canada. The only California horse here for the Mile this year is Boyett, but he is 12-1 on the morning line and ran the first five races of his career last year at Emerald Downs.
Stryker Phd, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, has been brilliant in his two starts this year, coming from well off the pace to win the Mount Rainier and Budweiser stakes races at Emerald Downs. Last year, he got into a habit of finishing second, doing so in four straight stakes races at Emerald, including the Longacres Mile.
“He’s just a big, fun guy,” said Sharon Ross, who trains Stryker Phd with her husband, Larry. “He likes to play with and intimidate other horses, but he’s just having fun.”
And now he likes to win, too.
But while there aren’t any superstars among the 11 challenging him, it’s a deep field and you could make a case for almost any horse in the race. The second choice on the morning line at 3-1 is Prohibition, who was claimed for $7,500 at Delaware last year. He has improved greatly since and was fourth in a restricted stakes race at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., in his last start, in May.
Title Contender, the third choice on the morning line at 9-2, leads a group of three who have been racing at Hastings in Vancouver, B.C. The past two winners of the Mile were horses based at Hastings.
Two races later, Stopshoppingdebbie will have to beat just four to keep her streak intact. Her dominance, undoubtedly, scared others from entering the race. Two of her foes, Gointothewindow and Blueberry Smoothie, are stablemates in Tom Wenzel’s barn. Five times they have run second and third, respectively, behind Stopshoppingdebbie in stakes races at Emerald Downs.
“I am rooting for all three again,” Wenzel said. “Obviously, each time Debbie wins it becomes a bigger deal, but I just hope the best horse will be the winner.”
Wenzel said running Stopshoppingdebbie in the Mile was never much of a consideration. The goal for her is to face the best in the world at the Breeders’ Cup in the fall. If all goes well Sunday, she will likely head to Southern California for a prep race before that event.
But trainers never like to look too far ahead. Wenzel is more concerned now about Wando Woman, who is traveling from Vancouver, B.C., for the Emerald Distaff and was second in it last year.
“On paper, Debbie is the tough horse in the group, but it’s horse racing and strange things happen,” Wenzel said. “Knock on wood, she hasn’t run a clinker, and it would be kind of a surprise if she did. But they are not machines, and they can have off days at times. We’re just lucky that when Debbie has had a little bit of an off day that she’s still been good enough.”
|Breaking down the Longacres Mile|
|The 79th running of the Longacres Mile is 5 p.m. Sunday at Emerald Downs.|
|1||Jebrica||Bisono||Puhich||116||15||Claimed for $50,000 3 weeks ago; fourth in Mile last year|
|2||Dontmesswithkitten||Bowen||Stenslie||116||20||Improving horse, but seems a notch below top contenders|
|3||Prohibition||Enriquez||Puhich||118||3||Finished fourth in only stakes race; no value at 3-1|
|4||Twistgrips||Perez||Snow||115||20||Finished fifth and seventh in two tries running a mile|
|5||Disruption||Kubinova||Snowden||116||12||He isn’t without hope, but may have better chance in ‘15|
|6||Boyett||Delgadillo||Glatt||117||12||Has not raced on the dirt in more than a year|
|7||Title Contender||Wolcott||Bolton||121||9/2||Has won two Grade III stakes, including Ohio Derby|
|8||Scat Daddybaby||Mitchell||Baze||151||15||He is likely the horse to catch; don’t discount|
|9||Stryker Phd||Mawing||Ross||121||5/2||The logical favorite, but needs to avoid traffic issues|
|10||Mysterious Soul||Hamel||Heads||116||15||Would be a big surprise if he runs in the top three|
|11||Mr. Bowling||Lopez||Puhich||117||8||Joins Title Contender as only winner of a Graded stakes|
|12||Shooting Jacket||Valdez||Condilenios||115||20||Tough post position for horse that needs a lot of luck|
|Scott Hanson’s picks: Title Contender, Stryker Phd, Mr. Bowling, Scat Daddy Baby|
Scott Hanson: 206-464-2943 or firstname.lastname@example.org