AUBURN — Bob Rondeau, who for decades was the radio voice of the Washington Huskies, was “thrilled beyond belief” when Background, the horse he owns with wife Molly, won last year’s Longacres Mile.

Rondeau is hoping Background will provide another thrill when he defends his title Sunday in the 87th running of $150,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs, the signature horse race in the Northwest.

Background staged a great rally last year and passed Windribbon just before the wire to win by a head under Rocco Bowen. It’s a race Rondeau said he never gets tired of watching.

Background will try to become the fourth horse in history to win back-to-back Longacres Miles, joining Trooper Seven (1980-81), Simply Majestic (1988-89) and Stryker PhD (2014-15).

He definitely has a good chance of doing it, getting installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite after drawing the No. 4 post Wednesday at the annual Mile draw party at Emerald Downs.

“Repeating is really hard to do, I don’t care what sport it is — whether it’s the Super Bowl or the NCAA championship or whatever,” Rondeau said. “But we are going to give it a go. It would be great to make a little history and get ourselves in a league with (three) other horses who were really nice horses.”

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Rocco Bowen, who won three riding titles at Emerald Downs (2016-18) before moving to the Midwest, returned to Emerald last year to guide Background to his dramatic win in last year’s Longacres Mile.

Bowen, who was overcome with emotion after winning the race last year, was set to ride again but suffered a broken collarbone over the weekend at Presque Isle racetrack in Pennsylvania. He will not be able to ride Sunday.

“I can’t tell you how heartbroken we are for Rocco Bowen,” Rondeau said. “He was so looking forward to coming back here and try to win the Mile a second time. It’s a shame he won’t be here.”

Giovanni Franco is replacing Bowen, and he knows the horse well, having ridden him to high-level allowance victories at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and Churchill Downs in Kentucky this year.

Background also has a second-place finish in six starts in 2022. He finished a badly beaten fifth in his last race, at Churchill Downs on June 22, but Rondeau said the horse did not handle the surface that day.

Rondeau said the horse has been training well at Pegasus training center in Redmond for trainer Mike Puhich.

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“We hope that he gets along with this racetrack (at Emerald Downs) as well as he did last year,” Rondeau said. “He likes to feel his feet underneath him, and this track should give him that chance on Sunday.”

Rondeau said he was satisfied with the No. 4 post, preferring that to being on the rail in post No. 1 or well outside in the 12-horse field.

“Maybe being a little more outside would have been good, but we’re happy with the four hole,” Rondeau said.

The second choice on the morning line is Majestic Eagle, who drew the No. 3 post and is listed at 4-1. The 7-year-old, who is shipping in from Southern California for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale, has won multiple graded stakes races on turf.

But Majestic Eagle, originally owned by the late Dave Heerensperger, one of the original investors in Emerald Downs, has never won on the dirt.

Two recent fast workouts on the dirt at Del Mar outside San Diego are encouraging for backers of Majestic Eagle, now owned by John Lindley and Ray Morton from Seattle.

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Top Executive, last year’s horse of the meeting at Emerald Downs as a 3-year-old, is the third choice on the morning line at 6-1. He drew post No. 2.

Notes

* Trainer Bob Meeking, 94, will try to become the oldest trainer to win the Longacres Mile when he sends out Kingmeister, who is 30-1 and drew post No. 5.

* The Longacres Mile is one of four championship races on the card.

* Defending champion Princess of Cairo will try to defend her title in a field of 10 in the $75,000 distaff for fillies and mares. Also on Sunday’s card are the $75,000 Muckleshoot Derby for 3-year-olds, which drew a field of 11, and the $75,000 Washington Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, which drew a field of nine.

$150,000 Longacres Mile
Sunday, Aug. 14
1: Slew’s Tiz Whiz, Jose Zunino, 8/1
2: Top Executive, Evin Roman, 6/1
3: Majestic Eagle, Declan Cannon, 4/1
4: Background, Geovanni Franco, 2/1
5: Kingmeister, Javier Matias, 30/1
6: Huge Bigly, Eddie Martinez, 8/1
7: Unmachable, Kevin Orozco, 15/1
8: Hard to Deny, Jake Samuels, 30/1
9: Torpedo Away, Alex Cruz, 20/1
10: Five Star General, Leslie Mawing, 12/1
11: Spittin Image, Juan Gutierrez, 15/1
12: Papa’s Golden Boy, Kevin Radke, 10/1