As thoroughbred co-owner Rosalie Warren was leaving the Emerald Room after the Longacres Mile post-position draw Wednesday afternoon at Emerald Downs, she mentioned how much joy the star of the R&R Warren stable has brought her and husband Ron.
“Jebrica has made us proud,” said Rosalie Warren, referring to the 4-year gelding who’ll enter the starting gate Sunday as the lone Washington-bred entry in the Pacific Northwest’s oldest stakes race. “It’s been a fun experience, and a learning experience. And to think the Longacres Mile is next? That’s awesome – oops, wrong word. I’d better say, ‘wonderful.’
Ron Warren, who met Rosalie when they were students at Kent-Meridian High School, seconded the emotion.
“We’re not using the word ‘awesome’ this week,” he said with a laugh. “‘Awesome’ is off-limits.”
Like the other owners anticipating the 77th Longacres Mile, defending-champion Awesome Gem – the 5-2 opening-line favorite of the 10-horse field – is on their minds and in their thoughts.
Awesome Gem might not be a household name among casual sports fans, but inside the horse-racing industry, this regal animal is regarded as a beast. No active thoroughbred in North America has earned more money ($2,851,370) than the Kentucky-bred chestnut gelding. Come Sunday, when Awesome Gem is escorted from the paddock, the 9-year-old will break his own record as the richest horse ever to race in Washington.
Unfamiliarity with a track and its surface can be problematic for shipped horses, but Awesome Gem appears comfortable at Emerald Downs. Before beating Noosa Beach by a length in the 2011 Mile, the son of Awesome Again finished second to Assessment in 2009. But then, Awesome Gem’s comfort zone has never been an issue for trainer Craig Dollase.
“He runs on all types of surfaces,” Dollase said recently. “He’s got a lot of flying miles on him, but you don’t see too many 9-year-olds running as well as he has.”
Awesome Gem has finished in the money on dry tracks, muddy tracks, traditional tracks and synthetic tracks. Having raced in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, West Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Iowa and Washington, Dollase’s horse has seen more of the U.S. than any 9-year-old since Michael Jackson was touring with his four brothers.
An opportunity to compete in Dubai wasn’t realized, but Awesome Gem once made a trip to run a mile in Hong Kong. This was in the winter of 2008, and the 12th place finish in the 12-horse field proved so humbling, he didn’t finish in the money until his second race back in the States.
Beyond the awesomeness of a living-legend gem, there are other intriguing story lines lurking in the Mile.
• Jockey Mario Gutierrez, who this past spring rode I’ll Have Another to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, will take the mount for Taylor Said, a gelding from British Columbia that dominated the older-horse division this season at Hastings Racecourse – Gutierrez’s first racing home.
• Gladding, a speed horse from the barn of Southern California trainer John Sadler, drew the rail. Gladding opened at 3-1, and if he breaks clean, watch out.
• Winning Machine, trained by Emerald Downs fixture Frank Lucarelli, has won four stakes races at the Auburn track. A victory Sunday would give an Emerald Downs-based horse six Lonacres Mile championships in seven years.
• Hudson Landing, claimed for $50,000 in February, already has earned $176,500 for his new owners by going 4-0-1 in six starts.
• Bailouttheminister, who primarily runs at Golden Gate Park, is one of those invaders whose presence Sunday doesn’t quite qualify as an invasion. The 4-year-old gelding is under the supervision of Keith Nations, who during his days as a UPS driver cut his teeth as an apprentice trainer at Emerald Downs.
Nations plies his trade these days in Northern California, but he still makes his home in Seattle’s Ravenna district. Bailouttheminister’s owners, Theresa and Edward DeNike, live in Kent, and Yakima-born jockey Russell Baze will take the mount.
Any debate over the best jockey of all time remains subjective, but there’s no debate over the jockey with the most victories in the history of American thoroughbred racing: It’s Russell Baze, with more than 11,500 of them.
“I can’t tell you how cool it is to work with Russell,” Nations said Wednesday. “He’s won more races than anybody else, accomplished all these incredible things, and yet he’s got this attitude that he’s a nothing special. He seems himself as a regular guy.”
• And then there’s Jebrica, winner of last year’s Emerald Derby with the fastest 11/8- mile time of the 2011 meeting. Jebrica is in the hands of Jim Penney – trainer of five Longacres Mile champs – with longtime Emerald Downs jockey Juan Gutierrez aboard. (Gutierrez, Emerald’s leading rider this season, guided 60-1 longshot No Giveaway to a victory in the 2005 Longacres Mile.)
About that name, Jebrica? The Warrens have three grandchildren – Jessica, Briana and Cami – and each was honored with a syllable.
As for those 15-1 odds installed on Jebrica after the Wednesday draw, well, Rosalie and Ron Warren believe that because anything can happen in a horse race, anything just might.
The great expectations they hold can be described by any of a hundred adjectives, and only one is out of play.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com