Bolulight was the overwhelming favorite to win the 1993 Longacres Mile.
The oldest stakes race on the West Coast was no longer at its namesake, moving to Yakima Meadows for the first of three runnings before later heading to Emerald Downs where it has been the track’s featured event since 1996.
Bolulight, a thoroughbred born without front hooves, defeated Ibero and a stacked field to win a thrilling edition of the Mile the year before.
Few world beaters showed up in 1993 after the race was relocated, leaving Bolulight as the 0.50-to-1 betting choice.
The favorite seemed destined, even if it was through default, to become just the third horse to win back-to-back Longacres Miles.
Bolulight finished sixth in the race, nearly eight lengths behind the winner, 30-to-1 Adventuresome Love.
History has not been kind to defending Mile champions.
Since the inaugural running of the race in 1935, a total of 27 winners made a start the following year. Only Trooper Seven (1980-81) and Simply Majestic (1988-89) made return trips to the winner’s circle.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Awesome Gem looks to change all that today at Emerald Downs as the 9-year-old attempts to post his second straight victory in the $200,000 race.
“He’s probably as good or better than last year,” said Awesome Gem’s trainer, Craig Dollase, who has saddled six Grade 1 winners during his career, including 1998 champion sprinter Reraise. “He’s a gem, that’s for sure.”
He’s going to have to be to accomplish something few have in the biggest race in the Northwest.
Since Simply Majestic’s second Mile victory, defending champions, beginning with Bolulight, are 0-for-9 in the race, with Noosa Beach, the 2010 winner who finished 11/2 lengths behind Awesome Gem in last year’s race, being the only one of the nine to finish second.
With more than $2.8 million in career earnings, Awesome Gem, the richest active runner currently training in North America, can inch closer to the $3 million mark by collecting the winner’s share of $110,000 and in the process become the race’s oldest winner.
“Awesome Gem is as close to my heart as they come,” Dollase said. “He’s such a cool horse to be around, and a warrior on the racetrack. He’s versatile, smart and sound. What more could you want in a horse?”
Awesome Gem arrived at Emerald Downs early Friday morning, being shipping from Southern California along with fellow Mile entry Gladding.
Awesome Gem, who will be ridden by regular rider David Flores and carry 123 pounds, was installed as the 5-to-2 morning-line favorite with the John Sadler-trained Gladding the second choice at 3-to-1.
Gladding, however, has been scratched from the race as a result of a fever, which spiked to 104 degrees when he arrived in Auburn.
With the speedy Gladding out, Awesome Gem’s odds shifted to 2-to-1.
Lightly raced during his younger years, Awesome Gem has a record of 11-15-6 from 51 career starts with victories in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup (2010), the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup (2009) and Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes (2007) and a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic (2007).
“Horse of a lifetime,” said West Point Thoroughbreds’ Terry Finley. “Every time he goes out there he gives it his all.”
Standing in the way of Awesome Gem and his run at racing history are nine additional runners – 2009 Mile winner Assessment, Gallant Son, Winning Machine, Jump Up and Kissme, Bailouttheminister, Jebrica, Taylor Said, St. Liams Halo and Hudson Landing, who was named the second betting choice at 4-to-1.