It would only be fitting if this was the year Stryker Phd became the first horse in nearly a quarter-century to win back-to-back editions of the Longacres Mile.
What with American Pharoah becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978, snapping any long-standing drought in the thoroughbred-racing world suddenly seems achievable.
Stryker Phd will look to become just the third horse in the star-studded 80-year history of the Longacres Mile to win the race in consecutive years when the 6-year-old gelding takes on 11 rivals in the 8-furlong stakes Sunday at Emerald Downs in Auburn.
Installed as the 9-to-5 morning-line favorite, Stryker Phd, a Washington-bred son of Bertando, will carry the 123-pound high weight and regular rider Leslie Mawing in the $200,000 Grade III race. The duo will break seventh from the rail.
“He worked really good last Sunday, and he looked good on the track (Wednesday),”said assistant trainer Sharon Ross. “We just have to make sure nothing happens to him between now and the race.”
Stryker Phd has won 7 of 20 career starts with $375,651 in earnings.
Should Stryker Phd, who is owned by Bellevue’s Jim and Mona Rush and conditioned by Larry Ross, come away victorious for a second consecutive year, he will join Simply Majestic (1988-89) and local legend Trooper Seven (1980-81) as the race’s only consecutive winners. Amble In is the race’s only other dual champion, winning in non-consecutive years (1946 and 1948).
The Longacres Mile will go off as the eighth race of an 11-race card with an approximate post time of 5:35 p.m. First race is slated for 2 p.m.
Stryker Phd has not lost at Emerald Downs in his last six starts — including his victory in the 2014 Longacres Mile, when he rallied from last place to best runner-up Boyett by a half-length in a speedy 1 minute, 33.67 seconds.
The gelding has won both his starts at Emerald Downs this year — the Budweiser Handicap and Mt. Rainier Handicap. His last loss locally was in the 2013 Longacres Mile when he finished second to winner Herbie D.
Since Emerald Downs opened in 1996, only six Longacres Mile winners have returned the following year and attempted to defend their crown. Of the six, only two hit the board the next year: Noosa Beach, the 2010 winner, was runner-up to Awesome Gem in 2011, and 2009 winner Assessment finished third the following year.
A full field will attempt to prevent Stryker PhD from etching his name into the record book.
Looming as the biggest threats are British Columbia-based Alert Bay and Southern California shipper Sammy Mandeville.
Alert Bay, trained by Blaine Wright, captured six stakes races with nearly $600,000 in earnings last year. The 4-year-old was listed as the second betting choice on the morning line at 4-1 odds. Alert Bay received post No. 8 and will be ridden by Rico Walcott.
“Hopefully he can come back here and get back to good form again,” Wright said about the California-bred Alert Bay. “The Mile has always been on our radar since we turned him out last year. It’s been a focal point for us and maybe he’ll make a good showing.”
Sammy Mandeville drew the No. 9 post and will have Alex Solis in the irons.
Rounding out the field for the 80th running of the Longacres Mile is Del Rio Harbor, Noosito, Fleet Eagle, Taylors Deal, Majestic City, Absolutely Cool, Prohibition, Solemnly Swear and Modern.
The card also features the 20th running of the $65,000 Emerald Distaff. A total of six fillies and mares, headlined by multiple stakes winner Lady Roseberg, were entered into the 1 1/8-mile race. The Distaff will go off as the seventh race at 4:55 p.m.
The Emerald Distaff field, from the rail out, includes: Our Little Hen, Sarahline, Madame Pele, Alli Leigh, Among the Stars and Lady Roseberg.