Sports

Longacres Mile goes to post

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The Longacres Mile, the biggest and most prestigious race of the season at Emerald Downs, will tee off around 5 p.m. tomorrow at the Auburn horse racing track.

A total of 32 horses, including Grade 1 winners Buddy Gil and Star Parade, were nominated for the running of the $250,000 Longacres Mile. The 12-horse lineup for the Mile was drawn yesterday (after press time). But the word out of Emerald Downs is Jeff Mullins, the trainer of Buddy Gil, will not be shipping the horse up from California. However, Mullins plans on sending another one of his horses to Auburn — Verkade — to give the race its normal California feel.

“We’re going to keep Buddy here in California,” Mullins said. “We think it’s a good spot to run Verkade in. He’s got speed and he should like the distance.”

Also possible California entries into tomorrow’s race are Bob Baffert runners During and Rojo Toro. Odds seem good Baffert will send up one of the two horses.

“He’s giving it a serious look for both horses,” said California-based jockey Joe Steiner. “I keep telling him every morning that I want to win that race. I’m from Seattle and winning that race would be like the Kentucky Derby.”

Local nominees for the Mile include Salt Grinder, Demon Warlock, Mr. Makah and Best On Tap, as well as Emerald Downs star Poker Brad, who ran second during last year’s Longacres Mile to California-based Sky Jack — who won in a state-record time of 1:33.

The $250,000 Longacres Mile race is celebrating its 69th running after being contested at the old Longacres Park in Tukwila from 1935 through 1992 before moving to Yakima Meadows for three years while Emerald Downs was being constructed. The race returned to the west side of the mountains in 1996 with one of the most famous owner-trainer teams in the industry winning the inaugural Mile at Emerald Downs — Mike Pegram and Baffert. Pegram, from Mount Vernon, and Baffert, have won multiple Triple Crown races together.

“More than the Kentucky Derby, more than the Breeders Cup Classic, The Mile is the race I wanted to win,” Pegram said after the ’96 race. “I’ve always had a special place in my heart for this race.”

The race put Washington thoroughbred racing on the map. It was started by Joe Gottstein in June of 1935. He made the announcement that the Tukwila track would feature the $10,000 Longacres Mile.

The mile was not considered the classic distance, and that is what appealed to Gottstein so much. He knew it took a unique horse to excel at the mile distance. It was too long for sprinters and not long enough for the routers.

The Mile was inaugurated with a then unheard of $10,000-added purse and for more than four decades it was the richest stakes event in the country at the mile distance.

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