Wasserman runs to Longacres Mile win Sunday

Wasserman, as has been his habit all season, staged a dramatic stretch rally and scored a slight victory Sunday in the 73rd running of the $300,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs.

The stunning victory, which was greeted by thunderous applause from the sweltering crowd of 8,722, made Wasserman the fourth straight local horse to win the Northwest’s most prestigious race. Jockey Jennifer Whitaker, also a Washington native, became the first female jockey to ride a Longacres Mile winner.

“I still can’t believe we won,” said Whitaker, who grew up in Snohomish and began her riding career in 2000. “I will have to watch it about 10 times on the replay to really believe it.”

Owned, bred and trained by Howard Belvoir of Kent, Wasserman ran one mile in 1:35 and paid $22.40 for the win. Wasserman has now won three photo finishes in stakes races this season, and the 6-year-old Washington-bred gelding earned $137,500 for the victory.

True Metropolitan overcame a slow start to finish second. The two-time Canadian handicap horse of the year surged past Tropic Storm for the lead in deep stretch, but then was overhauled by Wasserman at the wire.

Tropic Storm, the 6-to-5 betting favorite ridden by Aaron Gryder, took the lead away from Flamethrowintexan into the stretch, opened a clear advantage at the eighth pole, but was unable to resist Wasserman and True Metropolitan.

Assessment, also trained by Belvoir, finished fourth and was followed by Schoolin You, Call On Carson, Flamethrowintexan, Honour the West, Nationhood, Luhuk’s Dancer, Southern Africa and Diligent Prospect.

Wasserman, for the 35th straight race, wasn’t the betting favorite, but the gangly gelding did erase one black mark. He had been winless in 18 previous races before Sunday.

Wasserman rallied outside on the last turn, quickly picking off the back markers, but still had much work to do in the stretch. He straightened into the lane with only Tropic Storm and True Metropolitan left to catch, and then closed the gap with every stride until finally nailing them in the final jumps.

Belvoir, a fixture in Washington horse racing for over 40 years, also was thrilled to win his first Mile.

“The thing about this horse is he tries every time,” Belvoir said of Wasserman. “This is a very exciting day for me and the industry in this state.”

Named for Peter Wasserman, a Seattle oncologist, who treated Belvoir’s girlfriend Vicki Potter for breast cancer, Wasserman has an 8-9-5 mark from 38 starts with earnings of $415,971. In 2008, he has won four-of-seven for $219,200.

As part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, the Longacres Mile winner automatically qualifies for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita in October. However, Wasserman’s owner would have to pay a supplemental nomination fee of $80,000 to the Breeders’ Cup, and Belvoir said his gelding would probably pass the race. The plan, Belvoir said, probably includes a start in the Washington Cup on Sept. 14 and then a vacation.

In the $100,000 Emerald Distaff for fillies and mares, Lemon Kiss opened a long early lead and held off a game Shampoo for a half-length victory Sunday. Ridden by Russell Baze for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and owner George Todaro of Seattle, Lemon Kiss earned $55,000 and paid $5.20 as the favorite.

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