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Jon White: Longacres Mile Picks & Analysis | Sunday, August 14, 2022

by Jon White

August 14, 2022

The biggest day of racing in the Pacific Northwest takes place Sunday. Highlighting a terrific card is the richest race in the region, the 87th running of the $150,000 Longacres Mile.

Affectionately known as “the Mile” by fans in that area, the Longacres Mile was launched in 1935 at Longacres, a track located south of Seattle. Some of my fondest memories are of going to the races at Longacres with my father in the 1960s and 1970s. That was where I bought my very first Racing Form on July 2, 1966. I still have that Form, though admittedly it is showing its age.

Skywalker won the 1986 Longacres Mile. That was the last day I was ever at Longacres. I flew back to Los Angeles in the plane with Skywalker. The only passengers on the plane were Skywalker, trainer Michael Whittingham, the exercise rider, the groom and yours truly. Later that year, Skywalker won the Grade I, $3 million BC Classic Classic at Santa Anita. I called the official chart of that race for the DRF (in the pre-Equibase era).

Longacres closed for good after its 1992 meeting. Courtesy of my brother, I have a small bottle of actual Longacres dirt scooped up from the racing surface after the final race ever run there.

The Longacres Mile was held at Yakima Meadows from 1993-95, then was moved to its present home at Emerald Downs, which like Longacres is located south of Seattle.

In 1996, I was working as a handicapper in the Phoenix office of the Daily Racing Form. At that time, Phoenix was the DRF’s national headquarters. The DRF sent me to Emerald in 1996 to conduct a seminar on the day of the Longacres Mile. And so it was that I witnessed Isitingood, owned by Mike Pegram and trained by Bob Baffert, win the first Longacres Mile contested at Emerald.

From 2001 through 2003, I was at Emerald to be the television analyst for the Fox Sports Northwest telecast of the Longacres Mile. Bob Rondeau anchored the television coverage, while Joe Withee was the roving reporter. I thoroughly enjoyed my involvement in those Longacres Mile television shows, especially since this particular race means so much to me.

I saw my first Longacres Mile in 1967. Kings Favor won it that year. I have been at the Kentucky Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Melbourne Cup, Japan Cup and a great many Breeders’ Cups. While working as a writer or television commentator at Southern California tracks, I have witnessed numerous Pacific Classics, Santa Anita Handicaps, etc. But to this day, the Longacres Mile remains my favorite race.

The final year that I was on the Longacres Mile broadcast, Southern California shipper Sky Jack and Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze won by 6 1/4 lengths. Sky Jack broke the record for the race’s biggest winning margin of six lengths that had been set in the 1946 renewal by Amble In and later matched by Quality Quest in 1955 and Chinook Pass (the lone Washington-bred Eclipse Award winner) in 1983.

Doug O’Neill trained Sky Jack. O’Neill kindly gave me two of the shoes worn by Sky Jack from when he won the 2013 Longacres Mile.

Another Longacres Mile that I will never forget was the 2016 edition. I watched that one in my dad’s den at his home in Spokane, Wash. I bet $200 to win on Point Piper, who won by 4 3/4 lengths. Completing one mile in 1:32.90 to break the track record, Point Piper paid $12.20 for each $2 win wager, or $1,220 for a $200 win wager. Why that particular Mile means so much to me is it’s the last one I ever watched with my father, who passed away in 2017.

Working alongside Rondeau on those Longacres Mile telecasts was a real pleasure. Talk about a pro in terms of broadcasting. Prior to his retirement in 2017, Rondeau was the longtime radio voice of the University of Washington football and basketball teams. He was named Washington State Sportscaster of the Year a total of 11 times.

Rondeau and his wife, Molly, race Thoroughbreds as Giddyup Stables. They won last year’s Longacres Mile with Background, who rallied from sixth to prevail by a head as the 2-1 favorite. Bob had virtually no voice left after the race due to cheering so loudly for Background.

Background (pictured above) is my choice to win this year’s Longacres Mile. He is the 2-1 favorite on Vince Bruun’s morning line.

A 5-year-old Florida-bred Khozan gelding, Background has faced some tough company this year while racing at Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs. He won at Oaklawn in early April and at Churchill in late May.

I like the fact that Background, who drew post 4, has demonstrated that he’s capable of winning from off the pace. This is important inasmuch as speedster Papa’s Golden Boy is likely to be gunned to the early lead from post 12.

Background is bidding to become just the fifth horse to win the Longacres Mile more than once. The four two-time winners have been Amble In (1946 and 1948), Trooper Seven (1980 and 1981), Simply Majestic (1988 and 1989) and Stryker Phd (2014 and 2015).

Mike Puhich trains Background. Puhich’s all-time favorite horse is the same as mine, Turbulator, who became a world-record holder and huge fan favorite in the Northwest during the 1970s.

My selections for the 2022 Longacres Mile are below:

1. Background
2. Majestic Eagle
3. Slew’s Tiz Whiz
4. Five Star General