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Mile champs return as Emerald Downs opens for training

February 3, 2009     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Vince Bruun, Emerald Downs

The last two winners of the Longacres Mile were on the track as Emerald Downs opened for training in advance of the 2009 racing season.

Wasserman and The Great Face both jogged once around the one-mile oval under ideal conditions Monday, and connections for both runners have high hopes for the 91-day meeting that begins Friday, April 17.

“He’s way fitter than me, ” jockey Jennifer Whitaker joked after getting reacquainted with Wasserman. “He played more today than he has in six years. I think he’s happy to be here. ”

Wasserman, of course, is coming off a dream 2008 season that saw him win four stakes via photo finish including his dramatic 10-to-1 upset in the Grade 3 Mile. He is the track’s all-time leading earner with $422,412.

Although Wasserman was eligible to run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, owner-trainer Howard Belvoir instead gave the gelding an extended break. Wasserman spent most of the last four months at Coal Creek Farm in Enumclaw.

“He’s pretty happy,” Belvoir said. “I tried to walk him by hand yesterday and he was bucking and kicking. He’s glad to be back.”

Amazingly, Wasserman and The Great Face are both 7-year-old Washington-bred geldings by Cahill Road. Who says there aren’t any good older horses?

The Great Face hasn’t raced since his thrilling head victory in the 2007 Longacres Mile. He earned a state record $292,875 that season, but was shelved by knee surgery in 2008 and spent the winter at Robin Mason’s Carnation Racing Stables.

Monday, trainer Tom Wenzel was relieved and happy to see The Great Face back on the racetrack.

“He came off the van bouncing, like a racehorse,” Wenzel said. “He’s a neat horse. It’s great to have him back.”

Ideally, Wenzel said The Great Face would run in an allowance race before returning to stakes action. In fact, The Great Face in 2007 and Wasserman in 2008 both won allowance races on opening night, tipping their hands for The Mile glory to come later in the year.

Director of Racing Bret Anderson said 338 horses are on the grounds and expects to have all 1,420 stalls filled by opening night.

Training hours are 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, and Joe and Sally Steiner’s Quarter Chute Café is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.