A Mile-stone – and then some

In saving his best strides for last, Wasserman came home with another first.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Wednesday, August 20, 2008 12:00am
  • Sports
The three lead horses barrel down the stretch toward the wire in Sunday’s Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. Jockey Jennifer Whitaker and Wasserman (4) come up on the outside

The three lead horses barrel down the stretch toward the wire in Sunday’s Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. Jockey Jennifer Whitaker and Wasserman (4) come up on the outside

In saving his best strides for last, Wasserman came home with another first.

Matter of fact, he came home with three of ’em.

A first for jockey Jennifer Whitaker.

A first for trainer Howard Belvoir.

And first in the Longacres Mile.

The 6-year-old gelding, whose come-from-behind style has made him a fan favorite at Emerald Downs, didn’t let down any of them on a muggy Sunday afternoon. Running 10th among the 12 horses in the early going and as many as 12 lengths behind, Wasserman, with Whitaker in the irons, surged up on the outside, pulled alongside the leaders down the stretch, then won the $300,000 Mile by a neck in front of 8,722 fans.

That helped Whitaker make race history by becoming the first female jockey to win the event. And it made some personal history for Kent’s Belvoir, who got to walk into the Mile winner’s circle for the first time.

“He never wants to win by too far,” Whitaker said with a laugh and a grin, her face still speckled with mud even though the track was dry and fast. “That makes it hard on me and Howard.”

Probably so.

But Whitaker and Belvoir certainly have gotten used to it by now. The Mile triumph was Wasserman’s third in stakes competition this season at Emerald Downs, and the three of them combined don’t add up to even a full length. On May 26, he won the Fox Sports Net Handicap by a head, then took the Governor’s Handicap on July 6 by a nose.

Suffice to say Whitaker never assumes it’s in the bag until she’s across the line.

“Every time I think, ‘I’ve got this one,’ someone sticks a nose in front,” she said. “You just ride to the wire and hope you’re there first.”

Fan favorite though he is, Wasserman went off as just the fourth choice, at odds of 10-to-1 and carrying 118 pounds. But that turned out to be a nice price at the mutuel windows, as he returned $22.40, $7.60 and $3.20. True Metropolitan, the Canadian shipper ridden by James McAleney who went off as the second pick at 3-to-1, paid $4.60 and $3.20 for second, while 6-to-5 favorite Tropic Storm, up from California with Aaron Gryder aboard, was worth $2.60 for show.

Wasserman’s victory was worth $137,500, giving him lifetime earnings of $415,971, and a 8-9-5 record in 38 starts.

“This is good because it was Washington-bred,” said Belvoir, who also bred and owns Wassserman, and was third with him in last year’s Mile. “To beat the shippers, it shows we can compete here.

“It’s nice to have a horse who competes in so many different ways,” added Belvoir, a four-decade veteran of Washington racing, “and he shows up every time.”

Another fast finish

In Wasserman’s case, showing up every time usually starts as he approaches the stretch run. That certainly was true on Sunday, as he was 10th among the 12 horses going into the first turn and then was running ninth all the way up the backstretch as Flamethrowintexan – winner of the 2006 Mile and another crowd favorite – was setting the pace, with Tropic Storm second, Call on Carson third, and Honour the West fourth.

Tropic Storm moved to the front heading into the turn. Tex and Call on Carson were still right there, and True Metropolitan began to move up through the field. Whitaker worked Wassserman around the pack from the outside, and went to the whip as the turn straightened out into the home stretch. Tropic Storm was keeping a nose in front, with Gryder and True Metropolitan in the middle and Wasserman a nose farther back on the outside.

But in the last half-dozen or so strides, Whitaker pushed Wasserman past both of them, stopping the clock in 1:35.0 and becoming the fourth straight local horse to win the Mile.

“I still can’t believe we won. I will have to watch it about 10 times on the replay to really believe it,” Whitaker said. “At no point did I think I was going to win – I never do that. I just concentrate on getting my horse to run as best as he can, and what will happen will happen.”

Although she was the first woman to win the race, Whitaker wasn’t inclined to shine any special spotlight on herself for that feat.

“It is special,” she said, then added later, “A lot of it is the horses you get on, and this one was special.”

True Metropolitan jockey McAleney said his horse didn’t have enough at the end.

“We were about eight lengths behind going into the backstretch, and I wanted to be a little closer to the leaders,” McAleney said. “However, he still dug in down the stretch when Wasserman was coming up to him. He was playing catch-up the whole race and just couldn’t hold off the winner.”

Wasserman’s win qualified him for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. However, since he’s not officially Breeders’ Cup eligible, it would cost an $80,000 supplemental fee for him to enter that race. Belvoir isn’t ruling it out, but indicated that Wasserman probably would take a pass.

“He’s going to be a long shot,” Belvoir said. “If he was eligible for Breeders’ Cup, I might think about it. And it isn’t out of the realm yet.”

More likely, Wassserman will aim at the season-ending Washington Cup at Emerald Downs.

“He runs better on this track than anywhere,” Belvoir said.

Especially if it comes down to the wire.

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