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Trainer Larry Ross and Stryker Phd eye Longacres Mile title
This past week, Longacres Mile winner Chum Salmon was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.
A winner of seven stakes races at Longacres, predecessor of Emerald Downs, Chum Salmon is best known for his last-to-first victory in the 1985 running of the Mile, when he came from 15 lengths behind to capture the title for trainer Larry Ross.
"It was kind of cool (to see him inducted)," Ross said. "I think Chum deserved it. He basically got us going in the Northwest. You win the Mile, you get attention."
Chum Salmon may have gotten Ross his start in training in the Northwest, but the trainer looks to add to his success at Emerald Downs on Sunday with another Mile victory, this time in the 79th edition of the $200,000 Grade III race.
Ross, who trains with his wife, Sharon Ross, looks to fend off the invaders this weekend with favored Washington-bred Stryker Phd, who finished second in last year's Mile and recently won the Mt. Rainier Handicap.
"For a horseman in the Northwest, it's the one everybody wants to win," Ross said. "It's not an easy one to win, though."
Despite a strong field in this year's race, Ross said he likes his chances.
"I wouldn't trade my chances for anyone else's, no matter who else comes up," he said. "It's the Mile, it's the race that everybody wants to win. But I guess our chances are as good as anybody's."
Ross got his start in racing in his native Canada, in the town of Hudson, Quebec.
"From about 10 years old, I was working as a trail guide. People would come out, and we'd take them on horses on trails," he said. "We moved out to Hudson, about 40 miles outside Montreal, which was very much an equestrian area. All the rich Englishmen lived there. They did fox hunts twice a week. So I exercised hunter-jumpers."
After working in the stables of the area's steeplechase track, Ross began exercising yearlings for a local trainer.
In 1974 he obtained his trainer's license at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, and soon was training at Pennsylvania's Penn National Race Course. That's where he met his wife.
"She was in her last year at Western Maryland College, and I was at Penn National Race Course, and some guys came out from Seattle," Ross said. "They were telling me about Longacres and how nice it was. After we got married, we went camping across Canada for three months, in an old Chevy hippie van. It was fun, great fun."
The duo arrived just in time to see Longacres finish up its 1979 season.
"I saw Longacres, and I really liked it. It seemed like a promising place," Ross said. "But they were already done for the season, so we worked on (Barbara and Bill Nelson's) breeding farm."
The next season Sharon and Larry Ross began working at Longacres. They would continue to train at the Renton track until its closure in 1992.
"I worked for Martin Kenney and Sharon worked for Craig Roberts, then we worked for Marty," Ross said. "We talked with several of the clients and they asked us about taking horses, and we did. One was called Devil Dog, a cool horse, but a bit of a problem child. He had a really bad foot, constant quarter cracks. We had to wire it together, but he won a couple races for us."
When their neighbor, Jerry Schneider, asked them to train Suzanne's Baby, the couple caught another break.
"It just kind of grew from there. That's how we ended up getting Chum Salmon, through Jerry," Ross said.
And the rest is history.
Nowadays Sharon and Larry Ross train anywhere from 20-25 horses, among them 5-year-old gelding Stryker Phd.
"I first got him for a couple races two winters ago," Ross said. "They sent him to Golden Gates to break his maiden, so I got used to him then. He was young. Then he went back."
After last winter the owners asked Ross to take over the training duties.
After finishing second in the Mile last year, Ross looks forward to seeing what his horse can do this year.
"He's maturing, he's older now," Ross said. "He's doing everything right. He's a very likable horse. His racing style is similar to Chum Salmon. He doesn't get as far off the pace as Chum Salmon, he was a dead closer. I think Stryker, if the pace is slow will be closer, and if it's fast he'll be farther back. He's a little more versatile that way."
Regardless of the finish, Ross looks for a good run.
"I just hope it's a good clean race," Ross said. "I wish everybody the best of luck, and may the best horse win."