When Stryker Phd takes to the track on Sunday to defend his Longacres Mile title, he’ll have more than jockey Leslie Mawing on board.
The 6-year-old gelding – owned by Larry and Mona Hour and trained by Larry Ross – will also be carrying on his back the hopes of the Washington-bred Thoroughbred community as he vies to repeat against a field stocked with gifted invaders.
Last year Stryker Phd turned in a magnificent last-to-first finish in the 79th running of the $200,000 Grade 3 Mile, catching and passing Oregon-bred Boyett to win by a half-length.
In that race, Stryker Phd posted a 1 minute, 33.67 second time, just off the 1:33 track record Sky Jack set in 2003.
This year the field is thick with talented competition – 11 from Kentucky, four from California and nine graded stakes winners.
Top among them are: Bob Baffert-trained Bayern, winner of the 2014 Breeder’s Cup Classic (Grade 1); Sahara Sky, winner of the 2013 Metropolitan Handicap (G1); and Warren’s Veneda, winner of the 2015 Santa Margarita (G1).
As talented as that field is, for Stryker Phd and Mawing, it’s just more horses to chase down.
“He’s got a closing style,” Mawing said.
“His style is he likes when there are targets in front of him,” he continued. “His heart gets bigger and bigger. That’s just his style; he prefers those targets in front of him. No race is easy. If they were, we’d all be winning every time. But as long as there is a lot of speed, which there should be, there are always going to be frontrunners. And as long as they are there, we’re going to run a good race.”
Stryker Phd comes into the Mile with the wind of a six-race winning streak at his back, one of those victories being a six-length rout in July’s Mt. Rainier Handicap.
But as good as Stryker Phd ran in last year’s mile, Mawing – who has ridden the horse for Ross since last season – says he’s even better now.
“He’s definitely big, and he’s bigger this year,” Mawing said. “It’s just getting on him. He’s very confident, and very quirky. It was really just a matter of getting along with him and finding the right rider. You need a little patience with him. If you get impatient, he’ll pull his tricks with you and freeze up and back up. … I guess I was just the right fit with him.”
“In the mornings I backtrack him, and he gets bored really easily, so if you fight him too much, he’s going to be more of a challenge, should I say. I know how far to push him, and when to let up. ‘He’s 1,200 pounds, and I’m 115, so I’m not going to win that fight when it comes to it. So I just try to go along with it.”
Post draws and odds for 80th running of the Longacres Mile
1, Del Rio Harbor, Julien Couton, Marshall Allen, 30-1;
2, Noosito, Juan Gutierrez, Doris Harwood, 10-1;
3, Fleet Eagle, Diego Sanchez, Paula Capestra, 10-1;
4,Taylors Deal, David G. Lopez, Mike Puhich, 12-1;
5, Majestic City, Edwin Maldonado, Richard Baltas, 10-1;
6, Absolutely Cool, Rocco Bowen, Tom Wenzel, 15-1;
7, Stryker Phd, Leslie Mawing, Larry Ross, 9-5;
8, Alert Bay, Rico Wilcott, Blaine Wright, 4-1;
9, Sammy Mandeville, Alex Solis, Doug O’Neill, 9-2;
10, Prohibition, Tiago Periera, Vann Belvoir, 20-1;
11, Solemnly Swear, Joe Steiner, Mike Puhich, 20-1; and
12, Modern, Richard Hamel, Dino Condilenios, 20.1