The Longacres Mile

The Kentucky Derby and its Triple Crown brethren, the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, get all the attention, but it's the Breeders' Cup, as Ron Burgundy would say, that's the balls. Held in October or November at a different track each year, the Breeders' Cup, unlike its Triple Crown counterparts (which only include three-year-old horses), features a full slate of Grade 1 races open to horses of all ages in races of all distances. For the six NBA fans left in Seattle, it's essentially the All-Star Game to the Derby's Rookie-Sophomore Challenge. So the fact that the winner of today's Longacres Mile automatically qualifies for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile is also, as Ron Burgundy would put it, kind of a big deal. Local runners such as 2008 champ Wasserman (who's nominated again this year) have staved off carpetbagging competition for the last four years. This year, Mt. Rainier Handicap champ Assessment, whom Wasserman has never defeated, looks primed to keep the title in Auburn. But he'll face plenty of steep out-of-state competition, especially if the California-based Awesome Gem, who finished third to Curlin and Hard Spun in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, runs (he's nominated, but at press time wasn't certain to be in the final field). But regardless of which steed crosses the wire first, this will far and away the highest-caliber horse race at Emerald this year, one even the casual bettor is sure to be wowed by. MIKE SEELY

Sun., Aug. 16, 2 p.m., 2009

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