Grashopper Stable's Flamethrowintexan refused to cave in under a severe challenge from Papi Chullo to win Sunday's $250,000 Longacres Mile (gr. III), Emerald Down's signature race.
Ridden by Ricky Frazier, Flamethrowintexan prevailed by a neck in a thrilling stretch duel over Papi Chullo and Robby Albarado, the slight 2-1 favorite over Flamethrowintexan.
Flamethrowintexan, carrying top weight of 120 pounds, led at every call with Papi Chullo stalking into the lane and completed the mile in 1:34 2/5 for his 14th win in 23 lifetime starts. Under the tutelage of trainer Jim Penney, the 5-year-old Florida-bred Way West gelding has found a home in the northwest, where he has won six of 10 since June 2005. The only off-the-board performance in that span came in last year's Mile when he finished sixth.
Flamethrowintexan set fractions of :22 4/5, :45 2/5 and 1:09 2/5 while leading Papi Chullo by as much as 1 1/2 lengths during the opening half-mile. Things tightened up considerably on the turn. The big gray Papi Chullo inched ever closer and bumped Flamethrowintexan several times in the stretch. It appeared that 'Tex' might be passed.
But Flamethrowintexan pinned his ears and dug in, holding off Papi Chullo's charge at the wire.
"When Robby ran beside me around the turn I knew his horse likes to lay on horses," Frazier said. "He bumped us a couple of times. Tex just loves to fight back and he wouldn't let him go by."
"I thought I had him," Albarado said. "He's (Flamethrowintexan) a fighter and this is his home track. When you get beat by half a head you think about what could have gone differently. I'd like to have had a different post."
The victory was worth $137,500 and improved Flamethrowintexan's earnings to $702,517.
Flamethrowintexan's road to the Mile began for the Penney barn and Grasshopper Stable when the gelding was claimed for $62,500 at Hollywood Park June 2004.
Penney gave credit to his son-in-law and training team member, Bryson Cooper, for picking the horse out for the stable.
"We thought we could win the (Emerald Breeders' Cup) Derby with him," Penney said. "He's been an excellent selection and he's rewarded us every time we've run him."
Flamethrowintexan, who tuned up for Sunday's big win with a 4 1/2-length victory in the Mt. Rainier Breeders' Cup Handicap July 30, paid $6.80, $4.20, and $3. Papi Chullo, who received three pounds from the winner, returned $3.60 and $3.20. It was five lengths back to third-place finisher Southern Africa, who paid $3 as the third choice with Russell Baze aboard.
Grafton finished fourth, followed by Quiet Cash, Royal Place, Alexandersrun, Confidential Call, Norm's Nephew, Don'twritemeoff, and R. Associate. Starbird Road scratched.
Flamethrowintexan has won four stakes races at Emerald Downs and his win in the Mile pushed him past Kid Katabatic as the all-time earnings leader at the Auburn oval with $358,728.
Also Sunday at Emerald Downs, Queenledo, the champion 3-year-old filly at Emerald Downs in 2005, won the $100,000 Emerald Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap.
The Tim McCanna-trained daughter of Slewdledo, with regular rider Sandi Gann at the helm, came from off the pace to take the lead coming off the final turn in the one-mile event. She and drew off to win by 8 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:34 4/5.
The 4-year-old Queenledo, owned by Kings & Queens Stable, returned $11.60, $5.40, and $3.40 for the win. Karis Makaw held on for second and paid $5.60 and $3.80 while Bardy Woman closed well to finish third, returning $3.00.
Completing the order of finish for the Distaff was post-time favorite A Classic Life, Gins Majesty, Cielo Dulce, Dinner at Arlene's and Sudden Departure.