Lucarelli saddles two contenders for Mile

It’s been a long time coming for Frank Lucarelli.

Since getting his license in 1979, the Enumclaw-based trainer has been a fixture at Washington and California tracks, compiling the second most career wins at Emerald Downs.

But in the 31 years Lucarelli has been training Thoroughbreds, one race has eluded him – the Longacres Mile. And it’s not just the Mile victory that is missing from his list of accomplishments. Before this weekend’s race, Lucarelli has not even had a horse run in the Mile.

That all changes on Sunday with Lucarelli saddling two heralded horses for the Mile – Gallant Son and Winning Machine.

The 75th running of the $250,000 Grade III Mile is scheduled to go off shortly after 5 p.m. Coverage will begin at 4 p.m. (FSN-TV, KJR 950 AM).

Lucarelli likes his chances.

Gallant Son, who drew the No. 8 post, will have to sneak by odds-on favorite Noosa Beach, who will break out of the No. 5 hole. Winning Machine, meanwhile, drew the No. 1 post.

“It’s something that is important to us and something we’ve always wanted to do,” Lucarelli said. “I’ve always wanted to run in the Mile and win the Mile. And I haven’t had the opportunity, so this is a good chance to give it a go. I get excited about winning any race, so winning the biggest race up here would be a big deal.”

Lucarelli got his first taste of training as a youth.

“My dad owned horses, so when I was a little kid I used to go out with him in the mornings on Saturdays and watch him train,” Lucarelli said. “So I started working out there when I was 13 in the summers.”

A promising pitcher who was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates after graduating from Newport High School in 1975, Lucarelli said he concentrated on his baseball career, playing college ball at Western Washington and minor league ball in the Northwest and California independent leagues.

After four years of playing baseball, Lucarelli returned to horse racing.

“I knew that I liked that business,” he said. “I’m not a big gambler, but I like the business of it. It’s a sport with athletes – horse athletes – and I just liked it a lot.”

He ran his first horse, Ebony Spirit, in 1979 at the winter session at Portland Meadows and won his first race by five lengths.

“I thought it was a pretty easy game at first, but it was a few months until my next win,” Lucarelli said.

Soon the wins started coming in droves, including stakes wins at Emerald Downs with horses such as No Curfew, Kenny Hawk, Marva Jean and Indian Weaver.

“I’ve had some good young horses, just not ones that have gone on to be good older Mile kind of horses,” he said.

This year, Lucarelli looks to have the horse to deliver a Mile win in 4-year-old Gallant Son. Lucarelli and owners Chris Randall and Nick Rossi acquired the horse at the Kentucky Yearling sale for $9,000. Immediately, the group knew they had a special horse on their hands.

“He was just a real good looking colt, real correct with a good vet report, so we bought him,” Lucarelli said. “And he’s turned out to be a good horse. … Nobody can tell what’s inside of them or how tough they’re going to be when it comes down to racing. But he’s a tough horse and likes to run.”

After Gallant Son won the Premio Esmeralda, the Washington Thouroughbred Owners Association Lads Stakes and the Gottstein Futurity in 2008, Lucarelli shipped the horse to the California circuit in Del Mar, Santa Anita, Pasadena and Hollywood Park.

“He’s been down in California since. We ran him in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, where he got beat by three-and-half lengths,” Lucarelli said.

To win the Mile, Gallant Son must contend with rival Noosa Beach.

“I beat him when he was 2, and he’s obviously the local horse to beat,” Lucarelli said. “Someone asked if I thought I could still beat him. Noosa Beach has progressed really well, but so has my horse.

"It’s mainly going to be about the trip," he added. "If Noosa Beach is going to be dangling around the front end and he gets a trip and I don’t, then he’s going to beat me. But if I get a good trip and he (Gallant Son) sets up and races like he should, I’ve got a good chance to beat him (Noosa Beach).”

Story by Shawn Skager,

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