(Auburn, WA) Bob Rondeau is known as the voice of Husky Football and Basketball for more than 3 decades and delivered the play-by-play for thousands of Husky fans for many Pac-10, Rose Bowl and other Championships. Rondeau also anchored the Longacres Mile coverage both at Longacres and at Emerald Downs many times but from now on he is no longer a disseminator of information he is a Champion.
Rondeau and his wife Molly own Background under their Giddyup Stables moniker and have been running mostly at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and more recently at Arlington Park in Chicago. The Rondeau’s wanted to bring him back to the Northwest and take a shot at the big race. Rondeau has been part of horse racing since the 70’s where he attended his first Longacres Mile in 1977 and witnessed Theologist win in the slop with jockey Bryson Cooper aboard for his father-in-law Hall of Famer Jim Penney. Rondeau said he was instantly hooked and began a friendship and partnership with trainer Mike Puhich.
Rondeau had dabbled in owning horses on and off and then went through a time in the mid-90’s to the early 2000’s when he didn’t have any but after retiring he was ready to try and step up to the next level. Prior to his retirement he had never owned more than 1 horse at a time. He and his wife Molly set a budget and they worked with Puhich as they went searching for a horse that could compete at a higher level. They found Background down in Florida after a friend of Puhich’s tipped him off. Background was bred by Bret Fernung in Ocala, Florida and he normally would send his stock to the Florida sales but had kept Background, a gelding, and a colt both by Khozan. Background is out of Ephyra by Corinthian.
Rondeau said it was love at first sight and he knew he wanted Background immediately. They negotiated a price and purchased him in a private sale. Rondeau has stepped up his ownership stable to owning 2 outright including Background and a maiden Captain Fantastic. Rondeau then bought in on Compelling Smile with Mark Dedomenico. Compelling Smile ran 2nd in the 50k Emerald Distaff earlier in the day before winning the Mile. (See our coverage of the Distaff in another post.) Since then the Rondeau’s have also bought into 2 2-year-olds and now either owns or is in a partnership with 5 horses.
After taking over Background who was in training when they purchased him Puhich got to work and in 2020 he raced 7 times breaking his maiden in his 2nd start but then evened out and finished the season with the single win and 3 3rd place finishes. In his 1st career race Background finished 3rd just a 1/2 length back of the deadheated winners but he kinda bulled his way through a crowd to nearly win it. Rondeau said as they walked the horse back to the barn he was asked several times if he was for sale and was made several offers as some thought Background just might be a Triple Crown possibility, in fact Rondeau had nominated Background for the Derby. He would go on to break his maiden easily but then floundered a bit ending any hope of a run for the roses.
Puhich had Background at Oaklawn in January of this year and that is the first time jockey Rocco Bowen had ridden him finishing 7th. Bowen got to know the horse in the interim and Puhich sent him out for his 2nd run at 34-1 and Bowen and Background stunned the Oaklawn betting public with a 1 3/4 length win over a sloppy track. Bowen would go on to finish 3rd then win again and in his last 2 runs prior to the Mile he finished 2nd in both at Arlington Park.
Coming into the Mile, Rondeau had of course never won the Mile, Rocco Bowen is the only jockey to ever win 3 riding titles in a row at Emerald Downs but with all that success he too had never crossed the finish line 1st in a Longacres Mile. Puhich did have one victory in 2012 with Taylor Said but Puhich was more of a stand-in for the North American Thoroughbred Horse Company as they shipped Taylor Said to Puhich from Canada. This time it was all Puhich, he is the only one to have ever trained Background.
Background was made the 5-1 4th favorite in the morning line and in his 13 career starts Background had never been bet down as the favorite but the crowd disagreed with the morning line and money came in on him making him the 2-1 favorite. It may have been a combination of Rondeau owning him and all the Husky fans wanting to back him and crowd favorite Rocco Bowen coming back to ride at Emerald and the lovable “Pu” Mike Puhich as the trainer but whatever the reason Background ended up the public’s choice.
As the 11 horse went to load in the gate really 6 horses looked to have a realistic shot at winning and they ranged from 2-1 to 12-1. In the end those 6 would finish 1-6 with 101-1 Reelfoot finsihing 7th, 38-1 Hard to Deny 8th, Muncey at 84-1 9th, 41-1 Forest Fire 10th and 47-1 shot Sir Bregovic last.
The other contenders after Background included local favorite Papa’s Golden Boy with Julien Couton at 3-1, 4-1 Five Star General and Mario Gutierrez at 4-1, the other 4-1 shot was Anyportinastorm with Juan Gutierrez up, deep closer Unmachable with Javier Matias at 7-1 and 12-1 Windribbon with Kevin Orozco. Windribbon was being dismissed as a 30+-1 shot with just a minute to go before post time when his odds tumbled drastically down to 12-1.
When the gates opened as predicted Papa’s Golden Boy broke on top from the 1 hole with Anyportinastorm layered up against him just a neck back. Windribbon settled in on the rail 3rd about 2 lengths behind while Hard to Deny was 4th followed by Sir Bregovic, Background, Muncey, Five Star General, Forest Fire, Reelfoot and Unmachable was last.
Papa and Storm ran the quarter in 22.94. The two continued their harried pace and were head and head with Papa’s Golden Boy never ceding to Anyportinastorm but Storm never relented and continued to press the pace as they hit the half mile pole with Papa hold a 1/2 length advantage in a time of 45.34. As the 2 maintained the ding-dong battle as they approached the 3/4’s mark Kevin Orozco kept Windribbon on the rail with a very patient ride, many thought it might be Windribbon out winging it on the front end with Papa but Windribbon stalked brilliantly in this race. Meantime, Bowen was trying to get Background into the race and Mario Gutierrez was getting Five Star General stirred up while Unmachable was still well back in 9th place.
As they got inside the quarter pole Orozco took the first run and burst to a 2 1/2 length lead at the top of the stretch while Papa’s Golden Boy battled on holding 2nd while Anyportinastorm began to fade and would end up 6th. Bowen moved Background to the center of the track to the outside of Windribbon and began to get Background into stride. Five Star General was also closing and Unmachable was unwinding from far back.
Orozco was getting after Windribbon in deep stretch trying to get to the line but could hear Bowen and Background coming and in the final strides catching Windribbon and Background got the win by a head. Bowen erupted with emotion as he crossed the finish line and was cheering on the crowd when he returned to the Winner’s Circle. The loss was heartbreaking for the Windribbon connections of trainer Blaine Wright and owner Seamist Stable but they could not have asked for any better effort and simply came up literally a step short. Wright was trying to repeat after winning his 1st Mile last year with Anothertwistafate.
Meantime Papa’s Golden Boy ran as good of a hooked on the front end race as possible and was nipped at the wire by Five Star General for 3rd place and settled for 4th. Unmachable was also rolling late but he got too far behind and finished 5th. Just a little more than 3 lengths separated the top 5 finishers. The tiring track did take its toll on the race as the final time of 1:36.67 was the slowest time since the 1977 Mile when Theologist won it in 1:38.4 over a sloppy track at Longacres. The fastest mile time was in 2016 when Pointy Piper recorded the only sub 1:33 time with a clocking of 1:32.90.
After the race Emerald Downs Director of Publicity Joe Withee did the interview with Rondeau and Bowen. Rondeau’s voice was horse and he could hardly speak and Bowen was in tears with emotion finally winning the race he wanted so badly. Background picked up $55,000 to add to his career earnings that now have reached $287,000. He is 4-2-2 from 14 career starts but is an incredible 3-2-1 in his last 6 starts.
When asked what is next for Background Rondeau said Puhich took both him and Compelling Smile to his home base the Pegasus Training facility. Puhich sent Rondeau a video today of Background standing in a salt water hydro spa up to his knees with the jets on his feet and Rondeau said he looked like he was in heaven. Rondeau says they want to be careful with him because he does get sore feet fairly easily and yesterday the track clearly played deep and heavy and was a very tiring course as the final time proved. He says there isn’t a lot for him over the next few months and thinks it’s highly likely Background will get time off and they will look at heading to Oaklawn again in January.
Rondeau also had high praise for Windribbon and Papa’s Golden Boy and said his hat was off to both local horses that ran their hearts out and represented themselves and their connections with great courage.
Background returned $6.60 and coupled with 12-1 Windribbon was good for a $27 exacta. The 50-cent Trifecta paid $102.35 and the 10-cent superfecta a healthy $86.67.
Below are videos of the race and winner’s circle interviews, our interview with Bob Rondeau and with Windribbon’s jockey Kevin Orozco.
The 86th Running of the Longacres Mile and Joe Withee interviewing the connections in the Winner’s Circle
ESN talked with Bob Rondeau about what this meant to him and everyone involved
Windribbon’s jockey Kevin Orozco on the near miss Championship
86th Longacres Mile Photo Gallery