The marquee race each year at Emerald Downs is the $200,000 Longacres Mile, Grade 3. It is the top-billed race among a series of stakes featured at the Auburn oval.
The 2014 winner of the Mile, Stryker Phd, will be attempting to become the third horse in the 80-year history of the Mile to win the stakes back-to-back. The most recent was Simply Majestic in 1988-89. Trooper Seven won in 1980-81.
Stryker, a 5-year-old Washington-bred gelding by Bertrando, is trained by Larry Ross and owned by Jim and Mona Hour of Bellevue.
The Mile victory was the second for Ross, who won the race in 1985 with Chum Salmon.
Ross said Stryker is in training at Emerald Downs and is pointing to the first installment in the Mile series, the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs May 17.
The gelding ran two races since the 2014 meet at Emerald. He ran second by a half length in the 1-mile $75,000 Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita Oct. 30 to Regally Ready, winner of the 2011 Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint, Grade 2.
He ran third Nov. 30 at Golden Gate in the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap.
The 2014 Top Juvenile Male, Trackattacker, is working out at Emerald for five-time leading trainer Frank Lucarelli. The 3-year-old son of Harbor The Gold will likely run in the derby series with the first race being the $50,000 Auburn Handicap at 6-1/2 furlongs May 24.
Pippa Bou Peep, 3-year-old filly and winner of the 2014 Barbara Shinpoch Stakes, is galloping for Charlie Essex.
The jockey colony at Emerald is teaming with interesting stories of the riders’ lives. Eliska Kubinova is one of the more unusual. The 26-year-old Czech Republic immigrant gave birth to her daughter, Emilie, six week ago. Saturday the 5-foot 3-inch Kubinova was working horses and preparing to ride opening day.
She began riding about three weeks after giving birth.
“It feels good now,” Kubinova said. “It was not so much fun having her, but now is fine.”
Last season at Emerald, Kubinova won 51 races, 18 percent, from 290 starts earning $519,594. Kubinova, who came to the U.S. when she was 21, jumped on her first horse when she was a toddler.
Beginning when she was about 5 years old she did “gymnastics on horses. I have always loved horses and have always been around horses.”
Kubinova said her mother, Naďa, first taught her how to ride and encouraged her to attend jockey school in Prague. Her mother rode show horses and jumpers and now watches all of her races online.
Kubinova said every win is special to her. Last season she won the Barbara Shinpoch Stakes aboard Pippa Bou Peep for trainer Charlie Essex and rode Disruption in the Longacres Mile for Monique Snowden.
She credited both trainers for helping her riding career.
Gallyn Mitchell, the all-time leading rider for Emerald Downs in wins, earnings and stakes, will ride his last season at Emerald Downs and hang up the colors on the final day of the meet.
The 53-year-old Enumclaw resident said after 34 years of riding and 2,710 winning rides the time has come.
“I still love the game,” Mitchell said. “This is my call. I don’t want to be forced or be broke up.”
Mitchell has won 1,387 races at the Auburn oval and in 2000 he rode 13 stakes winners. He has ridden five winning horses in one day four times and won the riding title twice in 1999 and 2000.
Mitchell has been generally injury free except for the last couple years. He had surgery on his thumb when a horse stepped on him and a heart attack at the beginning of the 2013 season. He returned at the end of the season to ride and win a race aboard Chasing Pete on closing day. The victory continued his streak as the only Emerald jockey to win a race in every season at the track.
Once Mitchell decided to retire, he said his told is wife and agent, Denise, “I’m going out with gust. Since this is my last run, let’s go for it.”
Mitchell said he has not specific plans to announce currently except he will be spending more time with his two grandchildren, ages 1 and 4, when the final ride ends.
The 2014 leading rider Leslie Mawing will be the jockey to beat once again this season at Emerald.
Mawing took his second title with 102 victories at 25 percent with $1,225,402 in earnings.
He rode 11 stakes winners from 24 starts, which earned him the 2014 Top Riding Achievement award. Among those 11 stakes was his first win picture in the Longacres Mile aboard Stryker Phd.
The 41-year-old Mawing took the riding title in 2011 with 129 wins.
For his career Mawing has ridden 2,260 winners with $24,664,398 in earnings.
He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Francisco Duran plans to ride the full meet at Emerald Downs for the first time since 2010. The 37-year-old Stockton, Calif. native has had a success career riding in Northern and Southern California.
Duran said he came to riding in his mid 20s, later than most jockeys, but the saddle fitted him well.
He was third runner up for the apprentice Eclipse award for the 2002 season after winning 202 races.
Duran has won 1,354 races in his career with $21,680,349 in earnings.
During the 2010 Emerald Downs season he finished fourth with 75 wins with total earning of $745,721.
“I did really good the year I was here,” Duran said. “You never stop learning in this business. You learn something new every day and event the little things can help you along the way.”
Duran said, “It is very difficult to explain, that winning sensation and crossing the wire first. It’s a natural adrenaline rush.”