Sports

Camacho-Flores returns to jockey colony | Emerald Downs

Leonel Camacho-Flores, the Northwest's newest riding sensation, returns to Emerald Downs after posting a career-high 47 wins last season.

In a tale of two halves, Camacho-Flores' 2011 campaign modeled the running style of a late-closing racehorse. While it took time to find his stride, Camacho-Flores finished the season with a ferocious rally. In fact, at last year's halfway point, he had ridden just 10 winners.

As Seattle weather got hotter, so did Camacho-Flores. The 28-year-old Zacatecas, Mexico native turned in a spectacular two-month performance, winning 37 races, including his first ever stakes score and was later honored with the meet's Top Riding Achievement.

From unknown to in-demand, Camacho-Flores shipped his tack to Northern California following the Emerald Downs season. In 82 mounts, Camacho-Flores found success, notching eight wins at the Golden Gate fall meeting. And after a quick stint at Portland Meadows, Camacho-Flores said he's ready to start fast at Emerald Downs.

"It's not easy to win at any track," Camacho-Flores said. "I just need to do my job and ride hard every race."

One horse sure to make life easier, Buddy Dave, a six-time winner last season, has resumed training after a runner-up finish in 2011 to Touch of Elegance for the meet's Top Claimer. Camacho-Flores, who worked Buddy Dave last week, said he expected another strong campaign from his favorite Thoroughbred.

"He's ready to start racing," Camacho-Flores said. "I don't know how he does it. He's such a little horse, but he has a lot of power."

3 intriguing matchups heading into 2012

1. Noosa Beach vs. Jebrica

For the past two years, Noosa Beach has owned the handicap division, winning eight stakes races including the 2010 Longacres Mile. This season, however, Emerald Downs has arguably the most talented 4-year-olds in years. The state's 3-Year-Old Champion Jebrica received a 98 Beyer Speed Figure – the highest at the 2011 meet – for his victory in the Emerald Downs Derby. He later went on to beat older horses, including stakes winners Winning Machine and Assessment, in the B.C. Premier's Handicap at Hastings.

2. You Me and Ema B vs. Class Included

Despite never being favored in all six-career starts, You Me and Ema B is the probable top choice to repeat as the meet's Top Older Filly or Mare. She showed her versatility last season, winning both the six-furlong Hastings Handicap and the one-mile Boeing Handicap. Her greatest test, however, could come from last year's 3-year-old crop. Class Included, like You Me and Ema B, can win at any distance and has already proved she could handle older horses at Hastings, where she finished second in the Ballerina Stakes (Grade III-C).

3. Touch of Elegance vs. Buddy Dave

While the two opposite-sexed runners will likely never run head-to-head, both Touch of Elegance and Buddy Dave figure to be early favorites for 2012 Top Claimer. The former took the prize last season, winning 7-of-8 races, while the latter became a fan-favorite, winning six races in come-from-behind fashion. Touch of Elegance would be the track's first back-to-back Top Claimer recipient.

Notes

Director of Racing Bret Anderson said Monday that Emerald Downs has 688 horses – down from 725 this time last season – on the grounds. The 37 less horses, however, can be attributed to trainer Vann Belvoir who now runs his stock in Southern California. Anderson also said the first condition book would be printed Wednesday, with opening night on Friday, April 13 featuring an open allowance race for older fillies/mares – a prep race for the $50,000 Hastings Handicap on May 13 – Kim Wales, wife of former jockey and Grant's Pass Clerk of Scales Hugh Wales, said she would run a small stable at Emerald Downs this season ... Trainer/farrier Allen Gideon has six horses in training to start the season, including 8-year-old father Spiker and his 5-year-old daughter Maggie's Special. ... Cruzin the Harbor, full-brother to 2009 Top 2-Year-Old Hollywood Harbor, earned a 68 Beyer Speed Figure after winning his career debut Saturday by four lengths at Golden Gate Fields. The 3-year-old son of Harbor the Gold is trained by Frank Lucarelli for owner Frank Gaunt of Eatonville.

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