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Emerald Downs 2012 opening night 6 p.m. Friday | Horse Racing

The thundering hooves return Friday when Emerald Downs presents opening night of its 2012 live racing season. Weather reports are favorable, with temperatures forecast in the mid to upper 50s; First post is 6 p.m.

All told, there will be 58 winners on the eight-race card*eight horses and 50 lucky fans each lugging home beautiful brand new 32'' HDTV's. Six TVs will be given away after each of the first five races, and seven TV winners will be drawn after races 6, 7 and 8, including one to a lucky Emerald Downs Facebook fan.

Coming off a successful 2011 season that finished with a healthy 11 percent increase in on-track attendance, Emerald Downs President Ron Crockett is confident the momentum will continue in 2012.

“We have a beautiful and very clean facility that is attractive for horseplayers, families and horsemen,” Crockett said. “Our job is to take good care of them when they attend the races, and also to present a good racing show.”

Toward the latter end, 62 horses are entered on opening night including 50 horses in the final six races*attractive numbers for handicappers pondering opportunities in either the late $0.50 Pick 4 or the $0.50 Pick 5.

In the featured seventh race for 3-year-olds and up at 5-½ furlongs, defending training champion Frank Lucarelli saddles the 4-year-old gelding Marvin’s Magic for owners Chris Randall and Nick Rossi, whose combined record the last two seasons is 21-for-56 (38 percent) at Emerald Downs. Lucarelli, who edged Howard Belvoir 53-52 for the 2011 training title, has two horses entered Friday while Belvoir will be busy with eight runners in seven races.

A 30-race stakes program worth over $1.5 million begins Sunday, May 13 with the $50,000 Hastings Handicap for older fillies and mares. The road to the Longacres Mile begins Sunday, May 20 with the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap, possibly featuring the return of two-time Horse of the Meeting Noosa Beach.

The 77th running of the $200,000 Longacres Mile (G3) is Sunday, Aug. 19, and the competition within the division will be strong, with stalwarts like Winning Machine, He’s All Heart and Assessment back to challenge Noosa Beach, while Jebrica, Zayda and Couldabenthewhisky, all up from the 3-year-old ranks, add depth to a very tough division.

In the jockeys’ ranks, defending champion Leslie Mawing*who rode 129 winners in 2011*returns and is named to ride five horses Friday. Gallyn Mitchell, the track’s all-time leader with 1,322 wins, is back for his 17th consecutive opening night at Emerald Downs. Mitchell, 49, has finished in the top five every year at Emerald Downs and also ranks No. 1 with 74 stakes wins. Juan Gutierrez, second last year with 100 wins, begins the season needing just nine victories to move into second place all-time with 887 wins at Emerald Downs.

Newcomers to the jockey colony include William Antongeorgi III, one of the leading riders in Northern California, and apprentice Eliska Kubinova, who had a fantastic Portland Meadows season with 60 wins. Kubinova, a 23-year-old native of the Czech Republic, ride all eight opening night races and will have her apprentice weight allowance throughout 2012.

Racing will be held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the meet with Thursdays added for a seven-week run in July and August. Post times remain 6 p.m. week nights and 2 p.m. weekends and holidays; closing day is Sunday, Sept. 23.

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