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Advancement takes the feature on Emerald Downs opening day | Horse Racing

A festive opening night throng welcomed back live racing Friday evening as Emerald Downs launched its 17th season of Thoroughbred racing.

The action was hotly contested on the track, and spirited in the grandstand and apron as fans turned out in perfect spring weather to welcome back the Thoroughbreds while also hoping to win one of 50 brand new flat screen TV sets.

In the featured Woodford Reserve Purse for 3-year-olds and up, Advancement turned in a sentimental triumph for jockey Jennifer Whitaker, trainer Howard Belvoir and owner Diane Tice. The 4-year-old gelding led gate-to-wire while running 5-½ furlongs in an exceptional 1:02.06 on a fast track. The winning time was faster than any at the distance during all of 2011, when Cliff’s Secret 1:02.33 on April 29 was fastest of the meeting.

In the winner’s circle, an emotional Tice said the victory was a very special one. Earlier Friday, a funeral mass was held in Seattle for her husband Lou Tice, the founder of the Pacific Institute who died April 1 at age 76.

“This is a wonderful way to end our day and to begin the season,” Diane Tice said after receiving hugs from both Belvoir and Whitaker.

Whitaker, the only jockey to ride two winners on the eight-race card, said Advancement had been touting a big effort in morning workouts.

“Advancement was ready,” she said. “He’s been real sharp in the morning and he ran great tonight.”

A Kentucky-bred colt by Doneraile Court, Advancement paid $6.60, $4.40 and $3.20. Exclusive Star, a 16-to-1 long shot ridden by Pedro Terrero, rallied to finish second, and Marvin’s Magic and jockey William Antongeorgi III finished third.

Whitaker, the track’s all-time leading female rider with 384 wins, played the key role as women riders posted half of the victories Friday night. Debbie Hoonan, second all-time among females with 367 wins at Emerald Downs, rode Stevie Z ($3.40) to a 6-¼-length triumph in the third race, and apprentice Eliska Kubinova guided River of Aces ($3.40) to a three-length victory in the fifth.

Trainers Belvoir and Charles Essex got off to quick starts with two wins apiece.

Total mutuel handle Friday was $1,462,050.

NOTES: Allison Ridge, ridden by Javier Matias for trainer Robbie Baze and owner Crystal Ridge Farm, scored by six lengths as the 3-to-2 favorite in the first race of the new season*Burr Tango ($3.60) turned in one of the evening’s sharpest performances while winning the sixth race. The 3-year-old California-bred gelding ran 5-½ furlongs in 1:02.73 and gave newcomer Antongeorgi his first riding victory at Emerald Downs. A native of northern California, Antongeorgi guided Northern Causeway to a victory in the 2011 B.C. Derby at Hastings Racecourse. Incidentally, Hastings begins its 2012 racing season Saturday*Emerald Downs’ own Joe Withee was a winner earlier Friday when the 3-year-old filly Hardbody rallied for a maiden-breaking victory as the 2-to-5 favorite at Golden Gate Fields. Trained by Tim McCanna, Hardbody began her career last summer at Emerald Downs with a third-place finish vs. eventual stakes winners Exclusive Diva and Talk to My Lawyer. Hardbody is co-owned by Withee, Dean Mazzuca and others*For all the winners throughout the 2012 Emerald Downs meeting go to @vincebemerald on Twitter*Live racing continues Saturday with Day 2 of the 81-day meet. First post is 2 p.m.

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