A total of 65 horses*an average of 8.1 runners per race*will greet fans on opening night of the 2013 live racing season at Emerald Downs.
Friday’s eight-race card begins at 6:45 p.m. with the 2013 jockey colony introduced in the Winner’s Circle prior to the national anthem at 6:15 p.m. Also, 30 lucky fans will leave the track with brand new iPad minis. Giveaways will be held after every race, with celebrities like Dan Lewis (KOMO), David Rose (KCPQ), Gary Crow (KZOK) and Mike Tice (former Seahawk and NFL coach) enlisted to draw winning names from the hopper.
Director of Racing Bret Anderson put together a good card for handicappers, as six of the eight races feature at least eight horses and three races have nine or more.
Here’s a brief look at Friday’s races:
Race 1: The meet begins with 3-year-old maiden claimers racing the abbreviated distance of five furlongs for a $20,000 claiming price. Speed horses dominate these events, especially early in the meet, a stat that plays into the hands of both Ryans Argument and Private Password. First-time starter Southern Solution is related to three four-time winners and blew out nicely for this race, while Big Question goes for the very potent combination of trainer Chris Stenslie and jockey Juan Gutierrez. The defending riding champion, Gutierrez rode 117 winners last year and was 15-for-27*56 percent*when riding for Stenslie.
Race 2: Maiden 3-year-old Washington-bred fillies race five furlongs for a $7,500 tag in the second half of the early double. Gallyn Mitchell, the track’s all-time leader with 1,347 wins, returns to action after missing the final two months of 2012 with a broken hand. Mitchell rides first-time starter Full Service for trainer Tom Wenzel (Mitchell and Wenzel are a combined 65-for-277 at Emerald Downs). Eliska Kubinova, who rode a record 75 winners as an apprentice last year, rides her first race here without the bug on the speedster Corrinas Seeker for 2012 training champion Frank Lucarelli.
Race 3: Among the newcomers to the jockey colony is 31-year-old David G. Lopez, whose 12-year riding career includes 1,040 victories and a triumph on long shot Summers Peace in the 2011 Washington State Legislators Stakes. In this race, a $2,500 claimer for older fillies and mares at 5-½ furlongs, Lopez ride Courtney’s Prize for trainer Robbie Baze. Baze won a race opening night last year with Allison Ridge.
Race 4: In the training ranks, newcomer Jeff Metz invades from Turf Paradise with 25 runners including Fastest, a 4-year-old California-bred gelding that debuts in this $5,000 maiden claimer for 3-year-olds and up at 5-½ furlongs. Anne Sanguinetti, who rode four winners here on closing weekend last year, will ride many of the Metz horses including Fastest. Speaking of women riders, as usual there is no shortage of female jockeys with Kubinova, Sanguinetti, Jennifer Whitaker, Debbie Hoonan, Connie Doll and apprentice Maggie Hardison all with mounts opening night. Cassie Papineau, who rode 70 winners as an apprentice in 2009, also returns and has her first mount Saturday.
Race 5: This is the same condition as Race 3, eight older fillies and mares at 5-½ furlongs. Fitness is a major handicapping factor in early season races at Emerald Downs, and that bodes well for the speedy Turf Paradise invader Birdie Girl, who shortens up after a good recent try at six furlongs.
Race 6: A field of nine 3-year-olds and up race 5-½ furlongs for a $5,000 claiming price. Wild Hoss, Orlando Xpress and Mr. Top Kat were all double winners last year, and Bleu Tarp set a track record of :45.78 in an 870-yard Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse mixed race. Ronald Richard, a 24-year-old Louisiana native, rides six horses Friday in his Emerald Downs debut, including Orlando Xpress for trainer Doris Harwood.
Race 7: The opening night feature is a 5-½ furlong sprint for fillies and mares that are non-winners of two races lifetime. Tim McCanna, No. 1 all-time with 848 training wins, sends out She’s a Time Bomb, and Emerald Downs President Ron Crockett, the track’s all-time leading owner with 222 wins, is owner and breeder of Way to Go Lo. John Lindley, who provides free Trip Notes in the Racing section at emeralddowns.com, owns She’s a Time Bomb.
Race 8: The nightcap is another 5 ½-furlong dash for 3-year-olds and up that have not won a race since October 1. The nine-horse field has 41 career wins at Emerald Downs, led by nine from the 8-year-old veteran Havin a Good Day. Isaias Enriquez, rider of Win Photos Will Do, is another newcomer worth following; the 39-year-old Tijuana native has been a mainstay the last few years in New Mexico, and before that rode in California where he rode stakes winners for John Sadler and the late Richard Matlow.
For more opinions on the opening night card, go to emeralddowns.com, as Joe Withee and track announcer Robert Geller handicap every race throughout the season. For fans on-track, Withee and Geller appear on television monitors with Handicapper’s Corner one hour before first post every live racing day.