Horses, pounding hoofs, happy or mopey bettors — the smell of thoroughbreds running — opening night at Emerald Downs is Saturday.
Thoroughbred horse racing is as much an experience of culture as a sport or entertainment event. Words fall short; it is a series of sounds and sights and scents — at times a remembrance of things past, in a place with a different pace than the web-connected world of today.
The track is a world of its own. There are 20 minutes between races. Time to ponder your picks, study the racing form, enjoy your winnings or complain about your losses.
The track is a family, a very close family, with all the ups and downs and quirks.
Most of the folk at Emerald Downs have been in racing for decades, either their father or mother or grandfather or grandmother was a member of the family. The love of the game passes into their bones and blood. They are born to the game.
FOUNDER AND FATHER OF EMERALD DOWNS
In a name, racing in this state is Ron Crockett.
When Longacres closed the gate in 1992, the thoroughbred racing obituary in this state was being written.
Crockett would not let the game die.
Crockett is a 1957 Renton High graduate. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington in 1962.
He began checking out Longacres when one of his college friends got a job working for the track. Crockett bought his first horse through a claiming race in 1974, and the hook was set. He went on to become one of the top owners and breeders in the business.
For the game in this state, his name is synonymous with thoroughbred racing and Emerald Downs. After Longacres Park ended its run, Crockett, with other investors, formed Northwest Racing Associates. The partnership was able to follow a thread through a labyrinth of legal, legislative and land-use issues to bring Emerald Downs to life on June 20, 1996.
From the first race at Emerald Downs through 2014 Crockett was the president of Emerald Downs overseeing the day-to-day operation.
In November 2014 the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe purchased Emerald Downs, and Phil Ziegler took over as president of the track.
This year the fifth floor will feature a new Clubhouse Casino with table games, a lounge, simulcast and the Quick Pix cafe.
Ziegler may have taken over the day-to-day fun of the track, but Crockett is still doing what he loves — racing his thoroughbreds and winning. He is the all-time leading owner at Emerald Downs with 248 career wins, and the win pictures are still coming.
Joe Withee is known as the voice of Emerald Downs. Withee hosts the “Win, Place, Show” every Saturday morning on 950 KJR. He also hosts “Emerald Downs Live” on Comcast SportsNet.
Withee, a former basketball star at Seattle U, has been an integral part of horse racing in the state for more than three decades.
Victor “The Predictor” Cozzetti can be heard doing paddock analysis of the races. Cozzetti has been a member of the track family for more than 40 years. He provides betting tips on his website, www.predictorsays.com. He owns and breeds horses through Vic-Tory Stables. Cozzetti is a former baseball player and an avid fan of the game between the lines.
The Press Box Podcast features Jacob “Professor” Polowitz and “Mr. Media” Vince Bruun. This pair of pundits give tips, backside banter and interviews with the movers and shakers in the business. The show can be heard live at emeralddowns.com. These boys are not to be missed.
Matt Dinerman has called races at Emerald Downs for the past two seasons. The San Diego native is one of the youngest announcers in the business.
The 70-day meet runs from April 8 to Sept. 17. The racing calendar includes 27 stakes races; the first is the Seattle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on May 7. During the month of August there are 13 stakes races with the top step $200,000 Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Sunday, Aug. 13.
The Longacres Mile is the headliner for Emerald Downs.
The 2016 Mile was another thriller with California-bred Point Piper coming from off the pace to run down the 6-5 favorite O B Harbor for the win. Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Mario Gutierrez rode Point Piper, who broke the track and state record stopping the clock at 1 minute, 32.90 seconds. Sky Jack set the previous record of 1:33 in the 2003 Mile.
A local horse drawing early attention is Barkley, the Emerald Downs 2016 champion 3-year-old. Barkley won three stakes and more than $110,000 in 2016. The colt is trained by Howard Belvoir, winner of the Mile in 2008 with Wasserman and 2009 with Assessment. Barkely is a top local prospect for the Mile this season.
HORSES, TRAINERS AND JOCKEYS
Belvoir also conditions the 2016 2-year-old champion So Lucky. Pegasus Too and Rising Star Stable own the Washington-bred bay colt by Coast Guard. So Lucky was 4-1-0 in five starts with earnings of $103,835 last season.
Trainer Frank Lucarelli’s filly, Blazinbeauty, will return to Emerald. The filly beat the boys in the $65,000 Gottstein last season, outrunning So Lucky in the stretch. The filly is owned by Darrin Paul of Bothell. Blazinbeauty is only the third filly at Emerald and 13th to win the Gottstein since the race began in 1942.
Lucarelli said Mach One Rules has been “working excellent at Golden Gate Fields” and he will be at Emerald to train when the season opens.
Mach One Rules was beaten for the first time by Belvoir’s Barkley in the Auburn Stakes. Barkely went on to take the $50,000 Coca-Cola Stakes over Mach One Rules.
The rivalry will continue this season.
Trainer Chris Stenslie’s 2016 horse of the meet O B Harbor died in the offseason from a twisted intestine. O B Harbor won the Governor’s Stakes, Budweiser Stakes and Mount Rainier Stakes in 2016.
Stenslie is one of the top trainers at Emerald Downs and she will return this year, as she does every season, with some of the best horses on the grounds.
The 2016 leading trainer, Blaine Wright, won the title with 39 wins at 28.6 percent. He trained the 2016 Top Claimer, He’s Cagey, a 7-year-old Idaho-bred who won six races.
Wright returns to Emerald after a strong season at Golden Gate Fields. Wright has racked up 22 wins from 102 starts with $400,227 earnings.
The 2016 leading rider Rocco Bowen will be back in saddle at the Auburn oval. The 27-year-old native of Barbados rode 110 winners and led in earnings with $1,155,544.
Bowen will be defending his title against riders like Javier Matias and perennial winner Juan Gutierrez.
Let the show start.