The Northwest’s premier racing venue springs into action Friday when Emerald Downs begins its 16th season of Thoroughbred racing at 6 p.m.
The 82-day meet continues through Sept. 25, with first post 6 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Thursday racing will be added July 14 to Aug. 25.
Sixty-six horses are entered opening night, an average of 8.25 per race, on the eight-race program. Emerald Downs also has nine races Saturday and 10 on Sunday for a total of 27 races opening weekend compared to 23 races opening weekend last year.
The 76th running of the $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 21 tops a 29-race stakes schedule worth over $1.5 million, with the $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares leading off the stakes schedule on May 15.
Defending Longacres Mile champion and 2010 Horse of the Meeting Noosa Beach heads a handicap horse division that begins with the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap on May 22. Other top returning older horses include Assessment, Hollywood Harbor, Koala Beach, Margo’s Gift, Peaceful Reign, Saratoga Boot and Winning Machine.
Two other fans favorites also will return in 2011. Wasserman, the track’s all-time leading earner with $514,722, is back as a 9-year-old, and West Seattle Boy, Emerald Downs’ all-time leader in wins with 18, has resumed training as a 12-year-old.
Ten-time champion Tim McCanna, the leading trainer in 2010 with 63 wins, is expected to contend for his record fifth straight Emerald Downs training championship. And Doris Harwood, first all-time with 48 stakes wins, has another powerful lineup of runners led by Noosa Beach, who begins the season needing two stakes victories to tie Handy N Bold’s track record of 10 stakes wins set in 1999-2003.
Ricky Frazier, last year’s leading jockey with 114 wins, begins the season sidelined while awaiting a doctor’s clearance to resume his riding career. The leading rider at Emerald Downs five of the last seven seasons, Frazier hasn’t ridden since October, when he sustained a concussion riding at Fresno, Calif.
Gallyn Mitchell, No. 1 all-time with 1,252 wins at Emerald Downs, and Juan Gutierrez, third with 778, head a jockey colony that includes Portland Meadows champion Joe Crispin, Portland runner-up Javier Matias, and veterans A.L. Gutierrez, Deborah Hoonan-Trujillo and Jose Zunino. Pedro Terrero, the leading apprentice last year with 65 wins, returns as a journeyman, and Leslie Mawing, second with 86 wins in 2007, returns after spending the last three years riding in Northern California.
Emerald Downs also has upgraded its timing system to hundredths of a second to accommodate the introduction of Quarter Horse racing. Beginning next week the track plans to card approximately two Quarter Horse races a week, leading up to the $60,000 Bank of America Emerald Downs Challenge Championship on Sept. 4.
Notes: Emerald Downs will give away 50 flat-screen TV sets on opening night. Drawings for the 32-inch LCD sets will be held after each race in the winner’s circle. Emerald Downs Facebook followers will be eligible to win a 51st TV in a special drawing after the fifth race.