Live racing returns Saturday with a nine-race card and a promising weather forecast.
First post is 2 p.m., with partly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 60s expected for the first of 67 days of live racing in 2019.
In honor of the track’s 24th season, festivities includes a unique “24 Karat Giveaway” featuring drawings for a necklace, bracelet, earrings, and a specially engraved “24” ring. The Toucans Steel Drum Band and Pacific Choir Chorus will add live music to the opening day scene.
The 2019 jockey colony will be introduced following the second race. Rocco Bowen, bidding for a record fourth straight riding title, will miss early season action awaiting medical clearance for an injured shoulder. In Bowen’s absence, Kevin Orozco, runner-up the last two seasons, is expected to contend for his first title, while Gary Wales, Javier Matias, Jose Zunino, Jennifer Whitaker are other returning veterans. Juan Gutierrez, No. 2 all-time with 1,320 wins at Emerald Downs, returns after missing all of 2018 with a shoulder ailment and has six mounts opening day.
Patrick Henry Jr. and Lorenzo Lopez, first and second in the standings this winter at Portland Meadows, add further depth to the riding colony, while Jorge Carreno and Franklin Ceballos are among the top newcomers. Carreno has more than 1,400 career wins and is a former leading rider at Turf Paradise; Ceballos, a 19-year-old native of Venezuela, arrives from California and has 29 career wins at Santa Anita.
Blaine Wright and Frank Lucarelli are top contenders for leading trainer. Wright, who won Emerald Downs’ titles in 2016 and 2017, has amassed 20 stakes wins the last two seasons while Lucarelli last year overtook Tim McCanna as the track’s all-time leading trainer with 944 wins. Other top trainers back include Howard Belvoir, Roy Lumm, Tom Wenzel, Kay Cooper, Dan Markle, Mike Puhich, Robbie Baze, Candi Cryderman (formerly Tollett), Vince Gibson, Charles Essex, Chris Stenslie, Terry Gillihan and H.R. Mullens.
Top returning horses include defending Horse of the Meeting Sippin Fire, who won four stakes last year including the Muckleshoot Derby, and Barkley, who held off Alert Bay to capture the 2018 Longacres Mile. Other returning 2018 stakes winners include 3-year-old geldings Baja Sur, Fuzzy Dolphin and This Great Nation, 3-year-old fillies Northwest Factor and Money In the Starrs, 4-year-old fillies Bella Mia, Diamonds R and Dontkissntell, 5-year-old mares No Talking Back and Reginella, 4-year-old gelding Whatwasithinking, and 6-year-old gelding Hit the Beach.
Stakes action begins Sunday, May 12 with the $50,000 Seattle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and concludes Sunday, September 22 with the $100,000 Gottstein Futurity for 2-year-olds. In a new twist, the $200,000 Longacres Mile (Grade 3) anchors a Championship Sunday quadruple-header Sunday, August 11 also featuring the $50,000 Emerald Distaff, $50,000 Muckleshoot Derby and $50,000 Washington Oaks. In all, 27 stakes worth $1,550,000 will be offered during the 2019 season along with three Quarter Horse races worth an additional $75,000 in purses.
In the opening day feature, a field of seven race 5½ furlongs in a $10,000 starter allowance for 3-year-olds and up with an $11,200 purse. Wine At Nine, a 13-time winner at Emerald Downs, makes his first stat as a 7-year-old and faces a tough group that includes Levitation, a five-time winner in 2018 and 3-2-0 in six career starts at Emerald Downs, and He’s Not Grey, a former stakes winner who reeled off three straight wins at the end of last season.
Following Saturday’s opener, the track is dark Sunday, resuming with Saturday/Sunday racing on April 27-28 and May 4-5. Three-day racing begins Friday, May 10, Saturday, May 11, Sunday, May 12. …Gutierrez needs 99 wins to tie Gallyn Mitchell’s all-time Emerald Downs mark of 1,419 wins. … Matias with 489 wins and Whitaker with 480 wins are on pace to become the ninth and 10th riders with 500 career wins at Emerald Downs. … Current horse population is 770, down 15 horses from the same date last year.