Live Thoroughbred racing returns to Emerald Downs today as the Auburn racetrack begins its 17th season.
The 81-day schedule runs through Sept. 23, featuring racing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with Thursdays being added in July and August. First race post times will be 6 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Highlighting the 30-race stakes schedule worth more than $1.5 million will be the 77th running of the $200,000 Grade III Longacres Mile on Aug. 19.
“We’re pleased to offer the same amount of stakes events and virtually the same total stakes money as last year,” said Emerald Downs president Ron Crockett.
The stakes programs begin with the $50,000 Hastings Handicap for older fillies and mares May 13, while the first race in the Longacres Mile series will be the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap on May 20.
Noosa Beach, Doris Harwood’s two-time horse of the meeting, returns for his 6-year-old campaign. The gelding captured the Longacres Mile in 2010 and finished second last year, and is sixth all-time among Washington-bred earners with $520,722 and became the first horse since Chinook Pass in 1983 to earn back-to-back Washington horse of the year honors (2010, 2011).
Noosa Beach headlines a strong Mile division this season which also includes Winning Machine, He’s All Heart, Assessment, Zayda, Couldabenthewhisky and Jebrica, last season’s champion 3-year-old male.
Jebrica is one of three returning divisional champions from the barn of Jim Penney, who will also saddle last year’s top 3-year-old filly Class Included and 2011 top juvenile male Chu and I this season, as well as, 2011 Belle Roberts winner Sweet Nellie Brown and 2009 champion 3-year-old filly Sis’s Sis.
“I think it’s quite possible that we can top what we did last year,” said Penney, who saddled a season-high-tying six stakes winners last year and paced all trainers with $562,901 in earnings.
Frank Lucarelli and Howard Belvoir, who finished first and second in the trainer standings last season with 53 and 52 wins, respectively, both return.
A total of 62 horses were entered into the opening night eight-race card.
Eight runners, including the Lucarelli-conditioned Marvin’s Magic and the Belvoir-trained Advancement, will go postward in today’s featured seventh race, a conditional $12,500 claiming race for older horses at 51/2 furlongs.
Leslie Mawing looks to successfully defend his riding title, a year after winning a track-best 129 races, and will face competition from Juan Gutierrez, last year’s second-leading rider with 100 victories, and Gallyn Mitchell, the track’s all-time leader with 1,322 career victories.
INSIDE | B3
Staff photographer Dean J. Koepfler captures a behind-the-scenes look at Emerald Downs as the track preps for today’s opening day.
ALSO: Today’s race entries, B7 Staff members, jockeys and horses are prepped and ready for today’s season opener at Emerald Downs. First post is 6 p.m., with an eight-race card.