A 70-day season of horse racing begins this weekend at Emerald Downs, the Auburn track off Highway 167.
The first post of the seven-race program will take place at 5 p.m. Saturday, with fireworks to follow. Sunday’s racing program will begin at 2 p.m.
This will be Emerald Downs’ 21st season, which will feature 32 stakes worth an aggregate of $1.7 million, including the running of the $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 13.
Jockey Rocco Bowen, a 27-year-old from Barbados, returns to defend his 2016 riding title. His 110 victories at Emerald Downs are 40 more than runner-up Leslie Mawing.
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“It’s great to be the defending champion, but we’re all starting off level,” Bowen said in a news release. “We all have zero wins on opening day.”
Bowen spent his winter at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, California, and cracked the top five among jockeys with 23 wins.
Trainer Blaine Wright posted a 28.6 win percentage in 2016 to take the training title, dethroning three-time defending champion Jeff Metz and five-time Emerald Downs champion Frank Lucarelli.
Trainer Tim McCanny is No. 1 all-time with 920 wins at Emerald Downs. Howard Belvoir holds the most opening day wins of any trainer (17).
Top returning horses include 2016 triple stakes winners Barkley and So Lucky.
The meet’s first stakes, the $50,000 Seattle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs, will be run on May 7.
Emerald Downs added some off-track amenities.
One is its renovated fifth floor with a Clubhouse Casino. It will have a simulcast center, 15 card tables, a sports bar and cafe, and be open year round from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
“In addition to playing their favorite table games, guests can wager on horse racing from around the world,” said Emerald Downs President Phil Ziegler in the release.