Five Star General won the 2023 Longacres Mile. (Photo courtesy of Emerald Downs)

Five Star General won the 2023 Longacres Mile. (Photo courtesy of Emerald Downs)

Emerald Downs opens its 2024 horse racing season Saturday

The Auburn racetrack’s opening coincides with the running of the Kentucky Derby.

AUBURN – While the nation’s top 3-year-old horses run for the roses on Saturday at the Kentucky Derby, others will line up in Auburn for the start of Emerald Downs’ live racing season. For the second straight year, opening day at the Northwest’s premier racetrack coincides with horse racing’s marquee event.

Emerald Downs will celebrate opening day and Derby Day with contests for the best-dressed patron and best hat on display, as well as seven races starting at 1:30 p.m.

After this weekend’s lone racing day, Saturday and Sunday first-race post times will be 1:30 throughout the summer. Friday evening cards begin after Memorial Day, adding up to 55 racing days through Sept. 15.

Fans will notice a few differences this season, most noticeably in their payoffs for winning bets. The track will offer what’s known as “penny breakage,” paying the full amount down to the penny rather than rounding down to the nearest 20 cents, as is tradition at most racetracks. So instead of a winning ticket paying $6.20 on a $2 bet, it might pay $6.37. Emerald Downs will be the first track outside of Kentucky to make the change, which the track estimates will return $400,000 in additional payouts to bettors.

The payoffs on the tote board might look different, but most of the faces around the track will be the same. Alex Cruz, the leading rider for the past four years, is back in search of a fifth straight title in the jockey standings. Juan Gutierrez, the track’s all-time leading rider with 1,567 wins, will be back in action too.

Justin Evans, who was both the leading trainer and leading owner at the track last year, is returning with a large stable of horses. He will be heavily favored in the trainers’ race.

And the top contenders for the Longacres Mile could be some familiar names too. Slew’s Tiz Whiz, who has been named Horse of the Meeting two straight years, will work toward another appearance in the Mile after winning it in 2022 and finishing third last year. Last year’s winner, Five Star General, could be back to defend his title later this summer.

The $150,000 Mile is one of 23 stakes races on the schedule, worth a total of more than $1.5 million. The Mile will anchor a stakes quadruple-header on Aug. 11.

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