AUBURN — No fans will be clutching their tickets and no tellers will be taking bets, but horses will finally start running races at Emerald Downs.
The racetrack will open its 25th season Wednesday, two months later than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wednesday’s 10-race program starts at 2:15 p.m., followed by an evening program Thursday at 5 p.m. The track plans to continue with a Wednesday-Thursday schedule until large gatherings are allowed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start Washington” plan, when it intends to move back to its typical Friday-Sunday schedule and allow fans to attend.
Wednesday’s opener marks the first professional sporting event in Washington since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis in March. The revised 44-day schedule calls for the track to move to weekends in August and continue running through Oct. 4. Like seemingly everything this year, the schedule is subject to change.
With no fans in attendance, the track will rely on revenue from bettors watching at home or on their mobile devices and playing the races over the internet on sites such as TVG.com and 1st.com. That explains the midweek time slot — it gives Emerald Downs a better chance to attract attention from a nationwide audience than it would get if it were going up against major tracks such as Belmont Park or Churchill Downs.
The 85th running of the $100,000 Longacres Mile, traditionally the highlight of the summer meet and usually held in August, is tentatively set for Sept. 13. That will be eight days after the Kentucky Derby on a scrambled national racing calendar. Other local highlights include the $40,000 Muckleshoot Derby for 3-year-olds on Sept. 5 and the $60,000 Gottstein Futurity for 2-year-olds on closing day.
In the jockey colony, defending riding champion Gary Wales is back to defend his title with nine mounts on opening day. Wales rode 99 winners last year, 33 more than runner-up Kevin Orozco. A top newcomer is Alex Cruz, a 27-year-old native of Puerto Rico who was the leading rider this winter at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
Among trainers, Frank Lucarelli returns after a record-breaking 81-win season. Lucarelli has finished first or second in 16 of the last 20 seasons and ranks No. 1 all-time in Emerald Downs wins and earnings. Blaine Wright, the leading stakes trainer each of the last four years, also returns in 2020, along with Washington Hall of Fame trainers Howard Belvoir, Doris Harwood, Sharon Ross and Tim McCanna.
The opening day feature is a $13,600 allowance/optional claimer for 3-year-olds and up at 6 furlongs. The 11-horse field includes Wine At Nine, an 8-year-old gelding with 17 career Emerald Downs wins, along with local stakes winners This Great Nation, Makah Lane and Muncey.
Those playing at home can get more info on the races and watch live at www.emeralddowns.com. The popular Parker’s tip sheet, typically sold on track, is available at www.parkerspicks.com. Fans can also find past-performance information at drf.com, brisnet.com and equibase.com.