Daffodil Sweet, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, will be in action this week at Emerald Downs. (Photo courtesy of Emerald Downs)

Daffodil Sweet, last year’s champion 3-year-old filly, will be in action this week at Emerald Downs. (Photo courtesy of Emerald Downs)

Horse racing at Emerald Downs returns — with fans

The season begins on Wednesday night with a limited number of spectators allowed at the Auburn track.

Herald news services

AUBURN — Emerald Downs opens its 25th anniversary season on Wednesday, and fans can once again cheer from the rail as the horses run against the backdrop of Mount Rainier.

The track will offer evening racing programs on Wednesdays and Thursdays through Sept. 23, with Sunday afternoon cards beginning June 20. Capacity is limited, at least for the first 10 racing days, with tickets available for purchase in advance.

Last year, the track conducted a successful meet despite a late start under strict COVID protocols. With no fans in attendance, Emerald Downs saw a 61 percent increase in wagering on its races by programming its cards in the middle of the week when they could draw more attention from bettors online. The 2020 meet also was successful from a health standpoint, with the track reporting no positive coronavirus tests among racetrack personnel and no fatal injuries to horses in 391 races.

The first week of racing marks the return of some familiar faces, both equine and human. Kevin Radke, one of the track’s all-time leading jockeys and the champion rider in 2002 and 2003, is on the comeback trail after three years away. He last rode in Ohio in 2018.

“I feel stronger than when I rode three years ago,” he said. “Emerald Downs was always my favorite place to ride. I love the place, the fans and everything else.”

Former riding champion Julien Couton also returns to Auburn this season, as do last year’s leading jockey and trainer, Alex Cruz and Frank Lucarelli.

Two horses that took honors last season are in action opening week. Champion filly Daffodil Sweet runs in Thursday’s feature for older fillies and mares, and 2020 Claimer of the Meet Omache Kid also returns Thursday to face the track’s all-time winningest horse, Mike Man’s Gold, in a $5,000 claiming event.

The 85th running of the track’s signature race, the $100,000 Longacres Mile, will take place on Sunday, Aug. 15. It’s one of 21 stakes races scheduled during the 50-day meet, worth a total of more than $1 million. The status of some of the track’s biggest draws, such as the annual July 3 fireworks display, corgi races and Indian Relay Racing, is still to be determined.

COVID protocols will be in place for spectators as the meet begins, with face masks required and attendance capped at 25 percent of capacity. Fans can purchase tickets at emeralddowns.com, and the popular Parker’s tip sheet is available at parkerspicks.com.

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