For the Reporter
Each year at every track there are new faces among the horse population, with the potential to make an impact in different divisions.
This season at Emerald Downs a newcomer will have to display the high ability to unseat one of the many returning track stars from 2017. Opening day is Sunday, April 22, and several early-season feature races figure to determine qualifiers for the schedule of outstanding stakes races, beginning May 20 with the $50,000 Seattle Handicap for 3-year-old fillies.
Among the expected best 3-year-old fillies, Bella Mia tops the list heading into 2018. After finishing fourth in her career debut last year, she rattled off four straight victories, including three stakes races. None of the wins required the photo finish camera, all were clear, dominant victories. The daughter of Harbor the Gold was named Washington state champion of her division.
Among the 3-year-old colts and geldings, Elliott Bay is out doing his morning training for Howard Belvoir and looks bigger, stronger and better than during his very successful 2017 juvenile season. Elliott Bay won both the WTBOA Lads and rich Gottstein Futurity last season and was also a Washington champion. He, too, is sired by the track’s all-time leading stakes stallion, Harbor the Gold.
The track’s top fillies and mares had a clear leader in 2017, the consistently excellent Citizen Kitty. Expected back for the upcoming meeting, Citizen Kitty moved forward in a big way during her 5-year-old season. The versatile Washington-bred won her first stakes race in the Hastings in May and followed that up with two more added-money victories. When she wasn’t winning at Emerald Downs last year, she was finishing no worse than second. The $120,418 she banked in 2017 more than doubled her career earnings.
The older horse division is the glamour division at Emerald Downs, consisting of horses with aspirations to compete in the prestigious Longacres Mile, this year on Aug. 12. Mach One Rules didn’t win the Mile last year but was a strong runner-up and led the meet in earnings at $135,250. He finally got the better of his torrid, two-year rivalry with stakes foe Barkley, first beating that rival in the Budweiser Stakes in June and also taking the Mt. Rainier Stakes and Muckleshoot Tribal Classic. Mach One Rules was named Washington Horse of the Year for 2017 and the son of Harbor the Gold is back for his five-year-old season.
Last year’s Mile hero was Gold Rush Dancer, who returned to Washington to capture the Pacific Northwest jewel with an impressive 4¾-length victory last August. The 2015 Gottstein Futurity winner at Emerald Downs came north to contest the Mile after an entire 2016 season in California in which he was named Top California-bred Three-Year-Old honors. The $110,000 earned in the Mile aided owner John Parker to the top spot in that category with earnings of $329,297. Parker successfully defended his Leading Owner title with 22 wins.
Riser was spectacular during his 3-year-old season and figures to be a solid foe to Mach One Rules and Gold Rush Dancer in 2018. A dynamic grey speedster, Riser is an Ohio-bred who traveled north from California to be the leader of his Emerald Downs division. He impressed in all his races, winning three of four starts, including a front-running triumph in the Emerald Downs Derby.
Among trainers, native Washingtonian Blaine Wright developed Riser and Bella Mia and totaled 11 stakes scores last year, one off the track record total of Doris Harwood (2007 and 2009). Three of those stakes wins came on Washington Cup day, Aug. 27, a one-day record for a local trainer. He was tops in purse earnings with $819,232 and led in the race for most wins, 53-38 over Joe Toye. He also was the clear leader with a 36 percent strike rate, one of the highest in track history. Wright seeks his third consecutive leading trainer title.
Frank Lucarelli has won five Emerald Downs training titles and sometime during the upcoming season he will become the first in track history to surpass the $10,000,000 in local purse earnings. He also has a chance to top Tim McCanna in local career victories, trailing 926-905.
To the delight of his many fans, jockey Rocco Bowen is returning to Emerald Downs for 2018. The two-time defending riding champ rode during the fall and winter in northern California and will be the one to beat again locally.
Julien Couton, leading jockey of 2015, was the track’s leading stakes jockey last year (six) despite not riding full time until the 33rd day of a 72-day meet. Look for returning regulars Javier Matias, Jennifer Whitaker, Jose Zunino, Leonel Camacho-Flores, Eswan Flores and Kevin Orozco to compete for the top mounts.