The 27th season of Emerald Downs begins Sunday, May 15 at the Auburn track. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Emerald Downs

The 27th season of Emerald Downs begins Sunday, May 15 at the Auburn track. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Emerald Downs

Emerald Downs opens 27th season May 15 in Auburn

A look at the new track announcer and a preview of the top jockeys, trainers, horses

  • By Steve Hunter
  • Friday, May 13, 2022 2:47pm
  • Sports

For the Reporter

Emerald Downs lifts the lid on its 27th season Sunday, May 15 in Auburn with a new voice high atop the grandstand.

Bill Downes takes over the microphone when the nine-race card begins at 2:15 p.m. The 52-day meet runs through Sept. 18 and features 23 stakes events including the 87th renewal of the $150,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 14.

A Chicago native, Downes becomes only the fourth track announcer in track history, following Robert Geller (1996-2015), Matt Dinerman (2015-2017) and Tom Harris (2018-2021).

“I’m excited to learn about all the horses and horsemen participating in horse racing at Emerald Downs,” Downes said. “From my previous experiences here as a fan and handicapper, what impressed me was the on-track experience.”

Downes, who spent the last nine seasons calling races at Indiana Grand near Indianapolis, recently drove from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Auburn, a 2,500-mile trip that included stops in his hometown of Chicago, as well as Rapid City, Billings and Spokane. The only thing missing upon arrival was warm weather, but things figure to heat up soon.

At Emerald Downs, the 27th season is highlighted by the $150,000 Longacres Mile on Sunday, Aug. 14. The track’s signature race has been raised $50,000 in value for 2022 and anchors a stakes quadruple-header featuring the $75,000 Emerald Distaff, $75,000 Muckleshoot Derby, and $75,000 Washington Oaks. The Distaff, Derby and Oaks are all up $25,000 from 2021.

Overnight purses, meanwhile, are up 20% from last season and takeout on Win/Place/Show wagers has been reduced to 14.7%—lowest in North America.

Top jockeys

Alex Cruz, who edged Julien Couton 75-74 for the 2021 riding title, bids for a third straight riding crown in 2022 while Juan Gutierrez—the track’s all-time leading rider—begins the season needing just three wins to reach the 1,500-win mark at Emerald Downs. Javier Matias, Kevin Radke and Jennifer Whitaker—among the top 10 all-time at Emerald Downs—return for another season while Kevin Orozco, last year’s top big-money rider with five stakes wins, also returns.

Leading trainers

Joe Toye bagged his first Emerald Downs training title last year with 29 wins but faces a tough task while gunning for a repeat. Frank Lucarelli, second last season with 26 wins, is the track’s all-time leader with 1,093 wins and figures to make a strong bid for his eighth career Emerald Downs crown. Jeff Metz, a four-time leading trainer, and Blaine Wright, with two titles, also have strong stables for 2022, while Washington Hall of Famers Tim McCanna, Howard Belvoir and Doris Harwood also figure prominently. Kay Cooper, last year’s leading stakes trainer, is another strong contender.

Winning owners

John Parker’s yellow and black silks led all owners with 19 trips to the winner’s circle in 2021, the fourth time the Lake Bay resident has topped the owners’ standings. He and trainer Candi Cryderman have a strong stable of horses in a bid for a fifth title in 2022.

Top horses

Windribbon and Papa’s Golden Boy, second and fourth in last year’s Longacres Mile, are both training forwardly for 2022. A 6-year-old California-bred gelding owned by Seamist Racing and trained by Wright, Windribbon missed by a head last year, opening a 2 ½-length lead in mid-stretch before Background nailed him in the last jump. Papa’s Golden Boy, a 6-year-old Washington-bred gelding owned by the Lusk family of Puyallup, has been the state’s fastest sprinter the last two years. Background, meanwhile, has fared well since his Mile triumph, recently winning a $106,000 allowance race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Other top horses returning for 2022 include stakes winners Ms Lynn, Midnight Mojo, Daffodil Sweet, Koron, A View From Above and 2020 Horse of the Meeting Dutton. Top Executive, 2021 Horse of the Meeting after sweeping all three open stakes for 3-year-olds, moves into the older horse division and gives Wright a terrific one-two punch with Windribbon. Owned by John and Janene Maryanski and Gail and Gerald Schneider, Top Executive is 5 for 9 lifetime with $125,648 in earnings.

Stake races

A 23-race stakes schedule begins with the $50,000 Seattle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and $50,000 Auburn Stakes for 3-year-olds, both on Sunday, June 19. The $50,000 Budweiser Stakes on Sunday, June 26, is first stop 3-year-olds and up on the road to the Longacres Mile.

Opening week features a single day of racing followed by a pair of two-day weekends (May 21-22, May 28-29) before settling into a Friday thru Sunday schedule the weekend of June 3-5.

Emerald Downs is located right off Highway 167.

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