04/29/2009 11:00PM

Derby-themed activities ensure fun day for all ages


AUBURN, Wash. - Emerald Downs has added a few bells and whistles to the pomp and circumstance of Kentucky Derby Day. The races at the Pacific Northwest's marquee track will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate the Run for the Roses. The Derby will be run after the fourth race, and there will be Derby-related activities all day long.

Advance Derby wagering was to begin locally Friday morning and continues Saturday, when the gates open at 7 a.m. for simulcast wagering. Derby post time is 3:24 p.m. Pacific.

Anyone - male or female - who shows up wearing a decorative hat will be admitted free. Emerald will award $100 cash prizes to the best-hat winners in four categories: kids, most glamorous, best racing theme, and most outrageous. There's a $500 prize for best in show.

There will be lots of activities for children - free pony rides, face painters, inflatable slides - in the park area north of the grandstand.

Mint juleps will be available at each of the track's bars. The traditional Derby Day cocktail will be served in commemorative Kentucky Derby glasses. The glasses also will be available for purchase in the Emerald Downs gift shop near the main entrance.

Emerald officials are counting on a big day, particularly if the weather cooperates. The forecast Thursday morning called for temperatures in the mid-60s and a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday.

"It's a lot bigger than a normal Saturday," Emerald Downs director of marketing Adrian Buchan said of Derby Day. "It's always one of our top five days of the season in terms of attendance and handle. So far we're up 10 percent on attendance. Handle is up 10 1/2 percent. Depending on how responsive people are to the Derby card, it could be a monster day for us."

* Emerald's racing week concludes with a 10-race card Sunday, featuring the $30,000 Seattle Handicap for older horses going six furlongs. Wassermann, winner of the Grade 3, $300,000 Longacres Mile in 2008, and the six-furlong track record-holder Starbird Road lead the list of nominees. First post time is 2 p.m.