09/19/2012 4:16PM

Emerald Downs: Gutierrez set to put finishing touches on title run in Friday feature, weekend stakes

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AUBURN, Wash. – Juan Gutierrez, assured of his first Emerald Downs riding title, will commence his victory lap Friday on Day 79 of the 81-day meeting. Gutierrez enters the final weekend with a 110-91 cushion over defending champion Leslie Mawing, with the other jockeys many lengths behind. Gutierrez has mounts in every race on the seven-race card, including leading contender Reliable Ema in the feature race, a $7,500 claimer for 3-year-old fillies that have never won twice.

Gutierrez, 43, also will finish first in earnings for the first time since his arrival at Emerald Downs in 2000. He has a lead of nearly $200,000 over Mawing and is expected to be aboard the favorite in the final two stakes races of the meeting – Blueberry Smoothie in the Barbara Shinpoch Stakes on Saturday and Finallygotabentley in the Gottstein Futurity on Sunday.

Friday’s program is enhanced by a pick-five carryover of $5,851 beginning with race 3. With the season winding to a close, and trainers eager to take one final shot at a victory, field sizes swelled when entries were taken last weekend. Each of the first three legs of the pick-five sequence attracted 10 entrants, and, barring scratches, there will be 42,000 possible winning combinations in the pick five.

In the featured sixth race, trainer Robbie Baze enlisted Gutierrez to replace apprentice Eliska Kubinova aboard Reliable Ema. Kubinova, who set an Emerald Downs apprentice record with 75 victories, left this week to ride in Northern California. Gutierrez has experience on Reliable Ema, having guided her to victory in her career debut in May. In her most recent start, Reliable Ema faded to finish fourth after setting the pace against several of the horses she’ll face again Friday. With Gutierrez, an aggressive gate rider, aboard, Reliable Ema figures to go straight to the front, with Gentleman’s Red and recent maiden winner Quack Up in close pursuit.

If the pace gets overheated, a closer such as Gee Mimi or Petty Darn Good could prevail. Gee Mimi will be ridden by Mawing for the first time. He replaces Rocco Bowen, who was up when Gee Mimi broke slowly in her season debut Sept. 7 and finished far behind Reliable Ema. Trainer Junior Coffey has finished first or second with 20 of his 35 starters at the meeting, making Gee Mimi a candidate to improve sharply in her second start of the year.