04/19/2013 3:02PM

Emerald Downs jockey colony filled with new faces

Eliska Kubinova, who set a track record for wins by an apprentice last year, returns for her second season at Emerald Downs.

AUBURN, Wash. – It’s been said you can’t tell the players without a scorecard, and that old chestnut has seldom been more applicable than this week at Emerald Downs. The start of 75-day meeting on Friday has been accompanied by wholesale turnover in the jockey colony.

Leslie Mawing and William Antongeorgi, who combined to win 168 races last year – or 24 percent of all races run – have relocated to other circuits, and in the scramble to fill the void, at least eight new riders have been combing the Emerald backstretch trying to make a positive impression.

Emerald Downs trainers seem particularly high on David Lopez, a 31-year-old veteran with more than 1,000 career victories. Lopez was in the midst of a difficult run at Golden Gate Fields when he made the decision to move north. A handful of trainers, including Emerald’s defending champion, Frank Lucarelli, encouraged Lopez to make the move.

“I had some influence on David coming up,” Lucarelli said. “I’ve had some luck with him in California and I really like the guy. I think he got the shuffle down there and wasn’t doing good, and I said ‘Why don’t you come to Emerald and give it a shot?’ He’s got a lot of people from here who have used him. I think he can have a really good meet. He’ll be one of my main guys.”

Agent Vito Lucarelli, Frank’s brother, will book rides for Lopez and another pair of newcomers, Isaias Enriquez and Ronald Richard. Enriquez, 39, is in from Sunland Park, where he had nine wins from 126 mounts at the current meeting. Richard, 24, was a leading apprentice at Golden Gate but recently lost his weight allowance.

“Isaias has won more than 1,000 races, and some graded stakes,” Frank Lucarelli said. “Everybody had good things to say about him, that’s he’s a real quality rider. Richard lost the bug down there and got a little big at 117 or 118 pounds, but he’s a good rider, a good, solid rider. I got beat a head on a 30-1 shot he rode for me. He puts ’em in a good place and he’s got a good head.”

Others new on the scene, or returning after some time away, include Kyle Branch, 29-year-old apprentice Maggie Hardison, Cassie Papineau, Matt Hagerty, and Anne Sanguinetti.

Luis Torres, who captured the 2012 Portland Meadows riding title, was named on 19 horses during the first three days of the meeting. He adds quality depth to a colony that’s seen changes but figures to be ruled again by Juan Gutierrez, who won 117 races last year to capture his first Emerald riding title. If they were giving odds on this year’s title, 3-5 might be a fair price on him.

“Juan’s a guy people like to use,” trainer Tom Wenzel said. “He’s just good, and he’s got a lot of the top horses. Gallyn Mitchell, if he gets in a good groove and his body says yes, is always a force. And Lopez can ride quite a bit. So the colony, even though Leslie’s not here – when he’s on his ‘A’ game, he’s as good or better than anyone here, he just is – there are enough guys here that it should be healthy.”

“Rocco Bowen, if he gets a real chance to ride for the bigger stables, will do just fine,” Wenzel said. “I’m going to give him some chances. I like him. I think Leonel Camacho-Flores has good motion and riding skill; I think he will do good. Luis Torres is an okay rider. So there are a number of guys, if they can get opportunities, they can do fine.”

Not just guys, of course. Hardison, Papineau, and Sanguinetti join a group of female riders that includes veterans Jennifer Whitaker, Debbie Hoonan, and Connie Doll, along with Eliska Kubinova, who set a track record for wins by an apprentice in 2012 and spent the winter honing her skills at Santa Anita.

“I’m so tickled that we have some new jockeys coming,” trainer Doris Harwood said. “I’m disappointed that Leslie Mawing isn’t coming back, but David Lopez, what a nice kid he is and a skilled rider. I plan on using Ron Richard. I was delighted that Eliska Kubinova came back. Horses just run for her, just like they did for Vicky Baze. I don’t think losing the bug will matter at all. I think she’ll do well. And we’ve got one apprentice, Maggie Hardison. She’s got a lot of horse experience, she’s extremely good at diagnostics and helping with how the horses are traveling. She gives very good feedback, and for an apprentice, she’s got a lot of skills.”

Said Kay Cooper, who runs day-to-day operations for trainer Jim Penney: “It’s a big jockey colony, and everyone is going to have a run for their money. It makes it nice for us trainers. If you can’t get the one you want, there are three or four others right behind them.”

Blaine Wright, who has potential stakes-quality runner both here and in Northern California, predicts a big meeting for Lopez. But Wright, like so many other trainers at Emerald Downs, is partial to Gutierrez, the once and likely future king.

“Me and Juan seem to click really well,” Wright said. “I think with Juan, he’s been there the longest; he was the first one out this spring. With his talent and reputation, he’ll be the one to catch and beat.”