08/04/2010 2:06PM

Emerald Downs looks to Quarter Horses for diversity

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AUBURN, Wash. – If all goes according to plan, Quarter Horse racing will be an integral part of the 2011 racing menu at Emerald Downs, track officials confirmed last weekend.

To get a logistical jump on the matter, Emerald will host a 350-yard challenge race for Quarter Horses near the end of the current meeting in late September.

Plans are tentative, Emerald’s vice-president, Jack Hodge, said, but the prospect of local Quarter Horse racing has gained momentum in recent weeks. Quarter Horse racing has a firm toehold on the West Coast, most notably at Portland Meadows, on the California fair circuit, and at Los Alamitos in Southern California. Emerald could provide a viable alternative for owners and trainers, particularly those with horses in training at Portland Meadows, about a three-hour drive away.

“We’re considering having some Quarter Horse races here next year, so we’ve put out some feelers and the response has been good,” Hodge said. “Some of the Thoroughbred trainers here have said they’d like to get involved.”

Hodge said the September test run would help track officials address technical issues, most of them related to the timing of races. Emerald is one of the few tracks still timing races in fifth-of-a-second increments. Quarter Horse racing requires far more precise readings, to the hundredths, or, in some cases, the thousandths of seconds, Hodge said.

What’s more, Thoroughbred timing begins when the leading horse triggers a sensor shortly after the start. Quarter Horse races begin the moment the starting gate springs open.

“There’s no run-up in quarter horse races, so we’ve got some mechanical work to do,” Hodge said. “But if we get enough interest, we’ll make an attempt to address all the distances next year.”

Quarter Horses commonly race at 350, 400, 440, and 870 yards.

The September challenge race would be a collaboration between Emerald Downs and John Deere, the manufacturer of farm equipment.

“We were asked if we’d be interested in hosting a challenge race sponsored by John Deere,” Hodge said. “It’s 350 yards, for 3-year-olds and up. You can name the race what you want, and John Deere puts up some matching funds. The purse hasn’t been determined, but with entry fees, a full gate of 10 horses probably could make it north of $10,000.”

Hodge said there’s ample room in the barn area to accommodate Quarter Horses. Emerald’s Thoroughbred population peaked at about 1,150 horses this summer, about 350 short of capacity. And if the quarter horses show up, chances are they’ll stick around for a while.

“I’d be fairly positive that if we run a race this fall, we’ll be running more of them next year,” Hodge said.

Me and Ema B has big debut win

Trainer Margo Lloyd was 0 for 10 at the meeting before taking the wraps off 3-year-old maiden filly You Me and Ema B in the first race last Sunday. You Me and Ema B delivered the kind of performance that dares a trainer to dream big, and this case, optimism seems justified.

The longest price on the board in a five-horse field, You Me and Ema B loped to the lead under Deborah Hoonan-Trujillo, began to quicken nearing the turn and finished with a scintillating burst of speed to beat 1-5 favorite Missie Ky I You by 4 1/4 lengths. After a 46.40-second half mile, You Me and Ema B blazed the final 2 1/2 furlongs in 29.60 seconds. Her effort earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 77, the second-fastest race by a maiden at Emerald this year, and the same figure given to Clair Annette for her victory in the Boeing Handicap less than three hours later.

“I’d told Debbie to sit behind the speed, save your horse for the stretch going six and a half,” Lloyd said. “Well, they didn’t go very fast the first quarter, so she just let her out a notch. I think she flagged her two times around the eighth pole, and she was pulling her up there at the end.”

Lloyd owns You Me and Ema B with Patrick Hoonan, the jockey’s father. They purchased her as a yearling for $8,700 at the 2008 Washington winter sale. Lloyd trained You Me and Ema B’s half-sister, Ann’s Plan, and took a special interest when You Me and Ema B turned up in the auction catalog. She is by You and I from the Son of Briartic mare Carrie Ann.

“I had to outbid Howard Belvoir to get her,” Lloyd said. “She got a bit sick last year, which is why she didn’t make it to the races as a 2-year-old, and she had a little shin problem this year and missed a lot of time. But she has a wonderful disposition and a ton of personality. I anticipate this horse can go around two turns – she’s going to be pretty versatile.”

Lloyd, who has seven horses in training, is trying to temper her enthusiasm.

“I’ll take it race by race,” she said. “We’ll see what we get next as far as a nonwinners of two, and of course we’ve always got our eyes on the Washington Cup at the end of the meeting.”