09/07/2011 3:20PM

Emerald Downs: Mawing closing in on riding title

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AUBURN, Wash. – More than two years removed from the events of April 1, 2009, when he suffered horrific injuries in a spill at Golden Gate Fields, Leslie Mawing is excelling at Emerald Downs. The fan favorite from South Africa is closing in on his first local riding title, just as he envisioned when the meeting began in April.

Mawing rode 14 winners last week to build a 116-88 cushion over runner-up Juan Gutierrez and is scheduled to ride seven horses Friday as the meet empties toward “getaway day” on Sept. 25. Mawing has won riding titles on the California fair circuit and one at Les Bois Park in Boise, Idaho, but never during a full season anywhere else. With nine Emerald dates remaining, he likes his chances.

“I feel pretty good about it. I’ve been riding some live horses, and I’m definitely shooting for the title,” he said last week after getting off a plane from Boise, where he spends his down time with his wife, Catherine, and their stable of little ones, ages 7, 5, and 2.

Having more time for his family was the reason behind Mawing’s return from Northern California to Emerald Downs, where he last rode regularly in 2008. Sea-Tac Airport is a short drive from the track, and from there, Boise is just a 90-minute flight away.

“I did the California fairs last year and I hardly got to see them,” Mawing said. “The fairs are a grind – it’s six days a week, with one day off, and it was too much for my family. So in February, I just decided my family needs me more, and I knew I could have a good meeting at Emerald because of Frank Lucarelli. He and I go back quite a ways. We’re roommates in California. Frank barbeques half the time, and I barbeque the rest of the time.”

Mawing, 37, was the winning rider aboard one of Lucarelli’s horses, Premier Diablo, when Lucarelli recorded his 1,000th training victory in February 2009. Less than two months later, Mawing nearly lost everything when his mount ducked in and crashed through the inner rail on the Golden Gate turf course. Mawing suffered compound fractures of both the tibia and the fibula in his left leg and underwent emergency surgery that night. The rehabilitation process took seven months.

“I’ve got a rod and two screws in there,” he said. “When they took a third screw out of my knee, that helped a lot. It relieved a lot of pressure. Before that, I was concerned about coming back. But now, my health has been great. I stay fit – I run and I cycle. I’ve had a few mishaps this year, with kidney stones, but we found the problem was I was drinking too much coffee. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain of passing a kidney stone is about a 15 and a half. It’s like having a kid every time you pass one.”

The horse who crashed through the fence, Pasta Time, has a victory at Emerald Downs this summer. Mawing could finish with 130, a total surpassed by only five other riders in track history. Among his favorite horses this year: Camp Granada, a rollicking winner in a 3-year-old maiden race for Lucarelli; Touch of Elegance, a six-time winner in the claiming ranks who is entered in the third race Friday; and Class Included, a Jim Penney-trained filly who took two stakes with Mawing aboard.

Mawing said being Emerald’s leading rider was on his mind from the moment he hooked up with agent Vito Lucarelli, Frank’s brother, last winter.

“It’s been a goal from Day 1,” he said. “I told Vito, ‘Let’s gun for the title,’ and he was with me. I came in here to win the title.”

Mawing said he’ll take 10 days off after the meeting – family time – and then head back to Northern California. He probably won’t win any riding titles there – Russell Baze has claimed eminent domain on the top spot – but Mawing has a history of success at Golden Gate, where he was fourth in the standings before his calamitous ride aboard Pasta Time.

“I left there on a pretty good note,” Mawing said. “I told all the trainers what my situation was, and they were all on board with my decision to spend more time with my family. I’ll have to work hard at it, but I’ve always been a hard worker, and once I get rolling . . .”

◗ Lucarelli saddled four winners Monday to vault past Howard Belvoir in the Emerald trainer standings. Lucarelli, who won titles in 1999, 2004, and 2006, leads Belvoir 49-47 with nine days remaining. Tim McCanna, a 10-time leading trainer at Emerald, is third with 34 victories.