05/15/2013 2:44PM

Emerald Downs: Quarter Horses get rare chance to run


AUBURN, Wash. – Emerald Downs will begin its Friday card 30 minutes early this week, at 6:15 p.m. Pacific, to accommodate an eight-race program that includes the first two Quarter Horse races of the meeting. A field of six will sprint 350 yards in race 1, followed by a mixed group of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds going 870 yards in race 2.

Quarter Horse racing has been an entertaining but seldom-seen sideshow at Emerald Downs over the past two seasons. In 2012, of the 690 races contested at Emerald, only five were for Quarter Horses – just a blip on the radar. But there is one big jackpot on the schedule: the $60,000 Bank of America Emerald Downs Championship Challenge on Sept. 1. The winner of that 440-yard race earns a guaranteed starting spot in the $350,000 Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos in November.

In the featured seventh race for Thoroughbreds, River of Aces and Stephanie Plum are the top contenders among five older fillies and mares going over 5 1/2 furlongs for a $17,500 claiming price. Touch of Elegance, a 12-time winner at Emerald, also will be a popular horse in the wagering.

River of Aces, a front-running filly trained by Charles Essex, won 3 of 7 starts last year at 3. After a seven-month layoff, she returned April 20 to finish fourth in a $25,000 claimer in her first try against older horses. River of Aces is a step faster than her chief pace rivals and should be the one to catch Friday.

Stephanie Plum rallied from just off the pace to take a $12,500 claimer in the slop on opening night. In her most recent outing, Stephanie Plum finished fourth for $25,000 on May 5 after racing wide throughout.

Touch of Elegance is 12 for 25 at Emerald, with three of those victories coming last summer. She made her 2013 debut in a $15,000 claimer on April 28, and while she finished a distant third, she was claimed by Rick Beal and will make her first start Friday for trainer Larry Ross. Ross is off to a hot start at the meeting, having finished first or second with 5 of 7 starters.