06/27/2012 4:40PM

Emerald Downs: Slight edge to Run Leyton Run in feature race


AUBURN, Wash. -- Buoyed by a recent purse increase, Emerald Downs heads into the heart of its summer season Friday, kicking off the extended holiday week with a seven-race card at 6 p.m. Pacific. The first stakes races of the season for 2-year-olds are scheduled for Sunday, and Emerald’s popular fireworks show is on tap for Tuesday, preceded by a special July 3 holiday card at 4:30 p.m.

Jack Hodge, Emerald Downs’s vice president, announced a 5 percent purse increase last week. The increase will take effect Tuesday and be retroactive to the beginning of the 81-day meeting on April 13.

Hodge cited an attendance increase of 1.4 percent, along with betting handle that has stayed level with 2011, as reasons for the purse bump. The increase applies to overnight races, but not stakes.

“We’re exceptionally pleased to be ahead of last year’s 11 percent gain in attendance,” Hodge said in a statement. “It’s a very good sign, and obviously bodes well for the handle too.”

The listed $12,600 purse for Friday’s feature race – a $20,000 claimer for 3-year-olds who have never won two races – will increase to $13,230 when the new purse structure is applied.

The race itself attracted an evenly matched field of six. Run Leyton Run, an impressive maiden winner in his career debut May 5, could start at the favorite, though Stevie Z, a model of consistency in his four starts, and recent maiden winner Light My Heart are sure to attract betting interest.

Run Leyton Run has trained sharply for trainer Pat Mullens in the two months since his victory, capping his pre-race maneuvers with a best-of-the-morning four-furlong work in 47 seconds last Friday. While he won his maiden race in front-running fashion, the fast-finishing Run Leyton Run left the impression he won’t need the lead to run a winning race. Rocco Bowen has the riding assignment.

Stevie Z has a win, a second, and a third in three starts at the meeting. In his most recent outing, he was compromised by traffic jams in the stretch and finished third. He could be in line for a more favorable trip Friday after breaking from the outside post position in a compact field. Debbie Hoonan has the call for trainer Dan Markle.

Light My Heart caught the eye in a victory against maiden claimers in his last start, weaving through obstacles in the stretch to get up in the final strides. Trainer Debbie Van Horne is having a strong meeting, finishing in the top three with nine of her first 15 starters. Jose Zunino is the rider.