Updated on 09/16/2011 8:13AM

Fastest track in West


AUBURN, Wash. - Fast, faster, and fastest.

That describes the first three days of racing action at the current Emerald Downs meet, at which track and state records were broken and a world record threatened.

Last Friday's opener was preceded by two weeks of steady rain and two days of overcast, which left the racing surface uniformly moist from top to bottom. Apparently, this is the recipe for producing rapid times, as each race was run much faster than expected based on average winning times for similar races in the past. One of only a couple exceptions to the rule came in the featured Ropersandwranglers Stakes for older fillies and mares, which was exceptional in another respect as well.

The seven races preceding the six-furlong Ropersandwranglers were won by front-runners, with the winners leading at virtually every call. but in the Ropersandwranglers, three pacesetters dueled through sizzling fractions of 21.40 and 44.20 seconds and then tired badly. Rollette, who raced in ninth position early, swept to the front en route to a 3 1/2-length victory in 1:09.20, just a couple of ticks faster than usual for this race.

"The riders see everything winning on the lead, so eventually they all try for the front and you get too many horses going too fast," said Tom Wenzel, who trains Rollette. "I think that's why we got such a nice pace to run at, and our mare did her part by firing a really big shot."

Saturday's track was just as speed-biased, with eight of 10 races being won wire to wire, and in even faster times than on opening day. That became obvious when Willie the Cat, a first-time starter by Delineator, sped 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.20, to win the seventh race, a maiden special weight affair for 3-year-olds. The clocking shaved a fifth of a second off a state record that was originally set by Melmitch at Longacres in 1968 and has since been equaled by 10 horses, including former world-record holders Grey Papa and Chinook Pass.

That record stood for only half an hour before Salt Grinder demolished it with a clocking of 1:01.40 - just a fifth of a second off the world record jointly held by Turf Paradise runners Silvey's Image and Plenty Zloty - in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race for 3-year-olds.

Willie the Cat and Salt Grinder are both undefeated and could be any kind of horses. In fact, Salt Grinder, a Salt Lake gelding from the barn of Jim Penney, is regarded by some to be the best 3-year-old at Emerald. The fact that he won by only 1 1/2 lengths rather than 10 is evidence, however, that his phenomenal clocking was more a function of the track than of his considerable ability.

There were no track records set on Sunday and there was no speed bias, either, as just one of the nine races was won on the lead. If anything, though, the track was even faster than it had been for the first two days of the meet. Every race was run at least a second faster than expected, based on average winning times at Emerald, including Lasting Code's six-furlong clocking of 1:08.80 in the featured U. S. Bank Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Canadian rider Chris Loseth, who ranks fifth among stakes riders at Emerald Downs with 11 added money wins, contributed a heady ride to Lasting Code's third victory from four starts. Loseth eased the Lost Code filly out of a three-way speed duel with the favored Strong Credentials and Ippodamia, stalked those two to the stretch, then cut his mount loose to post a 1 3/4-length victory over the favorite.

Business brisk

Business was brisk over the first three days of the meet: The average daily handle from all sources was up 16 percent to $1,367,693.

The increase can be attributed to the fact that six simulcast cards per day were offered to fans, as opposed to just one card per day last year. With the dramatic increase in options, wagering on live racing was down 3 percent to $923,848 per day.

* The vast majority of entrants through the first three days were coming off layoffs and the others were coming off races at several different tracks, but Emerald fans had little difficulty picking winners. Favorites won 12 of the 28 races for a 43 percent success rate.

* Kevin Radke, riding mainly for leading trainer Tim McCanna, won with seven of his 20 mounts to earn jockey of the week honors for the first week of the meet. Radke rode at Emerald for the last two months of last year's stand and won 29 races, including four stakes, which encouraged him to return this season.