04/15/2015 1:40PM

Purse increases lure new faces to Emerald meet

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AUBURN, Wash. – Positive vibes have been emanating from Emerald Downs in advance of the 2015 meeting, which begins Saturday. The track’s new owners, the Muckleshoot Tribe, got off to a popular start with horsemen when they increased overnight purses by 20 percent from 2014, and the initial response has been encouraging for all involved. The horse population has swelled, and some 15 to 20 new jockeys and trainers have set up shop for the summer. As if on cue, there’s even sunshine in the forecast for opening day.

The Muckleshoots acquired Emerald Downs early this year in a transaction with Emerald founder Ron Crockett and Northwest Racing Associates, which had operated the suburban Seattle facility since its inaugural season in 1996. Crockett is staying on as a consultant, and the rest of Emerald’s management team – including vice president Jack Hodge and director of racing Bret Anderson – has returned intact from a year ago. They will serve under new president Phil Ziegler, formerly in management at Zia Park.

The only dramatic change to the facility is the ongoing installation of a video screen above the tote board. The screen, measuring 31 feet by 49 feet, is scheduled for completion in June.

The impact of purse increases will be felt immediately. During Saturday’s 10-race card, $5,000 maiden claimers – the bottom level at Emerald Downs – will compete for a purse of $6,600, up from $5,500 last year; $10,000 claimers will vie for a purse of $12,300, up from $10,500; and $20,000 claimers will race for a $17,000 pot, up from $14,800. In the day’s featured race, a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds, the purse is $21,500.

There were 821 horses on the grounds as of Tuesday, Emerald officials said, with about 70 more on the way from Arizona when Turf Paradise closes May 5. Phoenix-based trainers Manny Ortiz and Mike Pierce each requested 20 Emerald stalls, and Mike Chambers, Emerald’s all-time leader in winning percentage (28.4), requested 10. Chambers is returning to Emerald for the first time since 2010.

The jockey colony promises to be as strong as any in the past six or seven years. Defending champion Leslie Mawing returns, along with veterans Juan Gutierrez, Rocco Bowen, Gallyn Mitchell, David Lopez, Javier Matias, Jose Zunino, and Jennifer Whitaker. Eliska Kubinova, who took the winter off and gave birth to her first child in February, will make her return in Saturday’s third race aboard the likely favorite, Blues Zensation.

They’ll be joined by a host of newcomers led by Jake Barton, Julien Couton, Joe Steiner, Francisco Duran, and Diego Sanchez. Couton, who won more than 100 races in California in 2012, has seven mounts on opening day.

Chris Mattia More than 1 year ago
Always nice to see Purses going up
Eleanor Sniegowski More than 1 year ago
Leslie should finally start getting more live mounts.Very underrated rider who can win on the engine or a closer.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Very interesting track!!!!! I bet one superfecta race summer minimum bet which was 50 cent and ended up costing me $30!!! I didn't know what to expect from the track and I hit it with a long shot first and the favor 2nd which paid $5,000 !!!!!!
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
Sure you did
Frank More than 1 year ago
Just another dump that needs to be closed to better horse racing!
Shibbley More than 1 year ago
Dump? It's a great facility! I have been to most and this one is better than most.
tommy More than 1 year ago
Frank this dump pays more than Santa Anita !!!!!!!!
Phil Bumgardner More than 1 year ago
Your the kind of misinformed idiot that kills horse racing in general Frank! I'm sure your just a talentless bitter piece of Sh*t with nothing better to do! Emerald is a fantastic place and the racing is going to be on par or better than most in the country! F off Frank!
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
have hundreds of people lose their job because the horses you bet lost