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For Ryneveld, more is better
AUBURN, Wash. - Paul Ryneveld, who took over from retiring Grant Holcomb as director of racing at Emerald Downs in January, brings a fresh eye to the track's racing program.
That much is apparent from his first condition book, which features more abbreviated races for the first few weeks of the meeting, more restricted races for older horses, including races for horses who haven't won four times, and optional claiming races that offer more ways to be eligible.
"The shorter races are in recognition that most of our horses have been turned out for the winter," Ryneveld said. "I hope to get those horses involved in the program a little earlier. The restricted races are an attempt to keep horses here that might otherwise race at Turf Paradise or in northern California, where they have more of those kinds of races, and also to attract horses from Hastings Park, where they don't. As for the optional claiming conditions, I'm just trying to get more horses that are competitive with each other into the same race."
There are three ways for older fillies and mares to be eligible for a 5 1/2-furlong optional claiming test slated on Saturday, for example. They can be entered for a $32,000 claiming price, they can be nonwinners of three races in their careers, or they can be nonwinners of two races, with wins in maiden, claiming, starter or statebred company excluded. Another change made by Ryneveld is that winning Washington-bred races no longer counts against eligibility, and this applies to most allowance races as well as optional claiming races.
"I tried to provide an incentive for Washington-bred allowance races to fill," said Ryneveld. "Now a horse can win one of those races without being penalized when they go into open allowance company. My hope is that it will help both the Washington-bred allowances and the open allowances to fill."
Ryneveld's overall goal is to attract fields that are as large and competitive as possible, but carding large fields has become a daunting challenge in Washington, because there are simply fewer horses to go around. The state's foal crop has shrunk from over 1,700 in 1990, the year that Longacres was sold, to fewer than 800 last year. During the same period, the number of Washington-bred starters has decreased from 4,122 to 2,102.
Ryneveld can't do anything about that basic fact of racing life, but he is trying to make the best use of the roughly 1,400 horses available to him on the local backstretch.
"I studied the horses that I got stall applications for, and I wandered the backstretch to talk to trainers and see what they wanted," he said. "From that and from my prior experience, I tried to devise a program that would give all our horses opportunities to run and maximize field size. Now I'll just have to see what works and what doesn't, then make whatever adjustments are necessary."
Ryneveld has roots in the Northwest
Ryneveld, who turns 34 next week, comes to his post with a thorough understanding of Northwest racing. He grew up in Renton, Wash., and worked at Longacres from his junior year in high school until he graduated from the University of Washington in 1992, the year the track closed.
By then he had caught the racing bug, so he attended the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program, doing his internship at Hastings Park in 1994. He worked for Arizona's Department of Racing from 1995 through 1998, heading the agency's research and special projects division for the last two years of that period.
Ryneveld served as the simulcast and stakes coordinator at New Mexico's Sunland Park from 1998 to 2000, when he left to become assistant general manager at Michigan's Great Lake Downs. He returned to Sunland to serve as that track's director of operations in 2001 and remained there until he accepted his current post in January.
"I had been looking for a way to return to the Northwest," he said. "Through racing, I've been able to see a lot of the country, and I've lived in some great places, but I still think this area has the most to offer. The only negative is the traffic."
Lethal Grande exceeds trainer's expectations
Lethal Grande's victory over Poker Brad in last Saturday's 37th Portland Meadows Mile reversed the outcome of last year's Mile and provided trainer G.D. Khalsa with a pleasant surprise.
"I really didn't think he was as sharp for this race as he was for last year's Mile," said Khalsa. "He hadn't been enthusiastic about training, so I felt the best thing I could do for him was to back way off his training for the last week and try to freshen him up. That seemed to help, and the other thing that helped was they left him alone on the lead."
Lethal Grande, an Oregon-bred 5-year-old who was named the state's horse of the year for 2003, led throughout a mile in 1:36.89 under Bobby Webb, who won last year's Mile aboard Poker Brad. Lethal Grande earned $22,000 to increase his bankroll to $168,020 from 10 wins in 36 starts.
Navarre pleased with way meet ended
Rookie trainer Jacqui Navarre concluded a spectacular meeting by winning both stakes on the Portland Meadows Mile Day undercard, saddling Lasting Kiss to win the 1 1/16-mile Donna Jensen Stakes and Star of Elttaes to win the five-furlong Flashaway Owners' Handicap.
Another victory by Stylish Sensation on Monday's program gave Navarre three wins in a row and improved her record for the meet to 13 wins from 24 starts, or 54 percent.
"Now I can retire and rest on my laurels," said Navarre, who will turn her horses over to her partner, trainer Steve Fisher, for the Emerald Downs meeting.
At a glance: Emerald Downs
RACING SCHEDULE: 89 days, April 16 through Sept. 20. Racing three days per week, Friday through Sunday, through May 9, then four days per week, Thursday through Sunday, through the end of the meeting. Special Monday racing on Memorial Day, May 31, Labor Day, Sept. 6, and closing day, Sept. 20.
POST TIME: 6 p.m. Pacific weekdays; 1 p.m. weekends and holidays; 5 p.m. July 3 and Sept. 20.
MEET HIGHLIGHTS: Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile, Aug. 22; $400,000 Washington Cup Day, Sept. 19.
ADMISSIONS: $4 for access to the first five levels of the grandstand, the paddock and the park. Children 17 and under admitted free. Reserved seating additional.
PARKING: General parking free; preferred, $4; valet, $7.
LOCATION: In Auburn, 15 miles south of Seattle off Valley Freeway (Route 167).
PHONE: (253) 288-7000; (888) 931-8400.