(Edited press release)
Wasserman and The Great Face, the last two winners of the Longacres Mile (gr. III), were on the track Feb 2 as Emerald Downs opened for training in advance of the 2009 racing season.
Director of racing Bret Anderson said 338 horses are on the grounds and expects to have all 1,420 stalls filled by opening night.
Training hours are 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. daily, and Joe and Sally Steiner’s Quarter Chute Café is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.
Wasserman and The Great Face both jogged once around the one-mile oval under ideal conditions as connections for both runners expressed high hopes for the 91-day meeting that begins April 17.
“He’s way fitter than me,” jockey Jennifer Whitaker joked after getting reacquainted with Wasserman. “He played more today than he has in six years. I think he’s happy to be here.”
Wasserman is coming off a dream 2008 season that saw him win four stakes, including his dramatic 10-1 upset in the Mile. He is the track’s all-time leading earner with $422,412.
Although Wasserman was eligible to run in last year’s $1 million TVG Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, owner-trainer Howard Belvoir instead gave the gelding an extended break. Wasserman spent most of the last four months at Coal Creek Farm in Enumclaw.
“He’s pretty happy,” Belvoir said. “I tried to walk him by hand yesterday and he was bucking and kicking. He's glad to be back.”
Wasserman and The Great Face are both 7-year-old Washington-bred geldings by Cahill Road.
The Great Face hasn’t raced since his thrilling head victory in the 2007 Longacres Mile. He earned a state record $292,875 that season, but was sidelined due to a knee surgery in 2008 and spent the winter at Robin Mason’s Carnation Racing Stables.
Trainer Tom Wenzel was relieved and happy to see The Great Face back on the racetrack Feb. 2.
“He came off the van bouncing, like a racehorse,” Wenzel said. “He’s a neat horse. It’s great to have him back.”
Ideally, Wenzel said The Great Face would run in an allowance race before returning to stakes action.
The May 3 Seattle Handicap is the first stakes race for older horses this season. Perhaps that outing will feature the last two Mile winners facing two-time Seattle Handicap winner Starbird Road.
Winner of the Seattle in 2006 and 2007, Starbird Road is on the comeback trail following stem cell procedure on a tendon.