Emerald Downs, the Northwest's premier racing venue near Seattle, Wash., springs back into action for its 18th season on the evening of April 19.
The eight-race card celebrates first post at 6:45 p.m. PDT.
The 75-day season continues through Sept. 29, with live racing every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and special Monday holiday racing on Memorial Day, May 27, and Labor Day, Sept. 2. A new Friday post time of 6:45 p.m. will be in effect throughout the season while the weekend and holiday first post remains 2 p.m.
The traditional fireworks spectacular is set for July 3, with a special 4:30 p.m. post time, followed by the only Thursday card of the season on July 4.
Director of racing Bret Anderson has compiled a 29-race, $1.54-million stakes schedule that showcases the track's top performers in six divisions. The centerpiece, of course, is the $200,000 Longacres Mile (gr. III) for 3-year-olds and up Aug. 18. The Mile features the top middle-distance horses on the West Coast matching strides in the 78th running of the Northwest's premier Thoroughbred event.
The horse population is up significantly from last year, and many of last year's stakes winners return for another season of action. That includes Blueberry Smoothie, Champagneandcaviar, D'honorable One, Exclusive Diva, E Z Kitty, Goin to the Window, Kooky Saluki, Makors Finale, and Music of My Soul. Makors Finale, a quadruple stakes winner as a 3-year-old and runner-up for 2012 Horse of the Meeting, transitions into the older handicap division for trainer Tom Wenzel.
A pair of 7-year-olds—Winning Machine, voted the meet's top older horse last year, and Noosa Beach, the track's all-time leader in stakes wins—also return in 2013.
Winning Machine comes off his best season for trainer Frank Lucarelli, a campaign that saw the Kentucky-bred win two stakes and place in two others, including a heartbreaking defeat to Taylor Said in the Longacres Mile.
The 2010 and 2011 Horse of the Meeting, Noosa Beach looks to rebound from an abbreviated 2012 campaign in which the 11-time stakes winner raced only twice. Trainer Doris Harwood is taking her time with Noosa Beach, and said the plan is to have the Washington-bred gelding peaking in August for The Mile.
In the jockey ranks, Juan Gutierrez will be favored to win a second straight riding title and could reach a career milestone on opening weekend. Gutierrez, who rode 117 winners in 2012, needs just five wins to join Gallyn Mitchell as the only jockeys with 1,000 wins at Emerald Downs.
The 43-year-old Gutierrez has finished in the top five every year since 2002, and the last four years has compiled win totals of 98, 95, 100 and 117.
Other top 10 riders back from last year are Rocco Bowen, Javier Matias, Leonel Camacho-Flores, Debbie Hoonan, Jennifer Whitaker, and Jose Zunino. Mitchell, the only jockey to ride every season at Emerald Downs, looks to rebound from a career-low 25 win season in which he missed the final six weeks with a hand injury.
Eliska Kubinova, the record-setting apprentice who finished third overall with 75 wins, also returns but must ride without the apprentice weight allowance.
Lucarelli, the 2012 training champion with 43 wins, looks to win a third straight title and his fifth overall in 2013. It won't be easy, as Tim McCanna, Howard Belvoir, Tom Wenzel, Jim Penney, Chris Stenslie, Jim Penney, and Harwood all have deep stables, as does Phoenix newcomer Jeff Metz. Between them, McCanna (10 titles) and Lucarelli have captured 15 of the 17 training titles at Emerald Downs, and they also rank one-two all-time in wins with 848 and 719.