The Muckleshoot Tribe March 13 received unanimous approval from the Washington Horse Racing Commission to operate Emerald Downs, the state's premier Thoroughbred racetrack.
The tribe has owned the property on which the racetrack sits since 2004, and has been supplementing purses at Emerald Downs for years. The racing operation had been owned by Ron Crockett, who will serve as a consultant, said Phil Ziegler, president of the new Emerald Downs Racing LLC.
The track, located in Auburn, is undergoing improvements. A large video screen will be installed atop the tote board, and new television monitors will be installed throughout the facility.
During the racing commission meeting, Ziegler said Emerald Downs will institute a "ship and run" incentive program for owners of out-of-state horses. They will earn a $400 bonus for a horse's first start at the track in 2015.
Emerald Downs previously announced purse increases and cost-lowering incentives for horsemen that will be in place for this year's meet, which begins April 18.
During the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association winter convention in February, MaryAnn O'Connell, executive director of the Washington HBPA, said the early returns have been good. Emerald Downs, she said, had about 400 more stall applications than it had in previous years.
O'Connell, who credited Crockett for keeping the racing operation alive through some tough times, said the incentives and 20% purse hike has generated a buzz.
"The best thing about this is there is a new enthusiasm," she said. "You can feel it."
The Muckleshoot Tribe has been active partner in racing at Emerald Downs.
"They've asked questions about how to make the Thoroughbred breeding business better in Washington," McConnell said. "They also recognize the improvement of the people on the backstretch. They have a real heart for what goes on (with backstretch workers)."
Last year Emerald Downs over 73 racing programs paid $7.03 million in purses, $1.46 million of which came from Muckleshoot supplements, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems. The incentives this year are designed to boost field size, which last year averaged 6.28 horses per race.