The beginning of this year's Emerald season will be quite different than any since the track opened a little over a decade ago. Prior to this year, Portland Meadows ran the winter meet in the Pacific Northwest, with some Emerald horses choosing to run at that track while the Seattle-area track was dark. Typically, the beginning of the Emerald meet would feature three kinds of horses in the starting gate: horses that took the entire winter off hadn't raced since the end of the Emerald meet; horses that raced down in Portland over the winter; and a mix of horses that ran in Arizona, New Mexico or California. The first two or three weeks of the meet it wasn't unusual to see a field where half the horses are coming off a six month layoff, and the other half are coming in from Portland.
With the move to a summer meeting, the presence of horses wintering at Portland will no longer be part of the equation, leaving us with Emerald layoff horses and those from California, Arizona, et al. I typically take a skeptical view of the out-of-towners due to the weather in the Pacific Northwest (lots of sloppy/muddy tracks, and lots of cool, moist evenings), as some of the shippers from places like Turf Paradise, despite classier credentials, simply don't take to the track.
The second race on the opening night card is a good example of the typical make-up of an early season race at Emerald Downs. The field for this maiden claiming event is comprised of eight horses -- two horses coming out of recent races at Golden Gate or Turf Paradise; three first time starters; three horses that last ran at Emerald in August or September.
1-Sassy Poppy (5/1): Last race at Turf Paradise on Feb. 11.
2-Storm Inthe Harbor (8/1): First time starter.
3-One Smart Girl (15/1): Last race at Emerald on Aug. 2.
4-Corrinas Seeker (5/2): Last race at Golden Gate on Feb. 23.
5-Full Service (6/1): First time starter.
6-Xaiah's Gold (7/2): Last race at Emerald on Sep. 21.
7-House of Hope (9/2): Last race at Emerald on Aug. 5.
8-Aliciasfirecracker (10/1): First time starter.
Determining current fitness is a key challenge the first couple of weeks at Emerald (and certainly not any easier when looking at a group of $6,500 state-bred maiden claimers.
Emerald made a change to their Friday night first post this season, moving the opening race back from 6:00 pm Pacific to 6:45. I like that move for a couple of reasons. First, from a personal perspective, it makes it a lot easier to get from North Seattle where I live/work down to Auburn in Friday rush-hour traffic. Second, with Hollywood going to afternoon start times for their spring meet and most of the other tracks running night cards located in time zones to the east of Seattle, it allows Emerald to somewhat own the Friday night time slot. It certainly can't hurt to be one of the only tracks running at a given time (an advantage Portland Meadows used to enjoy until they moved their meet right into the teeth of the summer racing season).
I'm heading out to the Auburn track this afternoon for opening night, a night with a pretty nice card of eight races, of which there are six races with at least eight starters. Horse population is a concern at most tracks across the country, with Emerald no exception to the dilemma, however, early word from the track indicates more horses on the ground at this point than prior to the beginning of last season's meet.
Emerald has added a couple of new wrinkles to the 2013 meet, the first of which is a handicapping contest called Emerald123. The contest, offered both at the track and online, involves the final six races on each Emerald Downs card. From Emerald Downs:
- 123Racing Wager will be the last six races of each card
- $2 minimum to play, player with the highest total bankroll based on cumulative payouts for Win, Place and Show at the end of the day wins the pot
- You stay in the game even if your horse doesn't hit the board!
- Same format as the live wager, only it's free!
- FREE Brisnet PP's for all the contest races
- Win great prizes! No elimination - play any time for weekly, monthly and season-long prizes.
Additionally, Emerald is introducing a six-week fan education/handicapping course called "Emerald ED" beginning on April 20th from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm (approximately 90 minutes prior to the first post on weekends).