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Opening Night at Emerald Downs / Eligius Begins Breezing

High temperature of 45 degrees. 70% chance of showers. Mostly Cloudy. It must be time to start racing at Emerald.

We've got a typical opening night card at EMD, four of the first five races are for Maiden Claimers and every race on the card is at 5 1/2 furlongs or less. Field size isn't bad with an average of 8.0 for the eight race card.

The feature race on tonight's card is the seventh, a "Non-winners of cash since January 1, 2008" Allowance race that features a solid field of six going five and a half furlongs.

Chickasaw Park looks the strongest on paper with his solid early speed, a liking for wet surfaces, and 2007 leading rider Ricky Frazier thrown in for good measure. Tim McCanna's Bound to be MVP is another top contender given his recent form down in Portland where he won a minor stake event back on March 10th.

The fit-and-ready angle might prove to be a big one this first weekend given the off-and-on brutal weather conditions in the Puget Sound region this spring. We've seen a lot of mornings with considerable ice and cold temperatures, along with the usual assortment of rain all winter and spring. As such, many horses have been unable to get on a good, consistent morning work routine. Take Chickasaw Park, for example. Tonight's race will be his first since September 30th of last year, making him a typical "Emerald Only" horse. He shows four works on his profile with the first coming on March 9th. Since then he worked on March 22nd, April 2nd and April 12th, for a spacing of 13 days, 11 days, 10 days, and then six days until the race.

Last season, Chickasaw Park won his first start of the year off a similar layoff. His work pattern leading up to that race was 6-6-15-7-8 day spacings. His first race in 2006 (in which he finished 3rd beaten 1 1/2 lengths) came off of a 7-6-9-7-7-9-8 work pattern. All of this prep work occurred under the same trainer, Hilbern Mullens.

With Chickasaw Park drawing 9-5 odds on the morning line, and given the slightly more erratic pattern of his current works, I'm going to look elsewhere for some value in a race that might not be as formful as it looks on paper. Bound to be MVP's recent form is a plus, along with the fact that Portland horses have come up and won early in the past, so he should be in the mix.

Depending on how the conditions turn out I might find myself going towards Wasserman, listed at 3-1 on the morning line. Like Chickasaw Park, Wasserman is making his first start since last September, but he's displayed a little better pattern in the mornings. Wasserman's problem is going to be the distance as he's generally done better with more ground but he might get some help with that. Several of the past opening nights have seen a day full of rain that has stopped midway through the card leading to a tiring, closer friendly track by the end of the day. If that situation were to occur tonight Wasserman might become a good pick in this spot.

On a personal note, big Gus started his breezing program about ten days ago. On Wednesday he worked three furlongs in company in :36 and 3, second fastest of 24 that morning. Below is a video from his first work on April 9th, which was a two furlong work in company. He was a little lazy/unfocused in the first work and drifted out when going into the turn but he seemed to be doing everything pretty easily and trotted back nicely. On Wednesday he worked on the outside of his partners and was into the bit more than in this first work. He should remain working every six to seven days until it's time to do it for real.