(Auburn, WA) The 2021 season came to an end on Sunday with an 11 race card and 3 Stakes races. There was also a battle for the jockey Championship with defending Champion Alex Crux holding on to a 1 win lead over Julien Couton and Juan Gutierrez 4 behind. Coming into the day Cruz and Couton were set to ride all 11 races while Gutierrez had 8 mounts making his chances of coming off the pace an outside chance.
There was also the race for leading Stakes rider, the top apprentice, top riding achievement and other notes from the season. Let’s get started with the season Championship.
Alex Cruz and Julien Couton were in a give and take battle from the start. As Sunday’s action began Couton was 1 behind Cruz and quickly evened the score in the 1st of 11 races on Sunday going wire-to wire in a 6-furlong sprint aboard Extractor for trainer Candi Cryderman and owner John Parker. The win tied Couton with Cruz each with 74 wins and 10 races each to throw it down.
But the winningest jockey in track history wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet as Juan Gutierrez would have to win half of his mounts to have a shot at least at a tie. In the 2nd race Gutierrez won by 4 lengths on the 5-2 2nd choice Barbrius for trainer Tim McCanna and the Barbarius Racing Stable. So now it was Cruz and Couton at 74 and Guti at 71. Gutierrez would then score again in the 3rd race with 4-1 shot Starzan and owner David Gary Weiber and trainer Robbie Baze. The gap was closer now with the top pair at 74 and Gutierrez flying late on the outside within 2 at 72 wins.
After the 1st 3 races the Jockey Championship was as wide open as day one in the post parade for the 1st race. But then this back and forth suddenly hit a brick wall. None of the trio could find the winner’s circle until the 10th. It wasn’t like they didn’t try, through 9 races Cruz had 9 mounts 2 2nd place finishes including in a Stakes, 3 3rd places including 1 in the a Stakes and 2 4ths, one in a Stake. Couton had a pair of 3rds in that run including a in a Stake and Gutierrez had 4 rides after his 2 wins with 2 places and 2 3rds just missing winning the Washington Cup on 17-1 longshot Brilliant Bird. But with 2 races to go Gutierrez was officially out of the race as he remained 2 behind with 1 race to ride.
In the 10th the public thought it would be Couton as his entry, Wishful Won was bet down to favoritism at 7-5 and Cruz was aboard Shelby B at 5-1. Longshot Cards N Coffee had led the entire trip with apprentice McKenna Anderson on trying to win at 15-1 and Kevin Orozco was aboard Whata Flirt for trainer Sharon Ross who announced her retirement after 40 years and this was her final race at 11-1. Both longshot were heads apart down the stretch when Cruz moved Shelby R to the outside and got up up by just a head. Candi Cryderman got her 2nd training victory of the day this time for owner Thomas Sauvageau. Cruz surged back into the lead up 1 on Couton 75-74.
The final race was up and Cruz had at least locked up a tie but of course wanted the solo win while Couton was looking for a piece of that title. They both faced an overwhelming favorite in Lt Bullitt with Eddie Martinez up at 3-5 and he would be the one to catch. Couton was on 13-1 Jazz Story and Cruz had the 2nd favorite at 7-2, Raise the Stakes, both horses from the Charles Essex barn.
Lt. Bullitt went straight to the lead as expected in the 5 1/2 furlong sprint got out by a length and never gave in winning by 1 1/4. Couton and Cruz both rode hard but Couton had to settle for 3rd and Cruz 4th. This cemented Alex Cruz’s Championship his 2nd in a row and has already said he will be back to defend his title. It was a great competition between all 3 riders and all 3 put up impressive numbers and it wasn’t about just the wins. Cruz actually had more 2nd place finishes than wins 79-75 and even more 3rds with 83. Cruz won at a 19% clip and was in the top 3 61% of the time while Couton won at 20% and top 3 finishes 52%. Gutierrez was the win percent Champ at 24% with those who rode more than 50 mounts and checked in with 58% in the top 3. ESN unofficially tracked 4th place finishes for superfecta stats and Cruz was 76% in the top 4 while both Couton and Gutirerrez were over 65%.
Cruz was also the top money earner for the season coming in with nearly $945,000 in purse money. Couton was 2nd with 872k and Gutierrez cashed $826,000.
Here are the final standings of all jockeys who rode at Emerald Downs in 2021
|Jockey Standings by Wins||Mounts||1st||2nd||3rd||Win %||Top 3 %||Earnings||Earnings Rank|
|19||James Wooten Jr||40||1||5||3||3%||23%||32,747||21|
Alex Cruz on Winning his 2nd Straight Jockey Championship
Top Stakes Jockey
Former regular rider at Emerald Downs Kevin Orozco made several trips back to the Auburn oval from his home base in Northern California and rode a total of 31 races with 13 of those being in Stakes races. Orozco had several memorable rides with Top Executive and 2-year-old Koron but many will remember his heady ride in the biggest race of the year the Longacres Mile on longshot Windribbon for trainer Blaine Wright. Orozco took the lead mid-stretch and if not for a herculean effort from Background and jockey Rocco Bowen, another former regular and champion rider at Emerald, who got up in literally the final stride to nip Windribbon to win the Mile.
Orozco has been the regular rider for Top Executive ever since he went down and ran at Golden Gate. Orozco got his Stakes win flurry rolling in the Auburn Stakes on June 20th. He then came back to win the Irish Day Stakes on July 25 and wrapped up a perfect season going 3 for 3 holding off Coastal Kid by a head in the Muckleshoot Derby on August 29. Top Executive is owned by John and Janene Maryanski and the Riverbend Stable. Top Executive will again be the focal point of a later post when we get to the post season honors.
The week before Orozco introduced us all to Koron who cruised to a big win in the Barbara Shinpoch Stakes at 14-1 for trainer Kay Cooper. Orozco would get his 5th and final Stakes win on Septemeber 12 with Koron in the Washington Cup for juvenile fillies. That win eased Orozco past Julien Couton to be the leading Stakes rider for 2021. He had 13 mounts and 5 wins at a red hot 38% win percent. He earned more than $140,000 in purse money just from Stakes races.
Julien Couton looked like he would run away with the Stakes title after winning the 1st two Stakes of the year on the same day. Couton took the opener on Tim and Sue Spooner’s Ima Happy Cat in the Hastings Stakes, trained by Dan Markel. Then Couton wheeled right back on Papa’s Golden Boy to take the Budweiser for trainer Vince Gibson and owners Gary, Debbie, Jeff and Peyton Lusk. Couton and Papa would team up again in the Governors Stakes on July 11th. The Lusk’s, Gibson and Couton then aimed him for the Longacres Mile and he drew the 1 hole and went to the front and battled hard but had to settle for 4th in a very contentious contest. Couton would pick up his final Stakes win in the Lads Stakes on August 22nd aboard A View From Above as he got the call on the red hot Kay Cooper toward the end of the season. A View From Above is owned by the Grasshopper Stable and Doug Stenberg.
Juan Gutierrez would finish 3rd in the Stakes race with 3 wins taking the Washington State Legislators Stakes on July 11th with Daffodil Sweet for trainer Chris Stenslie. Stenslie also announced her retirement after the season and this was her final Stakes win. Daffodil Sweet is owned by the One Horse Will Do Stable and Steve Shimizu. Gutierrez would then take pair of Stakes on the speedy Cobra jet in the King County Express Stakes, the 1st 2-year-old Stake of the season. Cobra Jet would win again in the Washington Cup for Colts and Geldings on September 12. Cobra Jet is trained by Frank Lucarelli and owned by R-E-V Racing, Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Lucarelli Racing.
Alex Cruz won his 1st Stakes race at Emerald Downs on Ms Lynn in the Seattle Stakes on June 20th for trainer Roy Lumm and owner Ron Bohlman who also happens to be an Emerald downs Security Guard. Cruz’s 2nd Stakes win was July 25th in the Kent Stakes on Blazingbellablu owned by Charles Essex and Petr Lewin and trained by Essex.
Alex Marti shipped in from Hastings and scooped up a pair of Stakes win both on Bayakoas Image for trainer Kay Cooper and owners the Nite and Day Stable and Joanne Todd. Bayakoas Image took the Oaks on August 29th and won the Washington Cup for fillies and mares on closing day.
Eddie Martinez rode in a lot of Stakes this season but was always on a price and he brought 2 of them home. Martinez teamed up with Slack Tide in the Angie C for trainer Blaine Wright and owner Ten Broeck Farm. Slack Tide was let go at more than 7-1 paying $17.20. Martinez then won the finale on closing day the Gottstein Futurity on Midnight Mojo at nearly 9-1 paying $19.60 on the $2 win. Midnight Mojo is trained by Tom Wenzel and owned by George Todaro.
Mario Gutierrez also shipped in to take the Emerald Distaff on Mile Day with Princess of Cairo for trainer Sandi Gann and owners Dedomenico and the North American Thoroughbred Company. Wayne Barnett also took a stakes for trainer Jeff Metz, Metz’s 800th career win on closing day in the Muckleshoot Tribal Classic aboard Coastal Kid. Steve and Letha Haahr are the owners and the final Stakes winner was the memorable ride and reaction in the Longacres Mile when former Emerald Champion jockey Rocco Bowen returned to finish what he started winning his 1st Longacres Mile by a nose catching Windribbon in the final stride on Background. Mike Puhich is the trainer his 2nd Mile championship for the owners the Giddyup Stables, Bob and Molly Rondeau.
In the end it was a strong year for the vultures to swoop in and take 10 of the 21 Stakes races.
Top Stakes Jockeys
1 Kevin Orozco 13 5 1 1 1
2 Julien Couton 17 4 1 5 3
3 Juan Gutierrez 16 3 2 2 3
4 Alex Cruz 17 2 4 2 3
4 Alex Marti 3 2 1 0 0
4 Heriberto Martinez 16 2 0 1 1
7 Mario Gutierrez 2 1 0 1 0
7 Rocco Bowen 3 1 1 0 0
7 Wayne Barnett 3 1 1 0 0
McKenna Anderson ran away with the top apprentice honors and is coming into her own with 12 wins from 67 starts a win percent of 18%. She made her first start on June 23rd finishing 6th on Laker Jet. It would take 43 days for Anderson to even get on the board with a 3rd place finish on August 5th aboard Gabby Tom at 33-1 for trainer Jason Homer. She would get another 3rd place finish on August 5 on trainer Scott Freeman’s Cards N Coffee at a whopping 78-1.
Anderson then scored her 1st win of her career on August 7 when she went nearly gate to wire aboard 19-1 Tippytap on Sand for trainer Dionne Asmussen. So after starting 0-15 Anderson has won 12 times, placed 6 and showed 8 for a 20% win percent and a 44% in the money. Anderson got her start in the smaller barns but soon impressed some of the larger trainers and rode for leading trainer Joe Toye, Candi Cryderman and Robert Bean.
Anderson is from Vashon Island and attended Vashon high school and has been around horses for most of her life. She told us her biggest obstacle was gaining the confidence in herself and once things began to click she got her horses to run for her. She is headed for Arizona to ride this winter and isn’t quite sure yet where else she may want to go. She said she was considering heading east but is going to wait and see how things play out.
We talk with McKenna Anderson the leading Apprentice
Don’t Forget About Us!!
Regular Emerald riders Jose Zunino and Matias both had their usual solid season with Zunino doing really well finishing 4th in the standings and Matias just behind in 5th. Both journeymen are a constant presence at Emerald Downs and are easy to count on to get a fair ride on the horses they get up on.
Zunino tends to ride a lot more longer shots and he coaxes many of the high odds in not just hitting the board but winning. Zunino brought the longest shot of the season to the winner’s circle on July 24th winning with Raphael at 27-1 paying the season high $2 win at $57.80 and place at $31.40. He also keyed the highest $1 exacta, $306.90, 50-cent trifecta $86.45 and 10-cent superfecta, $1,015.82 when he won on 26-1 Reelfoot on June 16th. He combined with 6-1 Grinder Sparksaglo for 2nd, 2-1 Candy Zip and 6-1 So Lucky ran 4th. Reelfoot and Zunino also led off the highest $1 Daily Double combined with 9-2 Blowing Bayou for a $235 return. Zuninmo also had a hand in the highest pick 3, pick 4 and the $81,409.82 20-cent Jackpot Pick 6 went to a single winner when Zunino brought 4-1 Haynesfield Hit home 1st in the final race of the day on June 23rd.
Matias also hit the board regularly finishing in the top 3 at a 49% clip to go with his 27 wins. Matias also racked up the 4th highest purse total of more than $411,000. Matias had mounts in 14 Stakes races and 2 2nd place finishes on Unmachable and Gold N Glitter. He also finished 3rd, 4 times and 4th 3 hitting the top 4 places in 9 of his 14 rides or a 64% in the superfecta bet in Stakes races.
Alex Anaya had a very good year at Emerald but had a few injury issues that kept him off of rides for a few days. Anaya began by winning the 1st race of the year on Madigan Squeeze by more than 11 lengths. Anaya is also another who got more than his share of longshots and finished 3rd with 44-1 shot Special Lesson on June 2nd for the highest $2 show return of the meet at $17.60. Anaya finished with an 11% win percent but his top 3 jumped to 41%. He was a must play in your exotic bets because he was consistent in bringing in a big number to kick up those pay-offs.
The all-time female leading rider at Emerald Downs Jennifer Whitaker got off to a fast start but slowed down a bit especially when some of her rides just didn’t fire this. Whitaker of course is known as the Howard Belvoir barn rider and she had rides on the 2020 Emerald Downs horse of the meeting Dutton but he struggled this season as did Muncey. Whitaker would only win 7 this season but place 3rd 19 times and had 5 places and many 4th place finishes. It was one of those years of being close but it just didn’t come together as often as it had in the past. Still finished 12th in wins and 11th in total purse money.
And finally Kevin Radke who returned full time to riding for the first time in about 5 years also got off to a fast start racking up a 16-18-17 record from 125 starts but just as he was really finding his groove a landscaping accident at his home broke his arm and his season was finished. He was #4 at the time and still finished in the top 10 as #9 in wins and 9th in earnings.
That is a wrap on our jockeys for 2021, congratulations to for a great year at the Auburn oval.