Emerald Downs 25th year Opens with 2 Days of Racing and Fans

Paul Beattie


(Auburn, WA) The 25th year opened up on Wednesday evening with 8 races and live fans for the first time since 2019. Some of the familiar names are of course here such as Champion trainer Frank Lucarelli, Hall of Famer’s Howard Belvoir and the Cooper-Penney family.

Last year’s Champion Jockey Alex Cruz is back along with Hall of Famer Juan Gutierrez. The jockey colony has also attracted a couple of young guns back in Cerapio Figueroa and Franklin Ceballos plus regulars like Jennifer Whitaker, Javier Matias, Jose Zunino and Alex Anaya and a returning rider Kevin Radke who last rode at Emerald in 2008.

But opening night belonged to Julien Couton. Couton who is usually a late arrival to Emerald Downs as he rides regularly at Golden Gate was here for opening night with the late opening of May 19th.

Couton would guide 4 of the 8 winners to the Winner’s Circle on opening day. Couton struck for the in the 2nd race with odds-on choice Frisco Frills who went straight to the lead, led by 5 lengths at the top of the stretch and cruised to a 2 and half length win. Couton then won the 4th race on Playing Through at 5-2 holding off Irish Swing by a half length. Couton then took the 5th race on 8-5 shot Zatter who pulled away in the end for a 4 length win. The Couton Daily Double didn’t fool too many returning $8 for the $1 bet.

Couton finished his 4 win run the next race completing a pick-3 when Mister McLean dueled with Iron Rob for 5 of the 5 and half furlongs of the race and eventually Couton and Mister Mclean separated by a length and a half for the win. The 2nd Couton daily double paid $9.30 and the 50-cent Couton pick 3 paid $18.45.

Wednesday night’s feature race was dominated by Muncey. The 7-2 Howard Belvoir trained gelding was too much in the final furlong for longshot Starzan.  Starzan and Spittin Image were nose to nose out of the gate with Muncey sitting right behind. Turning for home the 39-1 Starzan with Figueroa up was smelling upset shaking off Spittin Image and leading by a half length over Muncey.

Regular Belvoir rider Jennifer Whitaker had the race well timed and surged past Starzan and won going away by more than a length in the end. Starzan held on well for 2nd and Hard to Deny finished 3rd. The win was the 20th on an opening day at Emerald Downs for Belvoir over 15 of the 26 seasons and his 790th win at Emerald Downs, 3rd all time and Whitaker’s 508th win, 9th all-time at Emerald and #1 for women. Muncey is owned by the Rising Star VII Stable and is by Munnings, out of Camille C by Roman Dancer, a Kentucky bred by Taylor Brothers Properties.

Other winner’s on opening night included Jupiter S in the 3rd race with Javier Matias aboard. A 7-2 shot who won by 2 and a quarter lengths. And in the finale 5-1 3rd favorite Queen Breezy surprised the odds-on choice Bode’s Best. Sitting just a half length off of Bode to the top of the stretch when Alex Cruz got his first win of the year as he pressed go and Queen Breezy left Bode’s Best in the dust winning by 3 lengths. Bode’s Best was clearly second best more than 5 lengths in front of the rest of the pack.

The vertical bets paid off decently with the 2nd 50-cent pick 4 returning $347, the 50-cent pick 5 was good for $1,180 and the 20-cent pick 6 jackpot was good for $798.

Day 2

On the 2nd day of racing, no disappointments in the 1st race as 6-5 favorite Rocket Power roared down the middle of the track to run past Last One Standing for the 1-length+ win with Franklin Ceballos in the saddle. The favorites continued with Kerralia holding on to win by a neck over Ms Lynn. Jose Zunino got his first win of the season.

Alex Cruz who settled for 2nd in the 2nd race but would not settle for anything but 1st in the 3rd rolling to a win on 5-2 shot Float On. Going back to last fall this was the 27th straight day that Cruz has at least one win on the card.

The longest shot to win over the opening 2 days went wire to wire with Julian Couton aboard, Big Tony broke well and never stopped. The 13-1 outsider returned $29.00 on the $2 win. Big Tony kicked up the early pick 4 returning $591 for the 50-cent bet. Ceballos would return to the winner’s circle in the 5th race with Bodeeman. Bodeeman broke a little flat footed but quickly took the lead and never looked back building a 3 length lead at the top of the stretch and held on for a clear 3/4’s length victory.

The 6th race was pretty special for several reasons, first the claimer of the meet from last year was in, Omache Kid who won 4 times in 2020. There were other claimer of the meet contenders in this race as well including 3 time winner Pistol Power and the track’s all-time winner Mike Man’s Gold. Mike also had Kevin Radke aboard who hadn’t ridden at Emerald Downs since 2008 and rode very limited since then making his return this season.

Sovereign Nation, Cody’s Choice and Mike Man’s Gold were in a 3-way battle for the lead heading into the turn, Sovereign Nation would soon back out and finish last giving the lead to Cody’s Choice but Mike Man’s Gold sitting just to the outside would put away Cody who faded to 4th and blew out to a 3 and half length lead at the top of the stretch. But Julian Couton on betting favorite Mirror Image loomed up on the outside and the two went head and head to the line with Mike Man’s Gold getting the win by a head bob.

Mike was overlooked at 7-1 and returned $16. The win added to MMG’s track leading victory total now 24. Retired West Seattle Boy remains 2nd with 21 and no one is really close to either of these two Emerald Downs experts. Mike Man’s Gold is owned by Greg and Chuck Conley and Tierra Farms and trained by Joe Toye.

In the 7th race and 9th races, Couton picked up his 6th win of the meet on Bella’s Back in the 7th and boy was she leading every step of the way cruising to a 4 and half length victory at 1-1 and veteran Javiar Matias won his 2nd race in the finale aboard Devil’s workshop for owner/trainer Steve Koler blistering the field by 8 lengths as the 3rd choice at 5-1.

Feature Race of the Week

Daffodil Sweet

This takes us to the feature race of the week, the 8th race on Thursday, a 23k optional Allowance race that featured the return of the 2020 Top Filly, Daffodil Sweet. Daffodil Sweet was coming off a great 2020 season where she won the Coca-Cola Handicap and ran a solid 2nd in the Oaks to Princess Cairo and that was after 2 dominating performances in a maiden-special and an Allowance.

Regular rider Juan Gutierrez was back in the saddle for her 4-year old debut and return to the Auburn oval. She looked to be facing some tough company with Dontkissntell, Fortune’s Freude, For You Only and Squan’s Kingdom. But very quickly it was over with Daffodil Sweet breaking quickly as usual she was contested by For You Only with Jennifer Whitaker up but quickly created a couple length distance between her and For You Only. Turning for home “Sweet extended to a 2 and half length lead while Squan’s Kingdom bore down on For You Only to move into 2nd but there was no stopping Daffodil Sweet as she cruised to a 3 length win over Squan’s Kingdom and For You Only held on well for 3rd.

Daffodil Sweet gave Emerald Downs’ winningest jockey Juan Gutierrez his first win of the season.  Daffodil Sweet earned $12,705 for her owners One Horse Will Do Corp and Steve Shimizu and trainer Chris Stenslie. Daffodil Sweet is a California bred by Ministers Wild Cat and out of Easy on My Heart and bred by Michael Terry. Daffodil Sweet is now 4-1 from 5 starts and a career bankroll of more than $63,000.

The Betting Parlor

The Betting Parlor

Despite a large number of favorites winning during opening week, there were chances to make big money. On Day 1 it began in the 1st race when 34-1 shot Halo of Life took 3rd by a head over 3-1 shot Gold Rose. Halo so far is the largest $2 show pay-off at $9.60 and triggered a 50-cent trifecta pay-out of $90 and a 10-cent superfecta of $96. This was a 7-5 favorite over a 3-1, then 34-1 and the 3-1 4th place finisher. The top 3 favorites with a 34-1 slipping in at 3rd place.

The big chance of the 1st day was in the 7th. The betting was well spread out with the favorite at 5-2, 2 3-1 shots and a 7-2 then a 7-1, 9-1 and 39-1 Starzan, Starzan nearly stunned the field leading every step of the way until the final 100 yards holding on well for 2nd place. Starzan was the high $2 place return so far returning $21.60. Muncey at 7-2 was the winner and the two combined for a $180 $1 exacta. You could have also hit a $587 50-cent trifecta or a 10-cent $723 superfecta. The 20-cent Jackpot Pick 6 was hit with 2 winning tickets each returned $798, this strung together winners that were 7-2, 5-2, 8-5, 2-1, 7-2 and the longshot of the 6 Queen Breezy in the 8th race at 5-1. 

On Day 2 we had our highest $2 win pay-out in the 4th race Big Tony with Julien Couton wired the field at 13-1 and returned $29.00 on the $2 win. Big Tony then was included in all the top paying horizontal pays, the top $1 Daily Double was Big Tony to 3-1 shot Bodeeman good for $82. Big Tony kicked started the best pick 3 and pick 4, the 50-cent pick 3 was good for $317 and the 50-cent pick 4 paid $950. The 50-cent pick 5 again showed it doesn’t take a big stroke of luck to hit a really nice pay with reasonable selections. The Thursday pick 5 returned $1,373 and it took going 4 deep once to get it. 

In the 1st leg the 5th race, Bodeeman was the 3rd choice at 3-1, the 6th race saw the 4th favorite Mike Man’s Gold at 7-1 win it followed by an overwhelming 6-5 favorite Bella’s Back in the 7th and the odd’s on choice in the 8th Daffodil Sweet at 3-5. In the finale it was the 3rd choice at 5-1, Devils Workshop that resulted in big pay-out. You could have singled the 3-5 Daffodil Sweet and taken 4 horses in the other 4 races at a cost of $128 to win $1,300 or if you really liked both the 6-5 and 3-5 shots and gone 4 deep it would have cost you only $32 to hit for $1,300.

It was indeed a pretty good opportunity to hit for some good money if you could have focused in on just a couple big favorites and worked around those selections.

Largest pay-outs Details
$2 Win $29.00 5/20 R4 #1 Big Tony 13-1 Julien Couton
$2 Place $21.60 5/19 R7 #1 Starzan 39-1  Cerapio Figuroa
$2 Show $9.60 5/19 R1 #7 Halo of Life  34-1 Connie Doll
$1 Exacta $180.60 5/19 R7 #3 Muncey 7-2 (Whitaker) to #1 Starzan 39-1 (Figueroa)
.50 Tri $587.20 5/19 R7 #3 Muncey 7-2 (Whitaker) to #1 Starzan 39-1 (Figueroa) to #6 Hard to Deny 3-1 (Gutierrez)
.10 Super $723.81 5/19 R7 #3 Muncey 7-2 (Whitaker) to #1 Starzan 39-1 (Figueroa) to #6 Hard to Deny 3-1 (Gutierrez) to #5 Stand To 3-1  (Anaya)
.50 Hi-5 $178.70 5/19 R8 #5 Queen Breezy 5-1 (Cruz) to #1 Bode’s Best 3-5 (Matias) to #4 Fully Compliant 8-1 (Couton) to #6 Guarding Elk Camp 16-1 (Anaya) to #8 Special Lesson 19-1 (Ceballos)
Largest Carry-Over $4,917 5/20 R9
$1 DD $82.00 5/20 R4  #1 Big Tony 13-1 (Couton) to #5 Bodeeman 3-1 (Ceballos)
.50 Pick 3 $317.85 5/20 R4 #1 Big Tony 13-1 (Couton) to #5 Bodeeman 3-1 (Ceballos) to #7 Mike Man’s Gold 7-1 (Radke)
.50 Pick 4 $950.40 5/20 R4 #1 Big Tony 13-1 (Couton) to #5 Bodeeman 3-1 (Ceballos) to #7 Mike Man’s Gold 7-1 (Radke) to #2 Bella’s Back 1-1 (Couton)
.50 Pick 5 $1,373.45 5/20 R5 #5 Bodeeman 3-1 (Ceballos) to #7 Mike Man’s Gold 7-1 (Radke) to #2 Bella’s Back 1-1 (Couton) to #6 Daffodil Sweet 3-5 (Gutierrez) to #1 Devils Workshop 5-1 (Matias)
.20 Jpot 6 $798.94 5/19 R3 #5 Jupiter S 7-2 (Matias) to #2 Playing Through 5-2 (Couton) to #4 Zatter 8-5 (Couton) to #1 Mister Mclean 2-1 (Couton) to #3 Muncey 7-2 (Whitaker) to #5 Queen Breezy 5-1 (Cruz)
Largest Carry-Over $3,239 5/20 R9

The Colony

The Jockey Colony is strong, yes we’re missing a few from last year like Eddie Martinez and Gary Wales but with Julien Couton here at the beginning and the return of Franklin Ceballos  and Kevin Radke with other returners like Alex Cruz and the rest it is going to be a competitive race for the Jockey’s Championship. Couton will be a force if he is here for the whole season and flexxed his muscles with 6 wins over the 2 days. He and Alex Cruz would be the only 2 that rode all 17 races over the opening 2 days. Couton would also place 2nd 4 times, 3 shows and 1 4th place finish. Couton is winning at 35% and in the top 3 76% and in the Superfecta 82%.

3 other riders recorded 2 wins and for the defending Champion Cruz a little bit frustrating as he began the year riding 5 straight 2nd place finishes in the first 5 races of the season. He rode 17 horses won twice, placed 7 times, showed once and finished 4th 3 times. That’s a 76% in the superfecta percent. Cruz did extend his win streak from last year of winning at least one race a day to 27 straight with a win in the finale on opening night and taking the 3rd race on Thursday.

Javiar Matias won twice from just 4 mounts which should get the journeyman rider some additional rides. He also had a 2nd place and finished off the board once. Franklin Ceballos was the other rider to find the Winner’s Circle twice both coming on Thursday running down the front-runners in the 1st race on the betting fav Rocket Power and winning the 5th race aboard Bodeeman.

A few of the highlighted single winners include Alex Anaya who won the first race of the season aboard heavy 7-5 favorite Madigan Squeeze rolling to a huge 11-length win over the 7 horse field. Just 25 year’s ago on opening day 1996 it was Strawberry Morn also in a 7 horse field and was the 1-1 heavy favorite and drew off to win by 10 lengths.

As mentioned earlier, Kevin Radke got his first win at Emerald Downs since 2008 when he guided Mike Man’s Gold to victory on Thursday. To be exact the last time Radke won at Emerald Downs was the 2nd race on Monday, September 1st, 2008 on the betting favorite Maevid at 2-1, coming from last to first to win it going away for trainer Bob Meeking. The last time Radke won a race was back on Monday, September 17, 2018 at Thistledown in Ohio taking a 2-5 odds on choice wire to wire for the win.

Jockey Standings Mounts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Win % Top 3 % Top 4 %
1 Julien Couton 17 6 4 3 1 35% 76% 82%
2 Alex Cruz 17 2 7 1 3 12% 59% 76%
2 Javiar Matias 4 2 1 50% 75% 75%
2 Franklin Ceballos 8 2 2 1 25% 50% 63%
5 Alex Anaya 11 1 2 2 9% 27% 45%
5 Juan Gutierrez 14 1 2 3 2 7% 43% 57%
5 Jose Zunino 9 1 1 1 11% 33% 33%
5 Kevin Radke 8 1 2 13% 13% 38%
5 Jennifer Whitaker 4 1 1 25% 50% 50%
9 Connie Doll 4 1 1 0% 25% 50%
9 Cerapio Figueroa 12 2 1 4 0% 25% 58%
9 Francisco Diaz-Lopz 1 0% 0% 0%
9 James Wooten Jr 2 1 0% 50% 50%
9 Lorenzo Lopez 2 1 1 0% 50% 100%



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