(Auburn, WA) The hot sun pounding down on the white pavement outside the entry gates, long lines, confused patrons not sure where or how to bet, where to find the park, get ice cream or a cold beverage even where it was ok to have a smoke break. This could have been either on Sunday, June 20, 2021 or Thursday, June 20, 1996. Both were a re-opening in their own way with 1996 seeing the return of live thoroughbred racing to Western Washington after 4-years since Longacres had closed their doors for good to 2021 and the first big crowd returning for live racing since 2019, pre-pandemic.
It was a party atmosphere despite a few drawbacks with parking issues and long lines to bet and at the concession stands but this was the first large crowd since 2019 and no doubt trying to staff up during these times is a difficult thing to do. Despite a few slowdowns which are to be expected on all be attendance days the track celebrated their 25th birthday in style.
Day begins with a Surprise Honor
Before we get to two very interesting Stakes races the day began with a surprise for long time Director of Publicity Joe Withee when the founder of Emerald Downs Ron Crockett announced that Withee was being inducted into the Washington State Thoroughbred Hall of Fame.
Withee became interested in horse racing back when he was in high school, growing up just a short distance from Longacres he began attending the races on a regular basis additionally his father was a big fan. After graduating from college Withee began working at Longacres in the Publicity department and would rise up the ranks and become the face of NW Thoroughbred racing. He would have a long list of radio stations that he would call nightly with a report on each race night’s feature race report. He hosted the Longacres television replay show and drove to downtown Seattle every race night to record the show which aired at 11:30 at night.
When Longacres sold Withee joined NW Racings Associates led by Crockett and help run the live meets over in Yakima while Emerald Downs was being built. When the project broke ground Withee was instrumental in preparing for live racing’s return to Western Washington.
Withee now anchors race-day coverage on-site, does guest bits on all levels of media, hosted a radio talk show on weekends for 24 years, the “Win-Place” Show and continues to be the face and voice of NW Thoroughbred racing. He also has become an owner as part of the How We Roll Stable with their crowning achievement being Sippin’ Fire the 2018 Horse of the Meet with 4 Stakes wins.
Eli Sports is especially excited for Withee who also calls live high school sports for ESN during his off time from his duties at Emerald Downs.
We talked with Withee on his big day in between races in the paddock about his induction into the Hall of fame.
Joe Withee on the Hall of Fame
The Auburn Stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings going 6-furlongs was the first of 2 3-year-old stakes races on the day and heading into it the opinion was pretty universal that the overwhelming favorite and 2020 Emerald Downs horse of the meeting, Dutton was the horse to beat. Dutton was undefeated through 3 lifetime starts with 2 Stakes victories under his belt. The Rising Star Stable ownership group looks to have another monster in their line-up and trainer Howard Belvoir was confident as Dutton had been training exceptionally well and felt he was sitting on a big race.
However, Dutton is pretty high strung even for a thoroughbred and in 2020 was scratched at the gate for acting up and delayed his debut to the Lads Stakes which he won by 9 lengths. Additionally for all of these 3-year-olds it really was going to be the first time they ever raced during the day and in front of a live crowd and this was a large crowd with lots of additional noise. In the paddock Dutton was hot and amped up. When regular rider Jennifer Whitaker got on board they hoped he would settle down once he got on the track but as they began to parade he reared up and dumped Whitaker who was ok and got a leg right back up and they quickly broke the parade and let him jog away from the crowd in hopes of relaxing him. It is important to note that no trainer can train a horse for a large crowd. It is a wait and see if the noise and movement upsets a horse. It’s not like they can pump in noise to create a noisy stadium like they do in football.
As they approached the gate the assistant starters got him in the gate and this being only a field of 6 the rest took their places fairly quickly. As #6 Top Executive was loading in starter Mark Gibson was waiting for one last horse to settle and get his nose forward and then would pop the gates but at that moment Dutton reared up dumping Whitaker and again and then Dutton panicked and went to the ground under the gate. The Stewards then scratched the huge favorite from the race. Dutton was led back to the paddock and trainer Belvoir reported that he appeared to have a few scratches but seemed to be fine and would undergo a thorough check-up by the track’s veterinarian. Whitaker was also not hurt as she was able to get off and out of the gates prior to Dutton falling to the ground.
The incident of course delayed the start of the race and also changed the entire complexion of the race. Dutton was the clear speed so who would go now? Who would sit off the pace and if so how far do you let a front speed set the pace? It was all on the jockey’s now they don’t have a chance to go back and talk with the trainer at this point so they will be making decisions as soon as the gates open. The public became split as well with Golden Gate invader Big Duke being the one they settled on as the 6-5 favorite in the 5 horse field. Meantime, Nationheart and Top Executive were bet down to 2-1 while Big Endeavor and Kowboykabin were outsiders at 9-1 and 16-1 respectively.
When the gates finally opened all five broke in a straight line with Kowboykabin finally edging to a length lead but only 3 lengths would cover front to back in a tightly packed bunch. As they hit the far turn Top Executive would take the lead by just a head as he and Kowboykabin pulled away by a length and a half over Big Endeavor followed by Nationheart and Big Duke. Turning for home Top Executive with jockey Kevin Orozco pulled out to a length lead but Julien Couton had swung Big Duke to the outside and was rolling. Big Duke came to the throat of Top Executive but Orozco had more and when Top Exec felt Big Duke bearing down he kicked away and won by 3/4’s of a length. Big Duke was 2nd by 2 lengths over Big Endeavor who got by Kowboykabin by a neck and Nationheart was a distant 5th.
Stretch run of the Auburn Stakes
Top Executive is owned by John and Janene Maryanski and the Riverbend Stable and trained by Blaine Wright. Top Executive is a Kentucky bred by Street Boss out of Severn Shore by Pure Prize and was bred by Frankfort Park Farm and Dr. R Mason. Top Executive earned $27,800 to push his lifetime bankroll to $169,000. Top Executive is a win or nothing horse at this time with 3 wins from 6 lifetime starts and now has 2 stakes wins both at Emerald Downs as he won the 2020 King County Express stakes.
We talked with trainer Blaine Wright about Top Executive and his gameness when he gets into the stretch run…
Blaine Wright on winning the Auburn Stakes
The Seattle Stakes had a field of 10 3-year-old fillies and ended up being a first for many. The public could not decide an overwhelming favorite and settled on Golden Gate invader Gayle’s Evening at 2-1 followed by Frisco Frills at 5-2 and La Una at 3-1. After that it was anyone’s guess with between 9-1 Coastal Run and 52-1 Madigan Squeeze. Trainer heavyweights Blaine Wright and Frank Lucarelli each had 2 starters, leading trainer so far Joe Toye had the front speed Coastal Run and between the 3 had 50% of the field and 3 of the 4 betting favorites.
When the race began it was no surprise that Coastal Run with Juan Gutierrez jumped out to nearly a 3-length lead. Frisco Frills and Gayle’s Evening were right behind with the rest of the field far back. It looked like the front speed would be impossible to catch but when the quarter time stopped at 21.33 and then the half in 44.10 it looked like those dawdling away at the rear of the field could have a shot.
As they turned for home Coastal Run still led by a length and a half over Frisco Frills who was a length and half in front of Camden High with Alex Anaya up and had began closing from the quarter pole. Crazy About You was also on the move as Kevin Orozco looked to sweep the Stakes races but it was leading rider Alex Cruz sitting on the rail with #2 Ms Lynn from the Roy Lumm barn sticking to his game plan. About the 1/8th pole the front speed hit the wall and began drifting out as tired horse will do which opened up the rail not by just a little crease but the size of the Grand Canyon and Cruz hit go and Ms Lynn responded bursting through on the rail and running past the entire field going from 9th to first in about 100 yards and took control by the 1/16th pole and drew away for a length and half win over Camden High who ran a very solid 2nd. La Una, also a closer with Jose Zunino came from far back to capture 3rd and Crazy About You took 4th. The horses to break 1st, 2nd 3rd and 4th all finished 7th, 8th 9th and 10th.
Stretch run of the Seattle Stakes
The win for Cruz, despite being Champion jockey last year and leading rider this year so far, this was his 1st Stakes win. We talked with Cruz about finally getting his 1st stakes win…
Alex Cruz on winning the Seattle Stakes
For trainer Roy Lumm it was the 84-year-olds 2nd Stakes win ever at Emerald Downs. His previous was back in 2002 when Colterkind won the Governor’s Stakes with Sandi Gann riding. Lumm has been a mainstay in Northwest racing since his days as a jockey back in the 50’s.
When you come to Emerald Downs and if you have been fully vaccinated there is an area right out front that is reserved just for you and you can gain entry by telling the on-duty Security Guard that you have been vaccinated and he will give you an orange wristband. This also allows you to go maskless anywhere on the grounds at Emerald Downs. No this isn’t a mistake in providing this information to you at this point of the story because the security guard who is assigned to that position was not at his post during and after the Seattle Stakes. The guard’s name is Ron Bohlman and he is also the sole owner and breeder of Ms Lynn.
Bohlman is known for his story telling ability and loves to engage in conversation with everyone from jockey’s, trainers, owners to all the fans he meets while at his post. Bohlman is simply a fan of the sport and was excited to get involved with Lumm and even more excited that not only did he get his first Stakes win but so did Cruz and a 2nd one for his friend Roy Lumm. We talked with the excited owner moments after he was presented his trophy in the Winner’s Circle.
Ron Bohlman on winning the Seattle Stakes
Ms Lynn stopped the clock in 1:10.14 and returned $37.80 for the $2 win and combined with 21-1 Camden High returned $243 on the $1 exacta. The 50-cent trifecta was good for $539 and the 10-cent superfecta returned a monstrous $429. Ms Lynn is a Washington bred by Linchpin and out of Point Da Harbor by Harbor the Gold. Ms Lynn earned $27,500 to more than double her lifetime earnings from $25,000 to more than 52k. She is now 3-1-4 from 11 starts and Cruz fits her like a glove as he has ridden her 4 times winning 3 and placing once.
Racing resumes on Wednesday, the 2nd to last day of Wednesday racing as the schedule changes to a Thursday-Saturday-Sunday schedule in July. Thursday racing post times are 6pm, Saturday nights are 6:30 except for the 1st one on July 3rd, first race remains at 6p and is also the night of the big Fireworks extravaganza. All Sunday racing begins at 2:30.
The next Stakes races are set for Sunday July 11 with the Governor’s Handicap and State Legislators Stakes.