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Wasserman vs. The Great Face opening night showdown

April 15, 2009     E-mail this page to a friend!

Wasserman (#5, outside) gets a nose in front of Call On Carson (#6), Chhaya Dance (#3) and Only One Way to win the $50K Governor's Handicap at Emerald Downs on July 6, 2008.
(photo by Erin Palmer, courtesy of Emerald Downs)
By Vince Bruun, Emerald Downs, and TRJ staff

This is the way to open a season: A feature race featuring the last two winners of the Longacres Mile. That is the prospect that awaits fans who attend Friday evening’s 14th season opener at Emerald Downs. The promising weather forecast—calling for sunny skies with temperatures in the 60s—and the opening night festivities will enhance the evening’s eight-race program.

All of it, however, will take a back seat to the seventh race. The $20,000 allowance at 5˝ furlongs features Wasserman and The Great Face in a showdown of the 2008 and 2007 Longacres Mile winners. History tells us that even though it’s just the first of 91 days of racing, the winner might be in for a sensational campaign.

The Great Face, after all, tied the world record of 1:011 while capturing the same allowance race on opening night of the 2007 meet. And last year, Wasserman braved freezing opening night weather that included snow flurries while rallying for a half-length victory in 1:021.

The Great Face hasn’t raced since his head victory over Raise the Bluff some 20 months ago, but trainer Tom Wenzel said the relatively short distance should help his charge. He also didn’t want to put The Great Face in the position of playing catch-up with Wasserman all season long.

“Five-and-a-half is a distance he’s handled pretty well in the past,” Wenzel said of the 7-year-old gelding.

Although The Great Face and Wasserman are both 7-year-old geldings by Cahill Road, their running styles are quite different. The former is pure speed while the latter is a confirmed closer, a scenario that could help The Great Face, who might be only speed in the race.

Howard Belvoir, owner/trainer of Wasserman, said it would be difficult for his horse to top 2008, when Wasserman won four stakes and was Horse of the Meeting.

“It’s always tough to have two good years in a row, and he’s had two already,” Belvoir said. “But he’s doing well, and he should be as fit as any of ’em.”

Margo’s Gift, a four-time stakes winner at Emerald Downs, adds depth to the field and makes for a lineup that includes three of the top 100 Washington-bred earners of all-time.

The field for the seventh race, in post-position order (all 119 lbs.):

   Assessment (18-3-1-3-$98,890), Gallyn Mitchell
   Margo’s Gift (12-6-2-3-$304,414), Ricky Frazier
   Flaming Bullet (34-8-10-5-$99,572), Jose Luis Zunino
   The Great Face (15-7-2-1-$337,159), Juan Gutierrez
   Wasserman (39-9-9-5-$442,149), Jennifer Whitaker

Additional opening night notes:

  • Seventy-two horses are entered on Friday’s eight-race card for an average of nine per race, an increase of 16 percent over last year.

  • Howard Belvoir, leading opening-day trainer at Emerald Downs with 10 wins, has horses entered in every race but the fifth.

  • Tim McCanna, the all-time leading trainer at Emerald Downs with 644 wins, saddles horses in three of Friday’s first four races. McCanna is gunning for his third straight training title after winning a record 66 races in 2008.

  • Jockey Osman Cedeno returns to Emerald Downs with two mounts on opening night. Cedeno last rode at Emerald Downs in 2002

  • Jockey Jose Luis Zunino returns to Emerald Downs after a year’s absence. The 40-year-old Argentina native tied for fifth in the jockey standings in 2007 with 48 wins.

  • Jockey Matt Hagerty, the leading apprentice last season with 30 wins, will remain a bug rider through June 28. He has four mounts on opening night.

  • Jockey Cassie Papineau, daughter of multiple Intermountain riding champion Cammie Papineau, makes her debut at Emerald Downs with five mounts on opening night. Papineau began her career by winning the first race she rode, on June 27, 2008, at Les Bois Park, and continued her apprenticeship at the 2008-2009 Turf Paradise meeting, where she currently sports a 14.5% win-percentage.

  • Jockey Troy Stillwell also has five mounts on opening night. Stillwell came out of a 19-year retirement in 2008 to win the riding title at Grants Pass Downs and followed that success by finishing a respectable fourth place in the rider standings this winter at Portland Meadows with 55 wins.

  • KJR Sports Radio 950 and Emerald Downs will continue their relationship in 2009. In addition to broadcasting live from the track on opening night, KJR Sports Radio 950 airs the The Win, Place Show every Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. and live broadcasts of all the stakes events for older horses.

  • Director of Racing Bret Anderson reports 1,090 horses on the grounds, down only 20 horses from opening day 2008.

First post on Friday night is at 6:00 p.m.