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Enriquez set to defend riding title; deep colony features Gutierrez, Mawing

April 5, 2014     E-mail this page to a friend!

It didn’t take much to convince Isaias Enriquez to return to Emerald Downs for the 2014 season. In fact, with the 19th season opener set for Saturday, April 12, Enriquez is already here working horses to prepare for his title defense.

Coming off a season in which he won 101 races, while earning respect from horsemen and admiration from fans, Enriquez knows the other riders will be hungry to ascend his throne.

“I told my agent Vito (Lucarelli), ‘I’m definitely coming back to Emerald,’” Enriquez said. “I was doing well down at Golden Gate this winter and getting on more and more horses, but I spoke to my wife about staying in California or going to Emerald, and we both said ‘let’s go.’”

With an affinity for the Northwest scene and a terrific season at Emerald Downs that also included a meet-leading $1,008,224 in earnings, Enriquez said there was never a doubt about him returning for another shot for top riding honors. The 40-year-old native of Tijuana had a blast in his first go-round at Emerald.

Enriquez was a hit practically from the opening bell. After being blanked on opening night, he proceeded to ride at least one winner on the next 16 cards, as horsemen quickly figured out Enriquez possessed both power and finesse, that rare combination that allows a rider to place a horse early, and coax a final burst of energy late.

Naturally, the news of Enriquez’ return could be bittersweet for local riders who, while raving of the rider’s warm personality, also know his presence makes a formidable rival in the room.

Juan Gutierrez, for one, welcomes the competition and said he’s ready to exact revenge on Enriquez. The 2012 riding champion, Gutierrez actually led Enriquez 96-94 heading into the final two weeks last season before suffering a concussion and torn rotator cuff in a September 14 spill.

“I think that if I had never gotten hurt that I had the best chance to win the title,” Gutierrez said. “It would’ve been close, but I think I would’ve won.”

Leslie Mawing, the 2011 Emerald Downs riding champ, also returns after a year’s hiatus. The South African native dominated the 2011 season with 129 victories before finishing second to Gutierrez in 2012 with 97 wins.

Also coming up from California is Mexico City native Felipe Valdez. The 35-year-old Valdez has ridden at several tracks up and down the West Coast, including several seasons at Hastings Racecourse.

Rocco Bowen, who tied with Gutierrez for six stakes wins in 2013, and Gallyn Mitchell, the track’s all-time leader in wins, are back fresh off solid campaigns at Turf Paradise, where they snapped off 46 and 35 wins, respectively.

Eliska Kubinova, who finished third in both 2012 and 2013, also figures to contend for the title. The talented Czech captured her first title with 55 winners at Portland Meadows this winter. Kubinova leads a strong contingent of women riders that includes Jennifer Whitaker, Anne Sanguinetti, and Connie Doll.

Also returning from last year are Javier Matias, Leonel Camacho-Flores, Ronald Richard, Jorge Rosales, Lorenzo Lopez, and apprentice B. Chance Boulanger.

Stopshoppingdebbie to be featured in Seattle Times

Award-winning Seattle Times photographer John Lok was at Tom Wenzel’s barn Friday, staging an elaborate photo shoot of 4-year-old filly sensation Stopshoppingdebbie. Scott Hanson, who covers Emerald Downs for the Times, is writing the feature to accompany the photos, which included shots of Stopshoppingdebbie, regular rider Rocco Bowen and groom Oscar Mariscal.

A Northwest Farms homebred by Curlin out of Taste The Passion (by Wild Again), Stopshoppingdebbie swept the 3-year-old filly stakes division last year and was runner-up in Horse of the Meeting voting. Including her maiden win in 2012, Stopshoppingdebbie is 5-for-5 with earnings of $128,773.

The older fillies and mares kick off the 29-race stakes schedule on May 11 with the $50,000 Hastings Handicap at six furlongs. Stable mates Blueberry Smoothie and Goin To The Window figure to be ’Debbie’s main challengers, and new shooter Finding More adds depth to the division.

WTBOA champion 2-year-old filly of 2012, Finding More won a stakes at Fair Grounds and an allowance at Churchill Downs as a juvenile, and is now trained by Jim Penney.

Emerald Racing Club claims its first horse!

With 128 members on board, the Emerald Racing Club became official Thoroughbred owners Friday when syndicate trainers Larry and Sharon Ross claimed 6-year-old Dancing Yodeler for $3,200 in the second race at Golden Gate Fields.

A handsome chestnut gelding by Swiss Yodeler-Phaenna, Dancing Yodeler finished third beaten a neck, leading to deep stretch before being overhauled by Party At My Place and Don Perico at 5 ½ furlongs. For his career, Dancing Yodeler is 10-13-6 in 54 starts with earnings of $102,816. On dirt, the surface he will race on at Emerald Downs, Dancing Yodeler is 2-3-0 in eight starts, earning $19,520.

Super Bowl champion Seahawks prominent at EmD
The Seattle Seahawks are a hot item at Emerald Downs in 2014. The track recently announced it has designed a special “I Bet On The 12” T-shirt that will be given away to paid admissions (while supplies last) on Friday, May 2. Each subsequent Friday throughout the season—22 in all—fans wearing their Fabulous Friday T-shirt will receive free admission to the day’s races.

Now horsemen are joining the fun too. The track has already identified four 2-year-olds named after the Super Bowl champion Seahawks and their fans, meaning it could be hunch players galore for ’Hawks fans later this meet.

Legion Of Boom, trained by Mike Puhich, figures to garner the most hype. By Harbor The Gold out of Bahati (by Horse Chestnut), the 2-year-old colt is a full brother to champions Couldabenthewhisky and Del Rio Harbor, who each won championships as 2-year-olds at Emerald Downs.

Puhich also trains Volume Twelve, a Kentucky-bred colt. The other two (so far) are WA-bred fillies Twelfth Fan and Shehawk.

In another “12” coincidence, Emerald Downs opening day is Saturday, April 12, with first post 2 p.m.

Also . . .

12-year-old Wasserman is retired now, but the track’s all-time leading earner (with $575,024) will be celebrated on Sunday, August 24, with the track’s first-ever bobblehead giveaway.

2013 Longacres Mile winner Herbie D is back in training at Hastings Racecourse, logging a pair of recent drills for trainer Robert Gilker including three furlongs in :363 on Tuesday morning, April 1.

Entries for Opening Day, Saturday, April 12, will be drawn, Wednesday, April 9, while entries for Sunday, April 13, will be drawn Thursday, April 10.

Emerald ED is back in session Sunday, April 13, at 1:00 p.m. in the Emerald Room. Hosted by Director of Media Relations Vince Bruun, the introductory class looks at handicapping basics with Jacob Pollowitz, Assistant Director of Media Relations, the opening week featured guest.

Trainer Dave Bennett, 18th all-time with 222 wins at Emerald Downs, has retired and plans to live year-round in Phoenix. Bennett has four stakes wins at Emerald Downs, including a victory by 2-year-old Dallon’s Gold in the $50,000 Cahill Road Stakes last September.

Opening Day giveaway: Emerald Downs will give away travel mugs sporting the track’s signature logo to the first 4,000 fans with paid admission on Opening Day, Saturday, April 12.

Washington Racing Hall of Fame jockey Gary Baze began his new duties as Emerald Downs’ steward on Friday, April 4.