ALEX CRUZ READY TO ROLL AS EMERALD DOWNS OPENS
AUBURN, Wash. (May 4) – When Emerald Downs launches its 28th season of live racing Saturday, Alex Cruz begins what could be an historical campaign for the 29-year-old jockey.
Cruz bids to become the first jockey in state history to win four consecutive riding titles at the same track. The list of riders to win three straight is like a who’s who of Washington racing, including Hall of Famers Gary Baze (1973-75) and Gary Boulanger (1989-91) at Longacres and Rocco Bowen (2016-18) and Cruz (2020-22) at Emerald Downs.
“That’s my goal for this year, to win the title again,” said Cruz, who visited the winner’s circle 90 times in 52 days last year. “I ride all the horses the same, doesn’t matter if they’re expensive or inexpensive. I just want to win the title.”
Cruz rides in six of seven races Saturday as opening day festivities include simulcast wagering on the 149th Kentucky Derby from Louisville. First post is 1 p.m. with the Kentucky Derby carded between races four and five at 3:57 p.m.
For Cruz, Saturday marks a return to action following a March 1 spill in which he sustained a broken collarbone and two broken ribs at Turf Paradise. He could have ridden the end of the meet in Phoenix but chose to head north, heal up, and get ready for his title defense at Emerald Downs. He’s been getting on five or six horses a morning and raring to go.
“I feel pretty good and have recovered pretty well,” Cruz said. “I’m just excited to get back in the saddle on opening day. Broken ribs are the worst, you don’t even want to sneeze the pain is so bad.”
In three seasons at Emerald Downs, Cruz has ridden 237 winners in 139 racing days while averaging 1.70 wins per day.
Kevin Radke, second last year with 77 wins, and newcomer Luis Negron figure to challenge Cruz for the title in 2023.
Last year’s leading stakes rider at Emerald Downs, Radke captured the 2022 title at the Big Fresno Fair before tying William Antongeorgi for the fall title at Golden Gate Fields.
Negron rides all seven races Saturday including two for newcomer Justin Evans, whom he has combined to win 183 races since 2019. Negron, like Cruz, is a native of Puerto Rico and has captured riding titles at Albuquerque, Ruidoso Downs, Sunland Park, Sunray Park, and Zia Park.
In the training ranks, Jorge Rosales defends his title against strong competition including seven-time champion Frank Lucarelli, four-time champ Jeff Metz, and two-time champion Blaine Wright. Washington Hall of Fame trainer Howard Belvoir returns along with perennial contenders Candi Cryderman, Tom Wenzel, Kay Cooper, and Vince Gibson.
Evans arrives from Phoenix with over 40 horses and has already clinched a third straight title at Turf Paradise, entering closing weekend with a commanding 69-39 lead over Jose Silva. The 41-year-old Evans has over 2,400 career wins and sports a career win percentage of 24.2.
Coming off a 25-win season in 2022, John Parker bids for his fifth leading owner title in seven years.
Defending Horse of the Meeting and 2022 Longacres Mile winner Slew’s Tiz Whiz is currently training with Wenzel and slated to make his season debut in either the $50,000 Budweiser Stakes on June 25 or an allowance race. The 88th running of the $150,000 Longacres Mile is Sunday, Aug. 13, anchoring a 23-event stakes program worth $1,240,000.
There is no racing Sunday, May 7; racing resumes Saturday, May 13 and Sunday, May 14, with the normal 2 p.m. weekend post time. Friday racing begins June 9 with a 7 p.m. post. Saturday post is 5 p.m. beginning July 1 continuing thru Sept. 16.
Monday racing May 29, 2 p.m. (Memorial Day), and July 3, 5 p.m. (Fireworks).
KEY EMERALD DOWNS DATES
May 6: Opening Day, 1 p.m.
June 9: Fab Friday T-Shirt Giveaway, 7 p.m.
June 16-18: Indian Relay Racing
June 18: First stakes events—$50,000 Seattle Stakes, $50,000 Auburn Stakes
July 1: Saturday twilight racing begins
July 3: Fireworks Spectacular
July 23: Corgi Races
Aug 6: Turn Back the Clock Day
Aug 12: Washington Racing Hall of Fame Induction
Aug 13: Championship Sunday featuring $150,000 Longacres Mile
Aug 20: T-Rex World Championship Races
Sept 10: Fan Appreciation Day
Sept 17: Closing Day