(Auburn, WA) It was also a Monday night when the Thunder went silent back on September 21, 1992. Longacres ran live Thoroughbred Horse Racing for 59 years. 23,000 people crammed the only home most horse racing fans ever knew to watch their beloved sport live in Renton. It all came down to one final race and Longacres Track Announcer Gary Henson refused to call it instead when the gates burst open he stated “these horses belong to you. Listen to their final thunder.”
Gary Stevens won the final race ever at Longacres aboard Native Rustler. After the final official sign lit-up with the final pay-outs fans walked out on the track, wondering if they will ever get to see live racing in Western Washington ever again.
The sun did rise again though and a group of investors led by Ron Crockett and Jack Hodge and when all was said and done Emerald Downs was born. The opening date was set June 20, 1996. Two weeks prior to the scheduled opening date it looked like there was no way the track would be ready. None of the Grandstand seats were installed, final coats of paint even the grass for the Park area was stacked on pallets waiting to be laid by the grounds keeping team.
Miraculously the work crews pulling 24-hour shifts were ready for June 20, 1996 and just shy of 4 years since that last race at Longacres. Huge lines were at the front gates of the sparkling new track in Auburn and the next chapter of live racing was off and running.
The racing industry has certainly had its ups and downs over the past 20 years as Crockett and NW Racing Associates guided nearly the next 2 decades of Washington State racing. Crockett recently handed the baton off to the Muckleshoot Indians who took over ownership of the track about 14 months ago. Crockett remains on as a consultant and Hodge remains as the Vice-President of Operations while the tribe appointed Phil Ziegler as the new President of Emerald Downs racing.
The Muckleshoots will honor the 20 year anniversary Monday with a special Monday evening 7-race card starting at 6:30 but celebrations beginning at 6pm. The night will be highlighted with the running of the $50,000 Washington State Legislators Stakes. Much of the festivities will be hosted by the “face and voice” of not only Emerald Downs but Washington State Horse Racing Joe Withee.
There will be plenty of guests coming back for the anniversary celebration including the only track announcer Emerald Downs has known until 1-year ago, Robert Geller. Geller took the job announcing races at Woodbine in Toronto. Geller will call the feature race the Legislature Stakes, which was the last Stakes race he called prior to leaving last season. Geller was replaced by Matt Dinerman.
Former Longacres Mile Champions will also be on hand No Giveaway, Flamethrowintexan, Wasserman and Noosa Beach. The four runners will parade on track and into the Winner’s Circle after the 3rd race.
Fans will benefit with special admission, parking and concession pricing rolled back to 1996. The Thoroughbred Racing industry in Washington State has been through the ringer starting as really the only professional sport in the Seattle area from Longacres opening to the Supersonics then Mariners and Seahawks.
However, Racing has done something that the NBA has not been able to do and that is bounce back after having your “team” taken from you, in this case the place the players of racing competed. Racing also has done it without 1-penny of State funds to build their magnificent stadium. NW Racing Associates paid for the construction in full with private money. Something that can not be said about any of the big professional sports leagues.
It was all worthwhile when the betting favorite, Strawberry Morn pulled away for a 10-length win in the US Bank Stakes on that hot Thursday afternoon, June 20, 1996. Since then nearly 17,000 races have been run at the Auburn oval and with the new leadership from Phil Ziegler and the Muckleshoots it looks like there is another long run of success dead ahead.