(Auburn, WA) We set the stage in our preview story of the 2016 Emerald Downs Derby with memories of that classic rivalry from the 1978 Triple Crown run between Affirmed and Alydar with the undefeated Barkley beating rival Mach One Rules 3 straight times in 3 stakes races this season and a winning margin of never more than a neck. We did mention a couple of invaders fresh from the Chris Loseth Handicap at Hastings Park in Vancouver BC and boy did they make an impact.
Opportunistic won the race on the bullring and Silvertown finished 3rd. This did little to impress the Emerald Downs bettors as the bulk of the betting went to favorite Barkley at 6-5 while Mach One Rules was the 2nd favorite at 2-1 as the gates sprung for the mile and an eighth race.
Mach One Rules is usually on the lead from the start but it was expected that Huya with Juan Gutierrez would press Mach One Rules and he did more than that taking the early lead. Surprisingly it was Silvertown who would also start fast and run into 2nd place early while Mach One Rules with Leslie Mawing sat 3rd. Down the stretch for the 1st time Barkley was parked on the outside in 4th place followed by Opportunistic and Wando Cat.
As the horses made their way up the back stretch Huya continued to lead and as they hit the far turn Silvertown and rider Eshwan Flores turned up the pressure. Mach One Rules began building some momentum on the outside while Barkley was hung out even further and would have to take the long way home. All along Opportunistic with David Lopez aboard waited for his “opportunity” while getting stacked up behind horses looking for a way through when Mach One Rules began to tire and drifted out creating a space for Opportunistic to strike.
Lopez pressed go and Opportunistic burst through but Barkley with Javier Matias was bearing down from the outside and looked to have the advantage at the eighth pole. Barkley continued to lead to the sixteenth but Opportunistic dug in for Lopez and the two went head and head to the wire where Opportunistic finished a head better handing Barkley his first career defeat.
ESN talked with Lopez after the race and he admitted at the top of the stretch he was “not in a position I wanted to be in”, behind several front runners looking for a space to make a move. Lopez saw Mach One Rules start to float out and he seized upon the opportunity and fired through the inside.
At the same time this pushed Barkley even wider causing him to take aim further outside and very likely was the difference in the race. Lopez seemingly turned the tables on Matias who is known for riding the rail but never really had an opportunity to take the inside route. Lopez was also impressed with how Opportunistic dug deep to win from inside the pressure of Barkley and Matias. Lopez said, “he showed a lot of bravery in this race, he really grew up and didn’t back down. I was impressed with how hard he ran from the inside”.
Opportunistic is owned by Mark Dedomenico and began his career in Southern California with his maiden win at the $75,000 claiming level. This after 3 rather dull efforts at the Maiden Special Weight class. Following his win he gave the turf a try and finished up the track. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer handled Opportunistic at Santa Anita and then was shipped to Hastings under the care of veteran conditioner Troy Taylor and won the Loseth Handicap.
At Emerald Downs it was Mike Puhich’s turn to drive so to speak and took Opportunistic into his barn. This was Puhich’s second straight Emerald Derby win taking it last year with Prime Engine. Puhich says the three trainers work well together and now each of them have a winner’s circle picture with Opportunistic.
Puhich says he’s never had a horse with so much energy and wasn’t concerned too much when he was stuck behind horses. Puhich says he tells his riders he would rather lose saving ground than take the overland route.
Puhich says he believes they will head to Edmonton Derby next followed by the BC Derby. He says they were hoping early on he might have what it takes to compete on the Triple Crown level but Puhich says he simply wasn’t mature enough nor had it mentally to compete at that high of level. But is excited for his future as he is really coming into his own.
Opportunistic went off at nearly 6-1 returning $13.80 to win while Barkley settled for 2nd, Silvertown held on for 3rd and Mach One Rules flattened out to be 4th. Wando Cat trailed the entire race and only passed a tiring Huya in the stretch. Opportunistic collected more than $40,000 for his effort nearly doubling his career winnings to $88,000. Barkely’s earnings climbed to almost 150k for trainer Howard Belvoir who also owns Barkley with the Rising Star Stable.
*Jockey Diego Sanchez was the honorary steward for the Emerald Derby. Sanchez was a regular rider in the Emerald Downs jockey colony when tragedy struck on April 30. He was thrown from a mount and broke his back and is now paralyzed from the waste down. Emerald Downs held a fundraiser this weekend to help Sanchez deal with the medical bills.
*Jockey Ronald Richard won the jockey foot race and with that a $1,000 donation in his name was made to Sanchez. The foot race was not without it’s own controversy as it appeared there was some “jostling about” in deep stretch but the stewards let the results stand.
*Leading Jockey Rocco Bowen had to take off several rides on Sunday with a leg injury. Bowen had a 16-day win streak on the line but did win twice early and now has at least one win in 17 straight days. He is scheduled to ride a stakes race on Monday at Assiniboia Downs in Canada, it was unknown at the time of this story if he will be able to ride.