(Auburn, WA) The 2023 live racing season began on Saturday, Kentucky Derby day at Emerald Downs. The 7 race card kicked off the 52-day season and was highlighted by the run for the roses from Louisville, Kentucky the 149th edition of the Kentucky Derby, the 1st race of horse racing’s triple crown.

Below is the coverage of all 7 opening day races at Emerald Downs along with coverage from Churchill Downs of the Derby.

149th Running of the Kentucky Derby

First the news early on Derby day shook the entire race when favorite Forte was scratched from the race. Forte was forced to withdraw after a Derby morning vet exam revealed a hoof bruise. The bruise occurred earlier in the week and trainer Todd Pletcher notified the state Vets and they had been monitoring his progress and out of being very cautious had to make the heart-wrenching decision to scratch the horse. Forte is owned by Mike Repole who told the NY Post he thinks he and Pletcher will need more time to recover than Forte. The Preakness will be the next target.

4 other horses had been scratched prior to Saturday and included Skinner who had an elevated temperature on Friday and previous to that, Practical Move, Lord Miles and Continuar were all scratched. This left a field of 18 which would be the 1st 18 horse field since 2015 when American Pharoah won the rose bouquet.

With Forte out that elevated Tapit Trice with Luis Saez and Angel of the Empire with Flavien Prat as the co-favorites at 9-2. Two Phil’s and Derma Sotogate were both at 8-1 and all others were in double digits with the longest shot being 30-1 Jace’s Road.

As the 149th began Verifying and Kingsbarns went to the lead and set a brisk pace running the quarter in 22.35 and the half 45.73. Verifying would lead through 6 furlongs of the mile and quarter run and then fade quickly finishing 16th. Kingsbarns inherited the lead but not for long and also faded to 14th so would front speed be a factor on this day, simply no.

The true race began at the back of the pack with 4-1 favorite Angel of Empire running in the pack of the last 4 or so along with 2nd favorite Tapit Trice at 9-2 who was last. Among those near the back early was 15-1 Mage with Javier Castellano riding in his 16th Derby and still searching for his 1st win. 8-1 Two Phil’s at 8-1 was ridden by 35-year-old Jareth Loveberry who was making his Derby debut after 18 years of riding. Loveberry and Two Phil’s sat 4th behind the frontrunners early on positioning to get the first run when they turned for home.

At the top of the stretch Two Phil’s found a hole where Verifying was fading to the inside of Kingsbarns while Mage was between horses in 12th about 7 lengths behind while Angel of Empire was further back to the inside where jockey Flavien Prat had saved a ton of ground. Inside the quarter pole Two Phil’s dove to the rail and took the lead while Mage found a hole to the outside and shifted to the middle of the track and Angel of Empire just to his inside but still a length behind Mage.

At the 1/8th pole Two Phil’s had a clear lead but the closers were gathering steam led by Mage who veered in a bit but did not contact anyone as they engage for the drive. Angel of Empire held his position to the outside while 27-1 Disarm with Joel Rosario was also closing. But Mage and Castellano had too much momentum and rolled to the front catching Two Phil’s and passing him at the 16th pole while Angel of Empire was about 2 lengths behind that pair and closing fast.

Mage and Javier Castellano

Two Phil’s dug in and tried to comeback on Mage but Mage edged away to win by a length, Two Phil’s held on for 2nd by a long neck over Angel of Empire. Disarm ran on for 4th and 24-1 Hit Show with Manuel Franco finished well to claim 5th to complete the Super High 5.

Trainer Gustavo Delgado won his 1st Derby for a conglomerate of owners and Castellano finally got the big trophy. Mage ran the mile and quarter in 2:01.57 well off the 1:59.40 set by Secretariat 50-years ago on May 5, 1973. Mage collected 1.86-million dollars for his win while Two Phil’s picked up 600k for 2nd, Angel of Empire 300k for 3rd, 150k for 4th place Disarm and 90k went to Hit Show for 5th. The other 13 entries got nothing but the honor of running in the Kentucky Derby.

Mage rewarded his supporters at the betting window returning $32 on the $2 win. As usual the Derby remains the single best race of the year for those who like to bet show with Mage returning $9.08, Two Phil’s at 8-1 returned $6.52 and the 4-1 favorite Angel of Empire was good for an astounding $4.70. The $1 exacta paid $165.22, the 50-cent trifecta returned $491.18, the $1 superfecta was $15,643.65 and the $1 Super High 5 $194,923.04.  For a full list of all the other pays including the Oaks/Derby double, future bets, Pick 3s, 4s and 5s can be found on this link: Equibase Kentucky Derby Chart

Replay of the 149th Kentucky Derby

Emerald Downs Day 1

The opening day card had 7 races with 39 total starters for an average of 5.6 horses per race. It’s been a rough spring for training so many horses are not quite ready to hit the starting gate. With better weather more and more horses will be rounding into race shape.

Alex Cruz is back trying  to become the 1st jockey ever to win 4 straight riding titles in Washington state. 2nd leading rider Kevin Radke is also back along with many new faces. For more on the jockeys check out our jockey preview story on this link.

Race 1

A field of 4 went 1-mile after morning line favorite Erotic scratched which also cost Alex Cruz his 1st ride of the season. The favorite ended up being #1 Vintage Kitten with Kevin Radke aboard for owner/trainer Jennifer Nunnally and co-owner Michael Messing.

When the gates opened 7-2 Proud Lion with Jennifer Whitaker went straight to the lead along with 5-2 Runaway Kristin and Luis Negron. 2-1 2nd choice Command Sgt Major and Silvio Amador was 3rd with the favorite Vintage Kitten a close up 4th on the rail.

That order stayed the same for the most part but Vintage Kitten had closed up just behind the front runners and when they turned for home the 6-year-old gelding swung to the outside and pulled away to win by nearly 3 lengths.

Vintage Kitten  by Kitten’s Joy, out of Nominative by Johar was also bred by Nunnally. The 3-2 favorite by $5 to win and ran the mile in 1:37.29.

Stretch run of the 1st race of the 2023 season

Race 2

Confidence Builder with Silvio Amador

A field of 5 went 5 furlongs and Confidence Builder with jockey Silvio Amador winning his 1st race at Emerald Downs. Amador set the 4-1 shot out of the gate in perfect position sitting 3rd just behind the front running Keepmypromise and 1-1 favorite Youonlylivetwice. Foggy Bottom shifted back to 4th and Sassy Einstein brought up the rear but only about 6 lengths separated the field.

Turning for home Confidence Builder loomed up to the heels of the front runners and veered to the outside for a clear rundashing by Keepmypromise to pull away for a 2 length victory. Keepmypromise held on for 2nd by a neck over a closing Foggy Bottom while Youonlylivetwice completed the superfecta.

Confidence Builder stop the clock for the 5/8’s in 57.42. The 4-year-old filly by Stanford is out of Blues and Silvers by Eurosilver. Confidence Builder is owned and trained by David Martinez and co-owned by Russell Hulk. The $2 win was good for $10.40, the 50-cent trifecta was nice return of $41.80 and the $1 superfecta paid $141.70. The 1st Daily Double of the year returned $20.80.

Race 3

6 broke from the gate in the 3rd going 5-furlongs and another 1st time win for one of our new riders. Luis Negron was on the 6-5 betting choice Devil’s Off Duty and broke from the 3 hole. Negron sat Devil just off the pace in 3rd just a length behind #1 Big Galute with Kevin Orozco and #2 Teachersbugsaroo with Radke.

Orozco and Big Galute battle on with a tight lead turning for home when Negron wheeled Devil to the outside with Teacher between horses and the pair began to engage B-G . Devil’s Off Duty had plenty in the tank and all the momentum and rolled to a length and a half win over Teachersbugsaroo who was 3/4’s in front of a tiring Big Galute. 27-1 Validate got up to run 4th.

Devil’s Off Duty ran the 5-furlongs in a time of 57.33 and paid $4.40 and the 1st pick-3 of the year paying $26.65. Devil’s Off Duty is owned by Kenneth and Vicky Jo Elison and trained by Debbie Peery. The 5-year-old gelding is by Boos, out of Lil Devilish by Roman Dancer.

Luis Negron gets his 1st win at Emerald Downs

Race 4

5 starters went 5 1/2 in the 4th race, the race prior to the running of the Kentucky Derby and our 3rd new rider found the Winners Circle, Alexis Valdes. Valdes got the call on Double Perfection trained by last year’s Champion Trainer Jorge Rosales. The public wasn’t about to let Rosales’ runner fool them and bet Double P down to 6-5.

But first Valdes and Double Perfection would have to deal  with the 2nd choice Eye Candy Randy with Kevin Orozco. Orozco and Randy went straight to the lead and set brisk fractions of 21.47 and 43.81 and held a 2 length advantage heading into the stretch. Valdes then set D-P down for the drive and pulled even about the 16th pole and edged away for a 2 length win. Eye Candy Randy held 2nd by nearly 4 lengths over 18-1 Western Rule with Jennifer Whitaker while Miley’s Bluecat capped off the super.

Double Perfection by Majesticperfection out of Double Dip by French Envoy stopped the clock in a time of 1:02.56. D-P was claimed but then the claim was voided. Julie Hebdon is the owner and trainer Jorge Rosales did make the 1st claim of the season when he took Miley’s Bluecat for Hillary Durham and Rosales Racing #1 for $5,000. Double Perfection was also the final leg of the 1st Pick 4 of the season and the 50-cent bet returned $43.60.

ESN talks to defending Trainer Champ Jorge Rosales

Race 5

The 5th race featured another 1st time winner at Emerald Downs but it was trainer Justin Evans who has shipped up from Turf Paradise. Evans brings a solid stable and intends on making an impact on NW racing. Evans owns and trains Atomic Candy and was bet down to odds on and Luis Negron was looking for his 2nd win of the day.

What the overwhelming favorite wasn’t likely counting on was 11-1 outsider Provost with Carlos Montalvo jetting to the lead in the 1-mile run and refusing to give in. Provost and Montalvo ran the 3/4’s in 1:10.15 and led by 2 lengths. Atomic Candy settled in right behind but the 2 made the 6 horse field a match race as they led by more than 4 lengths for the entire lap.

At the quarter pole Atomic Candy surged to poke his nose in front and led by a head at the top of the stretch. Provost would not give in and down the stretch A-C could not shake the longshot but held the 6-year-old off for a win by a neck. 7-1 Baby Frankie at 7-1 finished 3rd followed by Hey Sequoia for 4th.

Despite an odds-on winner the $1 superfecta paid over $200 and the 50-cent trifecta was good for $34.75. Atomic Candy ran the mile in 1:35.24. The California bred by Heatseeker out of Albany Candy by Candy Ride is also owned by Evans.

ESN Talks with Justin Evans

6th Race Feature Race The Caliber Concrete Construction Purse

6 starters went 6 1/2 furlongs in the 1st feature race of the season with a 16k purse. Dirt Road Red was bet down to 3-2 with Luis Negron aboard and came from well off the pace of frontrunner Polacco. Polacco with Kevin Radke went straight to the lead and drew off to a significant 3 length lead. Down the stretch it looked like Radke and Polacco had flown the coup but Dirt Red Road dug in and was closing with a rush and when they hit the wire Radke had thought he got caught but Polacco got his head down while Dirt Red Road’s bob was up and Polacco scored the tight nose win. It was Radke’s 2nd win on the day. 3 lengths back was Mosquito Fleet with Alex Cruz while You’re the Cause and Javier Matias finished 4th.

4-year-old Polacco by Bluegrass Cat out of Penny N Mitzi by More Than Ready is owned by Carter James and trained by Jill Sorrano. Polacco ran the 6 1/2 in 1:14.69 and paid $9.80 on the $2 win. This was the 4th straight win for Polacco who ran off 3 in a row at Golden Gate. Polacco is now 6-0-0 from 12 lifetime starts and has pushed his bankroll to more than $47,000.

Joe Withee and the connections in the Feature Race Winners Circle

7th Race

In the finale on opening day retired trainer Robert Bean made his comeback stepping out of retirement. Bean told ESN, “I tried spelling retire and got to r-e and decided I wasn’t ready and came back to the barn.” Bean sent out G G Rules from the 1 hole with Radke aboard shooting for his 3rd win of the day. The 3-year-old filly went off at 7-2 the 3rd choice.

Radke laid off the pace of the 5 1/2 furlongs but stuck to the fence watching Cheater’s Waltz set the tone with Jose Rodriguez up and held a 3 length lead entering the far turn. Rodriguez threatening to be the 4th new rider to get a win on opening day. But Radke had different plans and as they wheeled for home the rail opened up and Radke sent G G through who quickly engaged Cheater’s Waltz and Ted’s Candy Girl with Silvio Anador. Those 2 would put away the front runner and battle for the lead at the 16th pole but Radke and G G had too much cleared away for the 1 1/4 length win.

Meantime, 3rd place ended in the first deadheat of the season when Bossy’s Pegasus with Alex Cruz caught Cheater’s Waltz on the wire for the show. 

Beane’s wife Luanne owns the filly by Lakerville out of Silber by Bertrando who ran the 5 1/2 in a time of 1:04.67. G G Rules breaks her maiden in this one her 7th lifetime start and now sports a 1-1-2 record. The Beans claimed G G 2 races ago at Los Alamitos for $3,500 and earned $4,930 in her 2nd start for the Bean’s.

G G Rules pulls away for the win

The Stretch Run

The Stretch run is an overview of the day from jockeys to trainers to owners and special events.

“From the Saddle”

It was a great opener for 2nd leading rider and former Emerald Downs Champion jockey Kevin Radke who won the 1st race of the season then book ended it with the 1st feature race of the year, the 1st Winners Circle interview with Joe Withee and then won the 7th and final race of the day for a triple and the early lead in the jockey standings. Radke didn’t miss the board in his 6 rides compiling a 3 wins, 1 2nd, 1 3rd and 14th place finish on the board for the 100% in the superfecta stat.

ESN talks with Kevin Radke winning the opening race

Newcomer Luis Megron let it be known he is here to compete and win and doubled on his 1st day in Auburn winning the 3rd and 5th races and just missing him having a triple losing a nose to Radke in the feature. Negron had 7 rides with 2 wins, 2 places 1 show and a 4th place finish for 6 of 7 in the superfecta and took 6th in the finale.

ESN talks with Luis Negron on his 1st win at Emerald

Silvio Amador also with a strong start to his run here at Emerald Downs winning the 2nd race and finishing the day with a 1-1-1 mark from 4 rides. Alexis Valdes had 3 rides with a win in the 4th on Double Perfection and took 2nd in the 2nd to finish with a win and a place from 3 rides.

3-time defending Champ Alex Cruz in his 1st day back riding races since a serious spill in early March at Turf Paradise got off to a slow start. First, his mount in the 1st race, the morning line favorite was scratched. His 1st race back was then in the 3rd on Sun and Surf who ran an even 5th place. He would ride the rest of the card and his best finish was a 3rd in the feature on Mosquito Fleet and a dead-heat for 3rd in the 7th on Bossy Pegasus. This shouldn’t be surprising being Cruz’s 1st day back riding races. No one should think this is going to be the norm for Cruz, we’ll be surprised if he’s not back right in the thick of things after next weekend’s races.

Kevin Orozco is back and Orozco nearly found the winners circle on day 1 with a 2nd in the 4th and a lead deep in stretch before Eye Candy Randy ran out of gas and just missed. Orozco also had a strong showing with a 3rd place in the 3rd race with another frontrunner that tired late. Jennifer Whitaker rode 3 times all for trainer Howard Belvoir and recorded a pair of 4ths and a show finish. Carlos Montalvo just missed with 11-1 Provost in 5th losing to odds-on choice Atomic Candy by a neck. It would have been the longest shot of the day. And longtime Emerald rider Javier Matias got 1 ride on Saturday and finished 4th in the feature on You’re the Cause.

“From the Barn”

Vintage Kitty Trained by Jennifer Nunnally

Let’s take a look at the trainers. No one doubled so 7 different conditioners got their picture taken. Jennifer Nunnally started it off in the 1st with Vintage Kitten. Nunnally also picked up a 3rd in her 2 starts on the day. David Martinez also had a win and a show with a 3rd place finish in the 1st and winning the 2nd with Confidence Builder which was also the only double digit win pay-off of $10.60 at 4-1.

New to Emerald trainer Justin Evans had 2 go on opening day and won with his 1st starter, Atomic Candy in the 5th and then just missed being the 1st trainer to 2 wins when Dirt Road Red ran 2nd by a head bob to Polacco in the feature race. But it looks like the rumblings of Evans impact will be felt and expect Evans to make a lot of noise this season.

Debbie Peery took the 3rd with Devil’s Off Duty and was 1 for 1 on the day. Joining the 1 for 1 club was defending champion trainer Jorge Rosales with Double Perfection in the 4th. Jill Sorrano went 1 for 1 winning the feature race of Polacco with the head bob win in a photo finish with Dirt Road Red. Then in the finale one of our favorite race track people Robert Bean won the with G G Rules. You may be thinking that Bean retired and you’d be right he announced last season was his last but said it just didn’t stick and he’s back and off to a great start.

A few other notable efforts include from another new face as Luciano Pascual Medina started 5 horses on opening day and those were his 1st 5 starters in his new career. Medina did well too and did everything but get a winner. His 5 starters ended with 2 2nds and a 3rd for a strong opening day return. Mike Pierce is back after a solid year last season and enjoyed it so much helped talk Justin Evans into coming up to the NW from Arizona. Pierce started 4 and ended with a 2nd and a 3rd. Emerald veteran Rosie Simkins ran 2 and hit the board twice with a pair of 3rds, Vince Gibson ran 1 and placed as did Nick Lowe.

Finally, one of our favorites of all time Howard Belvoir was back and ran 3 with a 3rd and 2 4th place finishers. But more importantly after battling some health issues he had a smile on his face and said he was doing better and plans on keep working at it. Belvoir is a Hall of Fame trainer with 3 Longacres Mile’s to his credit with his last from Barkley. Barkley is now at the breeding farm and Belvoir says he is very excited to see how he does as a stud and we will begin to get to see that next year when his first crop of foals will start making their way to the track. Belvoir with a little glimmer in his eye said, “I’m not done yet!”

“From the Owner’s Box”

Just like the trainer’s there were 7 different winning owners but most of them were directly connected to the trainer. Jennifer Nunnally owned and trained Vintage Kitten with co-owner Michael Messing in the 1st while David Martinez owned and trained Confidence Builder co-owned with Russell Hulk. 3rd race winner is owned by Ken and Vicky Jo Elison but Ken Elison is listed as the assistant trainer to Debbie Peery. In the 5th Justin Evans owned and trained Atomic Candy. In the 6th and featured race Polacco is owned by James Carter who is the boyfriend of trainer Jill Sorrano and in the 7th race Luann Bean is the wife to trainer Bob Bean of winner G G Rules.

In the 4th race Julie Hebdon’s Double Perfection is trained by Jorge Rosales. This is the only winner with the traditional owner who hires a trainer to take care of their horses or in other words no other connection between owner and trainer other than friendship.

A few other owner’s notes defending Champ John Parker ran two on opening day but did not hit the board. Parker is gearing up for another big year and no doubt the Parker/Cryderman combination will get plenty of pictures to add to the collection. LuAnn Bean who was 9th in owner earnings last year got off to a fast start with her win the 7th.

Lusk Racing owners of crowd favorite Papa’s Golden Boy has a stocked barn and will be ready to launch next weekend. Other top owners that have not yet had a starter include the 2nd highest earners KD Thoroughbreds, George Todaro was 3rd in 2022 followed by Lusk Racing and then Chad and Josh.

Odds and Ends


The 7th race featured our first dead-heat of the season when Bossy Pegasus and Cheater’s Waltz both dropped their noses on the wire at the same time. Bossy Pegasus was ridden by Alex Cruz and was 4-1. Cheater’s Waltz was newcomer Jose Rodriguez’s only ride of the day and held on well to grab a piece of 3rd after the front-running effort.



The claim shed was a busy place to gather last year but off to a slow start on day 1 with just 1 official claim. Jorge Rosales claimed Miley’s Bluecat in the 4th race for Hillary Durham and Rosales Racing F1 for $5,000. Rosales won that 4th race with Double Perfection which was also claimed but the claim was later voided based on a vet exam.

Fabulous Hat Contest

Hat Winners

As usual the Emerald Downs promotion department led by Gary Dougherty gave out prizes for the best hats on Kentucky Derby day. The track also handed out free magnetic season calendars. On the main floor the track had a large BBQ on display promoting their Great Outdoors give-away over Memorial Day weekend.

Coming up next week is a big day with Mother’s Day on Sunday. Emerald Downs is offering a special Mother’s Day Brunch both on Saturday and Sunday.



The Betting Window

The Betting Window

Here is a rundown of the betting pay-offs from Opening Day.

$2 Win 2nd Race Confidence Builder $10.60 4-1
$2 Place 5th Race Provost $6.60 11-1
$2 Show 2nd Race Confidence Builder $4.40 4-1

$1 Exacta 7th Race 1-3 $17.20
50-cent Trifecta 2nd Race 5-1-4 $41.80
10-cent Superfecta 5th Race 5-6-4-1 $20.66

$1 DD 1st/2nd Races 1-5 $20.60
50-cent Pick 3 1st/2nd/3rd Races 1-5-3 $26.55
50-cent Pick 4 4th-7th Races 3-5-2-1 $83.65
50-cent Pick 5 3rd-7th Races 3-3-5-2-1 $211.85
20-cent Jackpot Pick 6 2nd-7th Races 5-3-3-5-2-1 $1,167.72
50-cent Super Hi-5 7th Race 1-3-2-7-5 $167.95

Total handle for the day was an impressive $966,793 for just 7 races and shorter than normal fields.


By paulb

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