Emerald Downs began the season with racing on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 25% capacity and ends this weekend with racing Saturday and Sunday without that restriction.

It’s no wonder then that Phil Ziegler, president of the Auburn racetrack, is pleased with how things have gone as the 49-day racing season comes to a close.

“We are pretty pleased with the way the whole meet went,” Ziegler said. “Our number-one priority this year was welcoming fans back.”

The 2020 season was conducted without fans on Wednesday and Thursday nights — light days of racing nationally — to enhance wagering from around the country, and the racetrack set records for handle.

With limited capacity at the start of this season, racing was set for Wednesdays and Thursdays, with Sundays added in June. But with a lifting of state restrictions, Wednesday racing was replaced by Saturday.

“We had a lot of requests to add Saturday back in, and we did,” Ziegler said. “You can tell from the people that came out, that it was popular.”

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The handle is down from last season, but the racetrack gets a greater percentage of on-site handle than it does from simulcast wagering. Ziegler said he expects the numbers to be about on par with 2019 when they are released next week.

The highlight of the racing season has been the Longacres Mile and Background’s thrilling victory, and fans turned out as always for the July 3 fireworks show and for the corgi races, with both days being sold out with attendance capped at 6,500.

Background ridden by jockey Rocco Bowen wins at the 86th Longacres Mile Handicap, Aug. 15, at Emerald Downs in Auburn. (Sylvia Jarrus / The Seattle Times)

“We have had some great racing, the weather has been terrific and I think people felt the sense of being in a very safe and comfortable environment because of how spread out and outdoors we are,” Ziegler said.

Gottstein Futurity to highlight closing day

Three stakes races are on tap Sunday, including the $75,000 Gottstein Futurity, the championship race of the season for 2-year-olds. The purse for the 1 1/16-mile race is the second largest of the season, behind the Longacres Mile.

The other stakes races Sunday are the $50,000 Muckleshoot Tribal Classic for 3-year-olds and up and the $50,000 Washington Cup Filly & Mare Stakes, both at 1 1/16 miles.

Jockey title on the line

Defending jockey champion Alex Cruz and Julien Couton, who won the title in 2015, are tied for first in the jockey standings with 73 victories.

Joe Toye is in position to win his first Emerald Downs training title, leading defending champion Frank Lucarelli by five wins (29 to 24).

Note

Sunday is fan appreciation day, with prize giveaways and special prices.