Most of the recognition on the night went to Ron Crockett, who spearheaded the effort to build the track after Longacres closed in 1992.
AUBURN — Emerald Downs indulged in a night of celebrations and memories Monday as the Auburn horse track marked 20 years of racing.
Between the seven races, recognition was given to career-leading jockeys, trainers and owners, to the original investors and to all the horses who have won the 20 Longacres Miles at Emerald Downs.
The first race of the night was introduced by a video of Strawberry Morn winning the $35,000 U.S. Bank Stakes that opened the track June 20, 1996.
Strawberry Morn now is a brood mare in England, but four horses who won the Longacres Mile, the premier race in the Pacific Northwest, were paraded before the fourth race.
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But most of the recognition on the night went to Ron Crockett, who spearheaded the effort to build the track after Longacres, in Renton, closed in 1992.
Crockett was president of Northwest Racing Associates, which operated the track until 2015 when the Muckleshoot Tribe bought it. He remains a consultant at the track.
“Building the track was a huge task, and Opening Day was the culmination of a lot of effort that became reality,” he said.
Crockett’s plan for Emerald Downs won out over competing efforts to replace Longacres. He saw it through wetlands mitigation and construction and kept it alive against growing competition from other gambling enterprises.
Robert Geller, the track announcer from day one until he left for Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto in 2014, was back Monday to announce four of the races.
In 1996, Geller arrived in Seattle from his announcer job at a Hong Kong track one week before the opening of Emerald Downs.
“It was a beautiful day,” he said, “but the audio and a lot of other things didn’t work.”
Joe Withee, now the track’s director of publicity, remembers the audio failure.
“I drove Ann Wilson from Heart out from the paddock in a golf cart to sing the national anthem,” he said. “We had 19,000 people here that day, but probably only those within 30 feet of her could hear it. I’m not sure if she knew that.”
The audio was working fine Monday night as Lauren Slavin, 13, sang The Star-Spangled Banner while Crockett, her grandfather, looked on.
That might have been the proudest moment of the night for him, but there was competition. A video before the fifth race, the Ron Crockett Purse, noted his business acumen, his contributions to the University of Washington and his saving horse racing in the state of Washington.
Pete von Reichbauer, King County councilman, credited Crockett with bringing 8 million racing fans to Auburn and then announced that the street in front of Emerald Downs has a new name.
It was Emerald Downs Drive, but Monday morning the new signs went up for “Ron Crockett Drive.”
There also was horse racing Monday night. In the featured $50,000 Washington State Legislators for fillies and mares 3-year-old and up, B C Z Middleton, at 15-1, closed in the stretch to run past the favorite, Ethan’s Baby. She covered the 6½ furlongs in 1:15.33 and paid $32.60 for the win.
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