As Emerald Downs prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary, here is our list of 20 highlights from the first 20 years, loosely in chronological order.

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Has it really been 20 years? Well, almost. On June 20, Emerald Downs in Auburn celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the track has become established as part of the local sports scene.

Some of the world’s greatest horses and jockeys have been there. The Longacres Mile, one of the great sporting events in the Northwest, is as good as ever.

It’s easy to take Emerald Downs for granted after 20 years, but after Longacres in Renton closed in 1992, it was no sure bet that horse racing would return to this area. But less than four years later, Emerald Downs had its first race.

It has survived despite the national decline in horse-racing interest, bucking the trend by seeing its attendance increase in recent years. It has survived despite there being many more outlets for people to gamble than there were during Longacres’ heyday.

As Emerald Downs prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary, here is our list of 20 highlights from the first 20 years, loosely in chronological order.


1. The grand opening, June 21, 1996

A crowd of 18,423 was on hand for the opening day of racing at the new facility, built in 14 months at a cost of $81 million. Ron Crockett, president of Northwest Racing Associates, persisted despite several challenges. “Yes, I went through ups and downs on individual days, but I never considered stopping,” Crockett said before opening day. Said Lee Brauer, executive director of the Washington Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association: “A lot of our memories of Longacres will be there — and it was a classy place. But this is just as great in a different way.”



2. Baffert wins first Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs

A stellar field was entered for the 61st running of the race, the first at Emerald Downs. Isitingood, trained by Bob Baffert, an up-and-coming Southern California trainer, won by a neck. “Turning for home, I thought he’s either going to stop or explode,” Baffert said after the race. “He exploded.” The horse, partially owned by Mount Vernon’s Mike Pegram, became one of the best in the country. Baffert has gone on to train four Kentucky Derby winners, including American Pharoah, who won last year’s Triple Crown.



3. Annual fireworks shows

The biggest crowds of the season come for the fireworks shows that began in 1998 and take place around July 4. The place is packed every year — undoubtedly more for the fireworks than the horse racing — and it seems no one goes home disappointed.



4. Budroyale fulfills owner’s dream

Owner Jeffrey Sengara dreamed of winning the Mile from the time he was 11 and his father raced a horse in the 1981 Longacres Mile. Sengara’s dream came true when Budroyale, a horse he claimed for $50,000 in Southern California, won the 1999 Mile. “More than the Dubai Cup, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Kentucky Derby, this is the race Jeff wanted to win more than anything,” trainer Ted West said. Two months later, Budroyale was second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.



5. Ema Bovary on her way to greatness

Larry and Sharon Ross, who train two-time defending Mile champion Stryker Phd, had up-and-coming filly Ema Bovary in their barn at Emerald Downs in 2003. She raced there twice, easily winning a pair of stakes despite poor starts. “She has a gear that most horses just don’t possess,” Sharon Ross told the Daily Racing Form after the two wins at Emerald. “And I suspect she has another gear that she hasn’t even shown us yet.” Ema Bovary became one of the country’s best female sprinters, winning 10 of her last 11 races and ending her career with a win in the Grade II Princess Rooney Stakes in Florida.



6. Sky Jack demolishes Mile field

The 2003 Longacres Mile drew Sky Jack, a Southern California star who had won the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup the year before. The 7-year-old gray gelding put on a show, winning by a race-record 6¼ lengths in a track-record time of 1 minute 33 seconds. Russell Baze, a Washington native who is the winningest jockey in North American history, was aboard the winner. “That’s the best race he’s ever run,” Sky Jack trainer Doug O’Neill said. It was also the final race of Sky Jack’s career.



7. Sarkowsky finally gets Mile win

Legendary local sportsman Herman Sarkowsky, an original investor in the Seahawks, the Portland Trail Blazers and Emerald Downs, thought his horse, Titular II, would win the 1971 Longacres Mile. The horse seemed certain to win before breaking stride when catching a glimpse of the starting gate in the infield and was passed near the wire. In 2005, Sarkowsky got his Mile win, when 60-1 shot No Giveaway came from more than 20 lengths behind to win. Sarkowsky later had horses win a Breeders’ Cup race and the Haskell Stakes, but he said his biggest thrill was winning the Mile.



8. Flamethrowintexan wins thrilling duel

The 2006 Longacres Mile could not have been more exciting. Local favorite Flamethrowintexan was confronted at the top of the stretch by touted invader Papi Chullo. The two battled the entire length of the stretch, with Papi Chullo momentarily taking the lead. But Flamethrowintexan would not give up and won by a neck, giving trainer Jim Penney his record fifth Mile victory.



9. Crockett’s Great Face wins the Mile

Track founder and longtime president Ron Crockett had owned and bred many great horses, but he had never won the Longacres Mile until Great Face in 2007. The Washington-bred beat another horse owned by Crockett, Raise the Bluff, by a head. “This is the highlight of my racing career,” Crockett said after the race.



10. Seth Martinez’s six-pack

Martinez was the track’s top jockey in 2008, and no jockey has had a better day at Emerald Downs than Martinez did on July 27, 2008. He tied the record for most wins in a day, winning six of eight races in which he had mounts, including two stakes races. He joined Kevin Radke (he won on 6 of 10 mounts in 2002) as the only riders to win that many on a card at Emerald. Martinez’s other two mounts finished second and third. “I ride good horses,” he said. “It’s best to stay humble.”



11. Wasserman’s magical season

The gelding was very good, and in 2008 he was great. He won four stakes races at Emerald that year, all in photo finishes, including the Longacres Mile. He won that race like he did the others, coming from way behind and taking the lead just before the wire. He was not favored in the wagering, but the loudest roar in the history of Emerald Downs might have been in the final yards of that win. Wasserman, who was retired after his 10-year-old season, is the career-leading earner in track history at $575,024.



12. The amazing speed of Atta Boy Roy

Atta Boy Roy ran just four times at Emerald Downs in 2009, but he left his mark. He won his first race there by 10 lengths, and in his final race there, the Chinook Pass Sprint in 2009, he broke a 37-year-old state record for 6 furlongs with a time of 1 minute, 7 seconds. In the 2009 Longacres Mile, he built a big lead and held on to finish fifth despite losing a shoe. Atta Boy Roy became one of the best sprinters in the country and was the first Washington-bred in the Emerald Downs era to run in the Breeders’ Cup, in 2010.



13. The great Noosa Beach

Noosa Beach won a track-record 11 stakes races at Emerald Downs, was equally good in sprints and routes and could win going wire to wire or by coming from behind. He won the 2010 Long­acres Mile and was second in the 2011 Mile. He retired with 14 wins, four seconds and two thirds in 22 lifetime races.



14. Awesome Gem’s 1-2-3

After finishing second in the 2009 Longacres Mile, the well-traveled Awesome Gem, third in the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic, ran down local hero Noosa Beach in the stretch to win the 2011 Mile by 1½ lengths. It was the seventh race of the year for the 8-year-old, all at different tracks. Awesome Gem, who was third the next year in the Mile, made $2.82 million in his career.



15. West Seattle Boy’s 21 wins

Stakes winners make the headlines, but it’s less-heralded claiming horses such as West Seattle Boy who fill up most cards. West Seattle Boy won a track-record 21 times from 2001-11. He was officially retired in a ceremony at the track in 2012 as a 13-year-old, going into the winner’s circle one last time and having a race named in his honor.



16. Stopshoppingdebbie goes 9 for 9

Stopshoppingdebbie finished off a 9-for-9 run when the 4-year-old filly won the Emerald Distaff in August 2014, with all nine wins at Emerald Downs. Racing in the Breeders’ Cup was the goal for her in 2014, but when she finished fifth in the L.A. Woman Handicap at Santa Anita in Southern California, she was retired from racing — but not before becoming one of Emerald Downs’ all-time greats.



17. Muckleshoot Tribe buys Emerald Downs

A new era at Emerald Downs began in November 2014 when the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe reached agreement to buy Emerald Downs from Crockett’s group. The tribe raised purses by 20 percent for last season, leading to an increase in the number of horses, as well as increased handle and attendance. Perhaps the most noticeable change was the 25- x 47-foot video screen in front of the grandstand.



18. Robert Geller’s sendoff

For almost all 20 years, Robert Geller was the voice of the racetrack, beloved for his calls as track announcer and his outgoing and friendly personality. Geller left last June to become the announcer at Woodbine outside Toronto. On his final day at Emerald, after calling more than 16,000 races, Geller was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame in the Lifetime Achievement category, the eighth person so honored. “That’s too much, just exceptional,” an emotional Geller said at the surprise ceremony. “It’s been an amazing run here at Emerald Downs.”



19. Stryker Phd wins second straight Mile

The Washington-bred thrilled fans for a second consecutive year, coming from well behind as always to win last year’s Longacres Mile, joining Simply Majestic (1988-89 ) and Trooper Seven (1980-81) as the only horses to achieve that feat. Stryker Phd, a 7-year-old gelding, has a chance to be the first horse to win the Mile three times, and he has eight consecutive stakes wins at Emerald Downs. “He makes that great move every time,” trainer Larry Ross said after last year’s Mile. “And once he gets into the lead, nothing is going to stop him.”



20. Don Munger’s long career

Munger, a Marine who was injured at Iwo Jima in World War II, is still training and breeding horses at age 92. He was a fixture at Long­acres for decades and has been at Emerald Downs since its beginning. Munger, who always has time to tell a story, was honored in 2009 for a lifetime of contributions to the Washington horse-racing industry, and in 2013 he was honorary steward for the Longacres Mile.