The 2-year-old gelding, who paid $6.40 to win, gave trainer Howard Belvoir and jockey Jennifer Whitaker their first Gottstein victories.
Every Emerald Downs season is filled with the hope of finding that next star racehorse from a crop of Thoroughbreds.
For all the success trainer Howard Belvoir has had with 2-year-old runners, it’s amazing Emerald Downs’ biggest race for juveniles had eluded him.
Finally, that streak can be put to rest for the 73-year-old Belvoir and he can put the Gottstein Futurity, the Pacific Northwest’s championship race for 2-year-olds, on his 54-year trainer résumé.
Fittingly, jockey Jennifer Whitaker, who works for Belvoir in the mornings galloping and working out horses, was the one aboard Belvoir trainee Elliott Bay as the gelding brought both jockey and trainer their first win in the $95,000 Gottstein Futurity to highlight Sunday’s closing day of the 2017 season at the Auburn track.
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Belvoir has won 16 stakes races for 2-year-olds at Emerald Downs. The Gottstein was a special moment for the jockey-trainer duo, which has worked together for 26 years.
“It’s really, really special because we’ve been together and I’ve worked for him so many years,” said Whitaker. “He’s like my dad, you know. He’s the second (father). And, to take these babies (young horses) and with his knowledge and to get them there (to the track) and have them run like this, there’s nothing better.
“It’s like being a proud mom. We kept getting close, we kept getting close (to winning the Gottstein), but it was like we just couldn’t.”
The Gottstein was the feature attraction as the track completed its 22nd season and third under the operation of the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. It was the introduction of Corgi dog races, in addition to the traditional wiener-dog races, that drew the biggest crowd (12,000), next to July 3 Fireworks Day (14,000).
“I think we saw attendance go up a little this year,” said Emerald Downs president Phil Ziegler, who also added a successful day with camel and ostrich races in between the Thoroughbreds. “We saw a couple of our new promotion days were really popular. We saw a lot of newcomers come to the track this year. Our social-media interactions were great and our reviews online were great.”
The Emerald Racing Club again provided about 200 members the experience of horse ownership at a cost of $500 in an activity that is called “The Sport of Kings” for a reason.
“People are learning about owning horses,” Ziegler said, knowing it is a declining sport nationally in terms of track attendance. “It’s one thing to have a racing season, but you’re always looking to build toward the future. It’s the future of horse ownership and the next generation of racing fans. Horse racing doesn’t have that in a lot of parts of the country, and here we’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Elliott Bay, a 2-1 second choice to favorite My Heart Awakens, took the lead heading into the turn for home in the Gottstein and beat runner-up Trump Itz by 1½ lengths.
“He’s a push-button horse, and just so much fun to ride,” Whitaker said.
The winner covered 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 43.08 seconds and paid $6.40 to win as the juveniles stretched to a route distance for the first time in their careers.
“The Gottstein’s a special race and a big race, kind of like the Longacres Mile, so this is a very special win,” Belvoir said after recording his 43rd stakes victory at Emerald.
The races for top trainer and jockey weren’t suspenseful in 2017 for a pair of repeat champions from last year.
Blaine Wright was a runaway winner in the race for top trainer, posting 53 victories in 71 days to easily outdistance second-place Joe Toye (38).
Rocco Bowen secured his second jockey title with 126 victories. Runner-up Julien Couton had 65.
Mach One Rules won Horse of the Meeting honors for his three stakes victories plus a runner-up finish to Gold Rush Dancer in the Grade III Longacres Mile.