Sun Downs set to open Saturday

April 17, 2014 

Sun Downs horse racing

Opening day of the 2013 spring racing season at Sun Downs race track in Kennewick.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

Fans of local horse racing will get three weekends of competition out at Sun Downs Race track in Kennewick beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The races will be run every Saturday and Sunday for the next three weekends — Saturday, Sunday, April 26-27, and May 3-4.

In most years since the late 1980s, this isn’t breaking news.

But over the last few years, the Tri-City Horse Racing Association and the Benton-Franklin County Fair board have waited until the 11th hour to agree to a contract and hold the meet.

This year has been no different, and the track was abuzz with activity this week getting ready.

Beer distributors were taking orders; the tote board was parked on a trailer in front of the grandstand entrance, waiting to be taken to the infield; trainers were working with their athletes, the horses, on the backside; the backside trailer was busy with trainers entering horses for this weekend’s first batch of races.

It’s definitely horse racing season in Kennewick.

Here are five things fans may want to know about this meet:

1. There will definitely be enough horses.

In February, when there were concerns the TCHRA would run the meet, trainers from around the Northwest were waiting patiently, and some impatiently, to find out where they needed to take their horses after Portland Meadows’ meet concluded.

Well, most of those trainers hung tough and stayed in the region.

Shorty Martin, racing secretary at Sun Downs, said that many trainers use Sun Downs as a launching point for the rest of the season.

“After the meet here, they’ll take their horses to Boise, to the Oregon state fair circuit, to New Mexico, and on,” said Martin.

For Saturday’s first card, Martin expects eight races — normal for the opening Saturday.

2. The top guns are back.

Many of the familiar jockeys and trainers will all be returning for the meet.

That includes Ruben Camacho, who was named the top jockey at Sun Downs for the 2013 meet.

Kennewick trainer Don Young, who was the meet’s top trainer in 2013, is also back.

3. Big races are back.

Start with the annual big local race, the Pot O’Gold Futurity — with trials set for Sunday and the final on May 4.

The meet will again feature the American Quarter Horse Association’s Zoetis Starter Allowance Challenge, the AQHA Maiden Challenge and the AQHA Meriel Distaff.

All three are usually with purses minimum of $20,000, and they bring in competition from all over the West Coast.

The winner of each of these three races advances to the national finals later this year.

4. San Gregorio Stables.

Based out of California, this stable has brought to Kennewick some standout horses over the last few years and wins.

Trainer Danny Montes will be here this weekend for the Maiden Challenge trials and the Starter Allowance trials.

“These horses that these people run are like the Kentucky Derby horses, only they’re quarter horses,” said Nancy Sorick of the TCHRA. “They’re $1 million horses. (The San Gregorio people) told us they like this place. When you come to these tracks, everyone knows you.”

5. If you have just one day to come to the track, what’s the best day?

It’s a tossup between May 3 or May 4.

May 3 is Kentucky Derby day, and race fans can wager on the big race.

Then the Starter Allowance Challenge and the Maiden Challenge will be held. That’s three major races.

A close second will be the next day, which will have the Pot O’Gold and the Meriel Distaff.

Either way, Sorick is confident the fans will show up for the meet.

“We have very loyal people out here,” she said. “We have loyal horsemen, loyal owners, loyal workers. And we have loyal fans. They’ll be here come rain or shine.”

She only wants a few things.

“A good turnout, good weather, and no injuries to horses or jockeys,” she said. “Everybody has a good time out here, because that’s what we’re here for.”

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