Emerald Downs isn’t only for horses — corgis, wiener canine, infants and extra are racing too
The runners method the beginning line for the preferred race of the season at Emerald Downs. The pleasure is palpable as 1000’s of followers eagerly await the beginning.
The noise of the group drowns the announcer’s voice because the race begins. It solely will get louder till the successful corgi crosses the end line.
Because it’s not simply horses racing nowadays on the Auburn racetrack. So are corgis, bulldogs, wiener canine, youngsters, infants — even dinosaurs.
Pick any weekend day at Emerald Downs, and there’s in all probability a non-horse-related promotion. It is likely to be Indian relay races, a cultural celebration or the Diaper Derby.
The purpose is to draw extra followers, and it has labored.
Emerald Downs has bucked the destiny of many racetracks nationwide which have seen on-track attendance decline dramatically, largely due to at-home and simulcast wagering.
Promotions assist hold bringing folks to Emerald Downs, and none is extra widespread than the corgis. A sellout crowd is predicted when the beloved, short-legged canine compete Sunday.
“People love animals, especially dogs, and they just really enjoy watching them race,” stated Ron Crockett, founding father of Emerald Downs and the monitor’s president till November 2014.
Phil Ziegler turned monitor president when the Muckleshoot Tribe acquired the racetrack in 2014, and promotions have expanded.
He realizes many individuals come for the promotions and never the horses. But they’ll get a style of horse racing, and a few would possibly return.
“People love dogs, they love horses, and the connection is really strong,” Ziegler stated. “They come out for one thing, but maybe they’ll fall in love with the other thing and turn into racing fans.”
Said Frank Lucarelli, the all-time main coach at Emerald Downs: “It brings a different crowd of people, and getting them introduced to horse racing that way isn’t such a bad thing. You’ve got all the people that come to watch the corgis, and some will say, ‘This horse racing is kind of cool,’ and they will come back. Even if it’s a handful, it’s a handful more than you had.”
In the start
Crockett remembers what he stated in 1999 when Susie Sourwine, the monitor’s advertising and marketing director on the time, urged holding wiener canine races.
“I said, ‘No, we race horses here,’” stated Crockett, now a guide to the monitor.
But Sourwine endured.
“I was trying to picture it, and she was convincing,” Crockett stated. “We’ve been doing it ever since and it grew into the corgis and the T. rex. The tradition has continued over all these years and Phil and his crew have taken it to even greater heights. I congratulate everyone involved.”
Ziegler doesn’t take credit score for lots of the concepts, noting lots of the offbeat races have been held at county festivals for years.
But the Diaper Derby on July 2, when infants 6 to 12 months outdated competed in crawling races, is likely to be an authentic at a racetrack.
“Babies racing is a tradition, but no racetrack ever thought to put babies on a mat, build a little track for them and have a race for them,” Ziegler stated.
Another widespread promotion is the Indian relay races — a standard Native American occasion with three horses and 4 folks per workforce — which the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe launched when it acquired the racetrack.
“It has become one of the biggest Indian relay events in the country,” Ziegler stated. It was held over Father’s Day weekend this yr. “There are 18 teams from all over the Northwest and people come from all over the region.”
Not all promotions have lasted. Gone are the ostrich, camel and zebra races. But there’s an openness to concepts. Good promotions increase crowds and so they additionally fill the time gaps of about 25 minutes between races.
“Horse racing is very unique, because if you have nine races in a day, you have eight halftimes,” Ziegler stated.
Ziegler’s concept is that on two or three of the “halftimes,” folks will go to the paddock space to have a look at the horses. During one other break, they may get a meal, and through one other they may get ice cream.
“That’s like five halftimes filled,” he stated. “If we give them corgi races, wiener dog races or something else during those in-between periods, they’re leaving at the end of the day saying, ‘Wow, that was an exciting, full day.’ ”
The dinosaurs go viral
The T. rex races held in 2019 at Emerald Downs have been seen greater than 100 million occasions on-line.
“That race was original, but it was the brainchild of the Triguard Pest Control people,” Ziegler stated.
“They had a team-building thing with their managers in 2015 and they came in togas,” Ziegler stated. “They asked, ‘Can we run on the track after the last race?’”
The monitor stated sure, simply because it did when the group returned the subsequent few years in inflatable T. rex costumes. In 2019, the monitor had them compete throughout the race card and from the beginning gate.
Ziegler posted video on Facebook that evening, and it took off past his wildest expectations.
“You name every national media outlet from Time magazine to NBC, ESPN, and everybody ran it,” Ziegler stated. “It was on plenty of stay newscasts across the nation and everywhere in the world. It was nice.
“I believe that put us on the map to a lot people who never knew of Emerald Downs — nationally and internationally. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Does it spill over into horse racing and betting? A little bit. But it does a lot for notoriety.”
And now they’re again after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Anyone who reveals up in a T. rex costume Aug. 21 can take part.
“We’re going to throw as many T. rexes on that track as we can,” Ziegler stated.
The corgis an instantaneous hit
In 2016, Emerald Downs had its first corgi races.
Twelve thousand folks confirmed up, immediately rivaling the annual July fireworks present because the monitor’s hottest promotion.
They are so widespread that attendance has been capped at 7,700. With 12,000 folks, Ziegler stated traces to make wagers and purchase concessions get too lengthy.
The cap was additionally in impact for the July 3 fireworks present.
“7,700 was a good number,” Ziegler stated. “The wait wasn’t long to get anything. And people have room to breathe, which you have to have these days.”
This yr, there will probably be a parade of corgis, eight heats with 10 opponents every, and a championship race. The monitor will once more produce a 30-minute telecast to be proven on ESPN2, when that community televises offbeat and seldom-seen sports activities as a part of ESPN Ocho.
“We saw the social attention it got, even before we were in business with corgi racing, and we knew this was something that was fun and gathers a lot of attention,” stated Johanna Goldblatt, an affiliate supervisor with ESPN programming. “When it was a big hit last year on the Ocho, I wasn’t too surprised.”
Rosenblatt stated of “29 programs of the day, it was the sixth overall performer.”
The corgis obtained much more publicity final yr when the principle ESPN community confirmed 18 minutes of the half-hour present to fill a time hole when an MLS recreation ended ahead of anticipated.
“After the Ocho airing and we saw how much fun everyone had watching it, and how much buzz there was around it, we knew that we were going to have that in the back of our pocket,” Goldblatt stated. “When the MLS game ended 18 minutes early, it seemed a really good way to fill the time. Those MLS fans stuck around to watch corgi racing apparently, and went to social media to talk about it.”
Sunday’s races will probably be on ESPN2 in early August; a precise date hasn’t been set.
“I’m so excited to see how it does this year, and see what new elements will be added,” Goldblatt stated.
It’s not for everybody
While promotions undoubtedly deliver folks to Emerald Downs, some horsemen and followers grumble — if not too loudly — that the main target ought to on the horses and never on promotions.
“If you take the (horse racing) purists sitting on the fifth floor and betting on the Saratogas and the Belmonts, it’s generally not their cup of tea,” Crockett stated.
Lucarelli stated these within the horse-racing trade might be set of their methods and resistant to alter.
The large crowds the promotions draw have gained him over and he thinks different horsemen are coming round to liking them too.
“At times, I’ve thought, ‘Why are we doing this and why are we doing that?,’ ” Lucarelli stated. “But when you sit down and think about it, it’s probably all good.”
Jockeys get pleasure from competing in entrance of massive crowds, stated rider Leslie Mawing, who thinks the promotions are an important concept.
Mawing additionally rides at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, one other monitor on the slicing fringe of promotions.
“As a racetrack, you try to attract as many people as possible,” Mawing stated. “About 80% of households have pets, especially dogs, and incorporating that into your program makes it a fun day and people like to watch that.”
Another promotion Mawing actually preferred was the youngsters race at Emerald Downs throughout household weekend July 9-10.
A pair hundred youngsters obtained onto the monitor for a brief run down the stretch, with entrants incomes ice cream. Mawing went out to look at and handed out 30 pairs of his outdated goggles.
“As a jockey, you appreciate the crowds, and especially kids — seeing them enjoy the animals and the horses,” Mawing stated. “Canterbury and Emerald are my two top tracks I like racing at, for the pure fact the crowds are big. It helps your morale, especially when you’re not winning all the time.”
‘Everybody wants to be where the action is’
Lucarelli stated when horsemen from out of the realm come to Emerald Downs, they’re shocked by the group sizes.
“They feel that vibe,” Lucarelli stated. “It’s, ‘Oh man, you get people out here.’ Because so many tracks don’t attract people and I think they do a good job here.”
Joe Withee, director of publicity and broadcasting at Emerald Downs, stated the additional few thousand folks promotions draw make them worthwhile.
“I can’t see it as a negative at all,” he stated. “It’s between the races, it’s animals, it’s fun. It just adds to the day, and who doesn’t want to see a lot of people at the track? Everybody wants to be where the action is. Jockeys love it and I think other horsemen like being part of a big crowd.”
The promotions will proceed as a result of folks like them.
“I think what we do here is special,” Ziegler stated. “I see the families walking out. Just look at their faces and listen to the crowd, and you know that it is working.”