We all know Seattle's a fair-weather sports town. But Sunday's crowds at both Emerald Downs and Safeco Field threw that stereotype into doubt. With the crappiest mid-August weather one could ever ask for—low 60s with torrential rain—the turnstiles in both SoDo and Auburn spun frantically, with Emerald Downs notching an all-time high for betting handle on Longacres Mile Day.
Track owner Ron Crockett puts his money where his dirt is, entering his own classy horses into races like Sunday's Mile, where his stable walked off with first and second, respectively. Crockett's Raise the Bluff went off as a 3-1 favorite after a big showing in the Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar last month, but was nipped at the wire in a photo finish by local ace The Great Face (also a Crockett horse), who was making his graded stakes debut at 6-1 odds. Primarily known as a lights-out sprinter—The Great Face holds the world record at 5 ½ furlongs (bear in mind, Emerald Downs' surface is regarded as a veritable drag strip for Thoroughbreds)—the 5-year-old gelding may actually be the Northwest Thoroughbred industry's answer to the spectacularly versatile Ghostzapper, a former Breeders' Cup Classic champion who was to horse racing as Michael Johnson was to track.
But what's most impressive about Emerald Downs is that it seems to be bucking a rather discouraging nationwide trend that has horse racing on the ropes. Not at the high end, where the Triple Crown series continues to attract casual fans. But look around the Thoroughbred industry, and the meticulously maintained Auburn track truly shines as a diamond in the rough, turning a profit and packing stands in a sport that America-at-large has all but left for dead.