Emerald Downs opens its season Friday

Schedule – 91-day meeting begins Friday and concludes Sunday, Sept. 28.

The lowdown on Emerald Downs

Schedule – 91-day meeting begins Friday and concludes Sunday, Sept. 28.

Racing week – Racing is on a Friday-Saturday-Sunday basis from now through Memorial Day weekend, then adds Thursdays through the end of the season.

Post times – First post is 6 p.m. weekdays, 2 p.m. weekends and holidays, and special times of 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 3 (Kentucky Derby day) and 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 3 (annual fireworks show). Simulcasting also is offered on race days. Gates open 30 minutes prior to the first simulcast race, which varies in time, but typically begins at mid morning.

Admission – General admission, which includes access to the first five levels of the grandstand, as well as the paddock and the park, is $5. Children age 17 and under are free. Indoor reserved clubhouse seating is an additional $3. Outdoor reserved grandstand seating is an additional $2.50. Wheelchair access is available on every level.

Parking – General parking is free. Preferred parking is $5; valet parking is $10.

Dining – Rainier Restaurant/Terrace. Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance by calling (253) 288-7711 or 1-888-931-8400.

More information – (253) 288-7711 or www.emdowns.com.

Coming off an unforgettable record-breaking season, Doris Harwood refuses to bask in the splendid spotlight.

For this determined thoroughbred trainer from Auburn, everything squarely remains in front of her – the next race, the next unproven horse, the next challenge. The task is simple and complex: Come to the track, spot the fledgling 2-year-old horse and hope it develops into tomorrow’s sensation.

In a sport that can humble as quickly as reward fiercely competitive trainers, Harwood fully understands both ends of the spectrum.

She toiled in obscurity as a jockey, and then as a trainer, one of the first and few women in the profession at Longacres, the storied Renton track that closed in 1992. But she gained credibility over the years, despite experiencing her share of misfortune along the way.

It was by no means an easy road.

Then fast forward to 2007, and the non-nonsense lady – the one who runs a tight ship, commands respect and demands more from others – finds herself operating at the top of her game. She has emerged as one of finest around in her craft at Emerald Downs.

A culmination of hard work, solid seasoning, good breaks and fortuitous timing spurred the Harwood barn to great heights in ’07. She obliterated the single-season stakes record with 12 wins – won 34 races in all – and amassed $688,443 in earnings, tops among trainers at the meet.

“There was no way I could have envisioned it,” Harwood said from her small office at the track stables. “It just happened. It all lined up where I had five stakes horses. … You can’t anticipate that. You can’t imagine that. It was wonderful to experience it.”

The dream ride included multiple stakes wins from the likes of three powerful equine athletes – Shampoo (four), Margo’s Gift (three) and Smarty Deb (three). Shampoo tied the track record by winning four stakes in one season, while Smarty Deb became the first filly at the Auburn oval to capture the prestigious Gottstein Futurity.

“Racing is about dreams, and Doris is a great dream-maker,” said Ken Alhadeff, Margo’s Gift owner and one of Harwood’s first clients when she began her career in training.

“It’s been an incredible, wonderful journey,” Alhadeff said. “I am thrilled for her success. … She’s a credit to the thoroughbred industry.”

For Harwood, Alhadeff and their super gelding, the season under the sun didn’t end at Emerald Downs

Margo’s Gift, a 26-to-1 shot, rallied to stun the field of 2-year-olds to seize the $250,000 Favorite Trick Stakes at Monmouth Park on the Jersey Shore during Breeders’ Cup weekend.

“The thing about him is, he’s a Washington-bred, and he’s been an overachiever all season,” said Ricky Frazier, who rode the gelding to the win on an off-track. “He makes no mistakes. This is unreal. This was a lot to ask. It’s just unbelievable.”

Then, to cap off the weekend, Harwood’s Smarty Deb finished a strong fifth in her first graded stakes start, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. It was the first locally established horse from either the 12-year-old Emerald Downs or its predecessor, Longacres, to compete in the Breeders’ Cup.

It was an adventure beyond description for Harwood to compete on the big stage.

“Just to make it that far was quite an accomplishment and a thrill,” she said.

Harwood hopes to add more thrills this season, even with a relatively new lineup. Smarty Deb now is at Santa Anita, but she still has big plans for Margo’s Gift and Shampoo, not to mention Elusive Horizon. She has nearly 50 horses in her barn currently, including six owned by Alhadeff.

As all good trainers do, Harwood makes notes and closely watches each horse train. Few things escape her eye for detail.

Established and formidable, Harwood doesn’t rebuild, but reloads for each meet.

“This is a totally new year. And my attitude has always been I’m going to do the best that I can with each horse, whatever that ends up being,” she said.

Make no mistake: The 55-year-old Harwood loves to win and hates to lose, a combination that keeps her coming back to the track to put in the long days.

“Winning a race is my drug of choice – that’s the adrenaline,” she said. “I mean, I scream like a maniac, even with a bottom claimer.

“And we’re proud of the ones who just try hard at any level of competition,” she said.

An eye for talent

Harwood is especially gifted at spotting good, young talented horses, and placing them in her carefully guided program. She brings them along with tenderness and care.

With Margo’s Gift, Harwood was able to help the horse overcome his fears to become a championship competitor.

“She’s smart with the horses,” Alhadeff said. “She trains them well and has a relationship with horses and understands that each one is an individual.

“She wants to win badly, but she’s also realistic.”

Realistic to know it will be difficult to get back to a Breeders’ Cup race. Sure, Harwood, would like to return to the national stage soon, perhaps the coveted Kentucky Derby. But she has other local goals in mind.

While Harwood has collected her share of many great stakes victories, she has yet to pull in the elusive Longacres Mile and Emerald Derby. She saddled one of the track’s most popular horses, Thetruthisoutthere, in three straight Mile starts (1998-2000), only to finish a race-best fourth in ’99.

There remains plenty of unfinished business for Harwood.

“I’m passionate about it and really I’m passionate about the horse,” said Harwood, who owns several horses herself and rides daily. “I guess I’m still horse crazy.”