Olympia – Jan/Feb 2018
Seaside – Jan/Feb/March 2018

Emerald Downs: Exciting, Affordable Family Fun

Jockey on horse

Front entrance of Emerald Downs

Entrance fees, betting, and even parking is affordable at Emerald Downs.

With the trumpet’s traditional starting call, the thoroughbred racing season begins at Emerald Downs on a misty Friday night in Auburn, Washington. Emerald Downs, a surprisingly sophisticated racing facility with a world-class racing track, opens each year between April and September for weekend and holiday racing and, judging from the smiling crowds of all ages, makes for a fun and affordable outing for the whole family.

This is’s first trip to Emerald Downs and were impressed by the wide range of race-watching choices this track offers. You can gather a group and rent one of the premium suites, private sixth floor rooms with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that offer a birds eye view of the entire track as well as big screen TVs that ensure you wont miss any of the action below. The suites also have bar and food facilities. Or, you can opt for a private box seat with your own TV viewing screen.

aerial view of horses on track

The upper floor suites provide a birds-eye-view of the action.

If you’re hungry, you can watch the race from your al fresco, linen-covered dining table in the Rainier Restaurant. Or, for those who like to get closer to the action, at track-level you’ll find covered grandstand seating, bleachers out in the open, and even grassy areas where you can spread your blanket to enjoy the fun.

Many fans gather trackside along the low chain length fence so they can get as close as possible to watch and photograph their favorite horses and jockeys.

Horse with a number three

Emerald Downs allows fans to get close to the horses and riders.

If you like behind the scenes activities, Emerald Downs allows visitors to watch the parade of ponies as they’re brought onto the track and down into the saddling area. You can walk right down to the paddocks and watch the grooms warm up and saddle the horses. Once saddled, the horses are led onto a small round track where owners and jockeys wait for the jockeys to get a boost up and head onto the track.

Trumpet to start the race

The traditional trumpet announces post time, the start of another race.

Just before post time, the trumpet sounds. The horses are led to the back side of the track by mounted riders and loaded into the starting shoot. Suddenly a bell rings and they’re off. The ripple of excitement from the crowd is palpable as the pack of charging horses speeds around the back stretch and into the first turn. As they charge around the track and head to the home stretch, the roar of the crowd grows, fans urging on their favorites. The horses flash past, stretching out, with jockeys leaning into the effort, urging their steeds with feet and crops to even greater speeds. They thunder across the lighted finish line. In a minute or less, its over. The horses and their riders cool off by cantering around the track.

When the horses come back around the track, much slower this time, and you can see the mud that soils the faces and colorful silks of the jockeys. The winning horse and rider ease into the circle, surrounded by the owners and trainers, to have their photo taken and be congratulated.

Horse with jockey racing

This horse ran full out to win.

Fans with winning tickets head back to the betting windows to collect their cash. Others consult the racing program to decide their next bet. The betting itself is half the fun at Emerald Downs. Its relatively easy and can be as inexpensive as $1 per bet. You can bet on a particular horse to win, place (come in second) or show (come in third) or you can bet an exacta (which horses will come in first, second, and third). The more difficult the bet (such as the exacta) and the less likely it is a particular horse will win (the longer the odds), the more money you win if the horse you choose does well. And its definitely more interesting to watch the racing when you have a few dollars bet on one or more horses. Although editors lost more than we won during our evening at Emerald Downs, it was exciting to watch our horses and cheer them on.

Real bottom line: Emerald Downs is a family-friendly way to spend an evening. The price of an adult admission is less than a movie (and children under 17 are free) and even the parking is inexpensive. It offers patrons lots of seating options, opportunities to get up-close-and personal with the horses and jockeys, and plenty of dining choices, from simple finger food like nachos to full meals. Betting on the horses is fun, easy, and inexpensive.

by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

Horse #6 Wins the Race

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Bobbie Hasselbring

RFT founder and the website's former editor-in-chief, Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. She's been an award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook.