Emerald Downs bringing back first live sport in Washington with opening day racing

VIDEO: Emerald Downs bringing back the first live sport in Western Washington

AUBURN, Wash. — King County is in Phase 2 of reopening and Emerald Downs is bringing back the first live sport in Washington.

They’re relaunching horse racing Wednesday for opening day, but it’s going to look very different - with the audience and the betting all online.

The races on Wednesday start at 2:15pm. Usually, an opening day with ideal weather would bring around 10,000 people.

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“It’s going to be an odd sight,” said Phil Ziegler, president of Emerald Downs. “We’re excited to be the first sport to come back in this state,” he said.

Thoroughbred horses trained against the backdrop of Mount Rainier on Tuesday.

“A lot of folks have been paying the bills, the owners paying for all the training, the Muckleshoot Tribe who owns us supporting all the workers and the activities going on, and now we finally get to run some real races,” Ziegler said.

All riders are in masks until race time and temperatures are being checked for all personnel.

Jockey Gary Wales already raced this season with no audience in Florida.

“When you’re in contention to win the race, coming down the stretch -- then you miss it (the audience) because you can hear the fans cheering,” Wales said.

And now he's ready to ride at Emerald Downs.

He took “Ima Happy Cat” for a spin on Tuesday. He and the mare won the Hastings Stakes last year at Emerald Downs.

“Emerald Downs is like a family,” said Doris Harwood, a horse trainer in the Washington Racing Hall of Fame.

She says the horses have been training since February before the shutdown, so the industry costs have continued – without the income.

Some employees at Emerald Downs were furloughed for six weeks. Others were still paid by horse owners.

“Our owners have been 100% supportive. I’m so tickled that they’ve given us all the opportunity to keep our people employed,” Harwood said.

But she said it's been a struggle for many.

“We don’t make money until we get to race our horses,” Harwood said. Now, they’re finally getting back to business -- even if it’s a little different.

“I do think it’s going to be weird but we’re just thankful for the opportunity. So we are happy,” Harwood said.

With the late start, the season will run later into the fall than normal, ending in October this year instead of August or September.