Riding Avanzare for the first time, he took the 4-year-old gelding to the winner’s circle in Saturday’s 81st running of the Grade III $150,000 Washington Park Handicap, the most prestigious of the main track races at Arlington International Racecourse.
“It took 25 years, a lot of hard riding, a lot of broken bones and a lot of surgeries to get here,” the 43-year-old jockey said after Avanzare’s front-running head victory over stretch-running Hattaash. “My favorite memories are riding at Arlington.”
Since winning No. 3,499 on Sunday, Emigh had been shut out in the next two cards at Arlington on Thursday and Friday and the 2006 Arlington champion went into Saturday’s program eighth in the jockey standings.
Emigh said: “I was telling everyone: ‘I’ll do it in a big race; that’ll make it even more spectacular.'”
Not only did Avanzare have a new rider in the saddle, he also was running on the Polytrack for the first time in his nine-race career. All of his previous races were on the grass.
Gimmeadrink, a 7-year-old gelding making his stakes debut after being taken by trainer Dale Bennett out of a $6,250 claiming race in February, was in quest of his ninth victory in his last 10 starts and Emigh anticipated the former claimer would take the lead at the start of the 11/8-mile race.
When it didn’t happen the surprised Emigh sent Avanzare to an easy lead in the field of six and slowed the pace while Gimmeadrink stalked him in second.
At the stretch call Avanzare was 21/2 lengths ahead but no sooner than Gimmeadrink began his fade to fifth Emigh’s mount started to drift outside and 24-1 long shot Hattaash and 2-1 favorite Mister Marti Gras surged into challenging position.
“When he accelerated he drifted,” Emigh said. “We barely held on.”
Hattaash finished a neck in front of third place Mister Marti Gras, the 2011 winner who was second in 2012 and fourth last year.
“There was no pace,” complained Mister Marti Gras’ jockey, Eduardo Perez. “It hurt us when they were going 50 (seconds) at the half. We just couldn’t catch up at the end.”
Avanzare went the distance in 1:52.76 in adding a Polytrack conquest to his four previous triumphs on turf for owners Donato Lanni and John Youngblood and trainer Tom Proctor. The 3-1 third choice in the betting returned $8.60, $4.40 and $3.
“He’s a record-breaker – twice,” said Proctor’s assistant Lindsay Schultz, who saddled Avanzare in his absence.
She was referring to Avanzare being responsible for Emigh’s 3,500th jockey victory and also Proctor’s 1,000th victory as a trainer last winter at Tampa Bay Downs.