- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - It has long been known as the Sport of Kings.

At Auburn’s Emerald Downs, the goal was to make horse racing the Sport of the Masses.

It’s a sport desperate for innovation, new fans and horse owners, and Sophia McKee decided to take a chance.

Welcome to the Emerald Racing Club, the newest group of horse owners at Emerald Downs.

It didn’t take a huge stake to join this club.

Just $500. That was the price to buy into a horse at Emerald Downs for the season.

Training fees, vet bills and all the other expenses that come with owning a horse? All included in the $500. Just like all of the perks of being an owner, including free track admission, access to the paddock and backstretch and the chance to get to know your horse.

“We want this to be a hands-on experience,” said McKee, director of marketing at the track. “We want the owners to be able to come down and feed their horse a carrot. We want them to be really involved.”

When Emerald Downs began promoting the program, McKee hoped 50 people would sign on, but she was worried that was a bit ambitious. A similar program at Canterbury Park outside Minneapolis, where McKee got the idea, had a buy-in of $250 and attracted 60.

McKee got 128.

“It’s exceeded anything I could have imagined,” McKee said.

For McKee, perhaps the most important task was to find the right trainer for the club’s horse.

And in this case, trainers.

She knocked first on the stable of Larry and Sharon Ross, among the most respected trainers in the Northwest for decades. They liked the idea of the Emerald Racing Club, and immediately got in.

“I think anything that gets people involved in racing is great,” said Larry Ross, who trained the great Chum Salmon, winner of the 1985 Longacres Mile. “Sharon likes to do this kind of thing, and it was an amazing turnout.”

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