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Grants Pass Downs gears up for opening

Granst Pass Downs

GRANTS PASS — Grants Pass Downs hopes to pick up where it left off last fall, when the horse racing track enjoyed its most successful meet on record.

The spring and summer season begins Monday at 5:15 p.m. with an eight-race card that features two quarter horse races, six thoroughbred races and 65 horses — or 8.1 per race.

The marquee race is the $10,000 added Caveman Stakes. It drew a full field of 10 older horses at five furlongs, including Pulpits Power, who won the $20,000 Grants Pass Mile last fall. The 7-year-old gelding drew the No. 3 post position with defending riding champion Joree Scriver taking the mount.

The 17-day meet features Monday and Tuesday racing through July 6 (except June 14 and 15) and special holiday racing Sunday, July 4, at 1 p.m.

“I’m so excited to get our spring/summer season started,” Grants Pass Director of Racing Rod Lowe said in a release. “We spent all winter working on improvements and planning for this meet. We have some very exciting races planned, including a 2-year-old quarter horse futurity that should be worth almost $100,000.”

With Josephine County among those moving into high risk restrictions, Grants Pass Downs is allowed to have 1,200 spectators, or 15% of capacity.

Tickets are available at gpdowns.com and at the gate.

Last fall, Grants Pass Downs was on the heels of its spring season being canceled because of COVID-19 and limited fan attendance in the summer and fall sessions. Another setback occurred at the start of the fall meet, when smoke from wildfires wiped out the first two days of racing.

Nevertheless, television exposure on TVG and a vast online presence lured attention and players to the track.

Grants Pass Downs’ total handle for the fall was $6,044,635 for 16 race days. The figure was six times the handle from the 2019 fall meet.

With 12 races on the final day, GPD handled $868,632. It had never before done as much as $500,000, although it came close to a half million on the next-to-last day.

The daily handle topped $400,000 two other times.

Equally important was the size of the fields, averaging a record 8.03 horses per race, giving bettors plenty of options and increasing payouts.

The Firecracker Futurity, a 350-yard sprint for 2-year-olds, is the richest race of the meet and highlights the July 4 card.

Oregon-bred filly Louisana Bunny registered a 17-to-1 upset in last year’s Firecracker and later captured the John Deere Juvenile Championship at Emerald Downs.

On Monday, the Caveman Stakes figures to be hotly contested.

Claimed for $6,250 by trainer Billy Christian last September, Pulpits Power returned a quick dividend for owners Tony Delp and Dee Stillwell, finishing third in the Medford Stakes before rallying to a three-quarter-length victory over Beat the Heat in the Grants Pass Mile.

Pulpits Power shortens up for his 2021 debut but did break his maiden sprinting and has finished second in three of five career starts in races shorter than six furlongs.

Pure Pursuit ran the fastest six furlongs of the entire 2020 Emerald Downs’ season — 1:08.22 on a wet-fast track last September — and figures to be flying early under jockey Patrick Henry Jr.

A 7-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding, Pure Pursuit compiled a 3-3-1 record from eight starts last year, earning $23,215 for trainer Nick Lowe and co-owner Mark Loebner.

Dusalut is a lofty 5-1-1 in 10 career starts at Grants Pass Downs, including a 25-to-1 stunner in the Applegate Stakes last fall.

Owned by Dorothy Clarke and trained by Teri Beckner, the 5-year-old gray gelding led gate to wire in each of his victories at Grants Pass.

El Alto Hombre is a two-time allowance winner at Grants Pass and finished first or second in 20 of 29 career starts for trainer Liz Kowalski. Keyson, a stakes winner at Turf Paradise, makes his local debut for trainer Dan Kenney and figures to add even more fuel to the early pace.

Trainer Jorge Rosales, who captured the 2020 summer crown with 12 wins in 37 races, entered six horses on opening day, including Count Alexei in the Caveman Stakes.

Although a maiden in the thoroughbred ranks, Count Alexei comes off a 2½-length victory in a 1,000-yard mixed breed race at Los Alamitos and was runner-up twice in maiden special weights on turf — once at Del Mar and once at Santa Anita.

Cerapio Figueroa, rider of Count Alexei, combined to win 39 races with Rosales in 2020.

For the meet, trainers Rosales and Quinn Howey — winners of the last two training titles — head a strong roster that also features veterans Beckner, Christian and Emilio Guerrero.

Apprentice Scriver, who edged McKenzie King for the fall riding title at Grants Pass, is expected to contend for another crown this spring. In 2020, Scriver also was leading apprentice at Emerald Downs.

Jason Beem returns for his second season as the track announcer.