GRANTS PASS — The Mail Tribune Stakes highlights today's races at Grants Pass Downs, which start at the new Saturday post time of 4 p.m.

GRANTS PASS — The Mail Tribune Stakes highlights today's races at Grants Pass Downs, which start at the new Saturday post time of 4 p.m.

Six speedsters will compete for $2,500 in the 350-yard sprint. Quarter horse specialist Tadd Skaggs is aboard Roberts Running Boot, the 2009 winner of the Firecracker Futurity; he is trained by John Harris and owned by Selma horseman Carl Alleman. The same pair teamed last year to win the Futurity with Bradens Bustlinbooty, a full sister to Roberts Running Boot.

That was a Bootiful moment for the 92-year-old Alleman.

All the entries are multiple winners. They include Danner, the new 300-yard record holder at Portland Meadows, and Shezahawk, owned by Cliff and Jan Gates. The Grants Pass father and daughter were among 200 people at a dinner for horsemen held Thursday at the Josephine County Fairgrounds.

Jan noted that Shezahawk and Roberts Running Boot have squared off before.

"They can beat each other," she said.

Four of today's 10 races are for maidens — horses that have not won a race. There's no shortage of qualifiers. Earlier this spring, the Hoover brothers had 15 fit mounts ready for the Downs, many of them winners.

"Now we have one. She's a maiden," said Tony, disgusted by the string of injuries that has plagued them. "Her name is Sexy Bride."

When asked what kind of a horse she is, he replied, "A little one."

The Hoovers are pinning their hopes on a huge 3-year-old they're bringing up from Santa Anita next week.

"His name is Noballstwostrikes," said David. "He's a gelding."

Sunday's card features three Firecracker Futurity trials. Nineteen 2-year-old quarter horses, most of them first-time starters, will blast out of the gate and fly in unpredictable ways. The fastest eight qualifiers will then vie July 4 for the big money.

Once again, John Harris has a Carl Alleman horse in the mix. He's mum on Hezacruzin Fer David's chances though.

Trainer Mark Garrison was more forthcoming. He possesses special knowledge since he now works the starting gates and sees the horses up close during their morning practice sessions.

"I'm really impressed by Racatchadream," he said, but added that nobody knows what 2-year-olds will do.

It turns out this sorrel with the odd name and the unique bull's-eye on its forehead has posted the fastest workout of all Firecracker entries. Coincidentally, Racatchadream also has the tallest trainer at the track — Ben Utley goes 6 feet, 6 inches, which might be important to a horse.

Garrison is a horseshoer as well as a trainer, and he's noticed something odd in his travels.

"I do a lot of shoeing all over the valley," Garrison said. "It's surprising how many people don't even know we have horse racing here. I guess we need more advertising. Maybe more billboards, word of mouth, even radio ads. Why isn't the reader board outside the fairgrounds working? People driving to the coast would see it and tell others."

Good question: Why isn't the reader board working?

Dan Guthrie can be reached at