GRANTS PASS — Tim Blue was an important presence for horsemen at Grants Pass Downs this spring.
The 55-year-old California native had been a regular as a jockey and trainer at GP Downs for over a decade beginning in the mid-1970s.
For the past 18 years the Susanville, Calif., resident worked in construction in his hometown. But with the economic downturn affecting his drywall business, he returned to GP Downs last year to gallop horses in the morning and was part of the gate crew during the meet.
Blue, who was given his first horse as a 5-year-old and became a jockey at 16, got the urge to return to the track again this spring.
"I called some people and they said 'come on up there's a lot of horses here,'" says Blue. "People were getting their horses in condition."
The nine-day GP Downs race meet begins June 15. Post time is 1 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through July 7 and on the Fourth of July.
As early as March some local horsemen began training younger horses at the track. Presently, over 100 horses are stabled at the Josephine County Fairgrounds. Rogue Valley trainers such as Mary Boyle, Emilio Guerrero, Mark and Jeanette Garrison, Sally Reid, Margie Cantrell, Nancy Klapatch and Brenda Martini are working long hours getting their horses ready for the meet.
Blue arrived at GPD in early April and was kept busy by the local horsemen. He was a daily fixture riding horses on the half-mile dirt oval accept for jockeying in an actual race for the first time in almost two decades at a small two-day meet in Red Bluff, Calif., in late April. On the opening day, he won two races, including one for Grants Pass-trainer Klapatch.
Blue was getting on 20-plus horses a day for morning workouts and was making $1,000 a week until he broke three ribs and fractured his clavicle in an incident on May 19.
Blue was riding an older thoroughbred on a half-mile training session, when the horse slipped on the straight-away coming off the clubhouse turn.
"He yard-darted me near the rail," describes Blue about getting thrown. "I remember pushing off the rail and hitting the inside of the track. I was worried the horse was going to land on me. I was thinking I have to roll. That's the last thing I remembered."
Blue was knocked out for five to 10 minutes. When he woke up he was lying by the inside of the rail on the ground and looked up at a group of people standing over him.
"I had worked the horse two or three times before and it was no big deal," says Blue, who classified this as his worst horse-racing injury.
While Blue faces a six-week healing process, fortunately the horse did not sustain an injury.
"Tim Blue saved us this year," said local horse owner and trainer Boyle. "He has a real good sense on what needs to be done. I was so sorry when he got hurt."
Boyle says a lot of trainers turn their horses out in the winter to get rest, then they start all over in the spring to them get back into racing condition.
"You have to get them in shape like any other athlete," says Boyle. "The horses need to work on the track. It's not the same like running in the pasture. That's why Tim was such a big help."
Dave Hoover of Grants Pass has known Blue for over 20 years and was also appreciative of his efforts. Hoover, who is a builder and developer, breeds, sells and races horses as a hobby.
"He's a hard-working guy so he virtually started working for all the trainers out here," says Hoover. "He was galloping 20 to 25 horses a day and that's a lot.
"He's just a real good horseman," adds Hoover. "He's not afraid of horses. He gets them to do things without being hard on them that some other rider can't do."
Blue was raised in a horse environment. He won his very first race during a 14-year jockey career.
"I won by three lengths and was hooked," says Blue. "It was thrilling and I knew it was something I wanted to do the rest of my life."
After Blue retired as a jockey, he transitioned into becoming a trainer. In 1989 — his first year training — Blue and his dad William combined for 13 quarter horse wins in 16 starts at GPD and had horses set the track record at 350 and 400 yards.
"My only talent is I can think what a horse is thinking," says Blue. "I get a lot of satisfaction picking up the psychology of a horse."
The injury is not deterring Blue from pursuing his passion. He still arrives early in the morning at the stable area to help out on chores associated with caring for horses. And he's going to be fit enough to be a member of the gate crew once the meet begins.
"I plan on getting right back on horses and exercising as soon as I heal," Blue says emphatically.
That's good news for those in the racing community.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480, or email email@example.com