Mark and Jeanette Garrison had been fixtures for decades at Grants Pass Downs — that is until they moved from the Rogue Valley seven years ago.
Both are Oregon natives, Hidden Valley High graduates and participants in some capacity at GP Downs for well over 30 years.
WHAT: The 22nd annual running of the Fourth of July 350-yard quarter horse sprint for 2-year-olds at Grants Pass Downs.
Post, Horse Jockey
1. Cm Undertainfluence A.L. Guiterrez
2. Angel Eyez Troy Stillwell
3. Ez Red Freckles Jose Figueroa
4. My Wynema Ruben Camacho
5. Thinkin of Girls Jose Guerrero
6. Eagle B Gone Luis Gonzalez
7. Reel Fast Tad Skaggs
8. Avatarr Eddie Aceves
After training the winning horse in the 14th running of the Firecracker Futurity here, the Garrisons left the area to compete in the high-stakes racing circuit in Oklahoma and surrounding states.
The Garrisons had plenty of success at top-level tracks in the Midwest, but a yearning for Southern Oregon brought the couple back to the region last year.
"We won a lot of races back there," says Mark Garrison, 48. "The purse structure is so big, it's crazy."
"But we just love southern Oregon," adds the veteran trainer, who began galloping his parents' horses at the local track as a 13-year-old. "The people are great and all our friends are here. You just can't beat the quality of life in southern Oregon."
In Thursday's 22nd annual Fourth of July futurity, the couple will try to recapture the magic that put them in the winner's circle in 2005. That year, the Garrisons'-trained Royal Suspect claimed the Firecracker for Grants Pass owners Alex and Virginia Austin.
The futurity began as the Far West in 1991, and the name was changed to the Firecracker in 2002. The 1992 race was rained out.
The Garrisons will saddle the sixth-fastest qualifier, My Wynema, in the $31,000 Firecracker set for Thursday's seventh-race. Post time for the first of eight races is 1 p.m. at the Josephine County Fairgrounds. .
The eight fastest 2-year-old quarter horses qualified out of a field of 21 in three trials on June 16.
Trainer Hector Magallanes, of Boardman, has three horses, including two of the three fastest, in the 350-yard sprint, and three-time winning futurity trainer Scott Raley qualified two of his three in the finals.
It's the third straight year the 31-year-old Magallanes has put horses in the Firecracker final, but he has yet to come away with the top prize. In 2011, Warnock was the fastest qualifier but ran third. Last year, Magallanes had two in but both ran out of the money.
This season, Magallanes' horses won each of the three Firecracker trials, with Eagle B Gone posting the fastest qualifying time (17.694 seconds).
Eagle B Gone comes into the race with the top credentials. The big, muscular dark brown gelding won the $23,000 Pot Of Gold futurity at Sun Downs in Kennewick, Wash., in May.
"He's just a talented horse," says Magallanes. "He might not be the fastest but he tries and does everything right."
Third-fastest qualifier Angel Eyez and eighth-best Reel Fast are Magallanes' other two horses in the finals.
Angel Eyez won her Pot of Gold trial and finished fourth in the finals. The filly got sick in between the trial and finals and wasn't at her best, says Magallanes.
"That filly has the potential to be very fast," he says.
And Reel Fast is no slouch either. He beat Eagle B Gone in a Pot of Gold trial but got knocked down to third for bumping. Then Reel Fast finished second in the Pot of Gold consolation.
Raley, of Brush Prairie, Wash., will try to earn his first victory since 2010 with qualifiers Thinkin of Girls and Ez Red Freckles — both first-time starters in the trials.
"I had zero expectations coming into the trials," says Raley. "I didn't know if I'd make the finals with any of them because I was up against horses that had more outings."
Thinkin of Girls finished second to Eagle B Gone in the third trial and had the second-fastest qualifying time (17.731). Thinkin of Girls is the first colt from Raley's father's mare One Fast Trick — the 2004 Firecracker winner.
"He's a very, very nonchalant horse," says Scott Raley. "He took a slow step out of the gate and got banged pretty hard part way down but fired back to run second. He showed some professionalism."
The Garrisons' My Wynema is a full sister to last year's fourth-fastest qualifier, Shelby Jean.
"(My Wynema) is a game little filly," says Mark Garrison. "But there's at least three or four in there I can't outrun unless something happens. I'm just being realistic.
"I think Hector's horses will be awfully hard to beat. If anybody upsets Eagle B Gone, Thinkin of Girls will be the one."
Though Mark Garrison is not touting his horse, he's familiar with the horse racing adage, "If you're in it, you can win it."
He hopes that comes true on the Fourth of July.
Saturday will be designated Don Jackson Day, in memory of the influential Grants Pass horseman who passed away last summer. Free admission will be granted to all fans wearing a fedora hat — Jackson's trademark.
Fan Appreciation Day is slated Sunday. A free drawing for prizes will be held after every race. Winners must be present.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480, or email firstname.lastname@example.org