A grand closing act
GRANTS PASS — As the curtain fell on the nine-day racing season at Grants Pass Downs on Sunday, Cal Hewes' long, successful career in the sport also came to a close.
Hewes has a storied history at GP Downs. The 89-year-old Grants Pass resident rode, trained and had been the timer at the local track prior to serving as the association steward during the race meet for the past five years.
As the association steward, Hewes acts as the track representative to help maintain order and rules in the barn area. He, along with two state stewards, also rules as an arbiter if there's a dispute during a race.
"If there's anything that's a detriment to the track, I'm all over it," says the crusty Hewes.
Hewes' final official duties came on Sunday's 10-race card, which was highlighted by a pair of feature races — the $5,340 Grants Pass Quarter Horse Derby and the $4,000 Au Revoir Stakes.
Jockey Ruben Camacho guided Rf Pistol Pete to a wire-to-wire victory in the 400-yard GP Derby. Rf Pistol Pete dueled race favorite Funny Face Nemo out of the gate to pull out a 1/2-length victory and take the $2,136 winner's share of the purse.
"He broke good and stayed straight," said Camacho about the 3-year-old colt. "He likes 400 yards."
In the 11/16-mile Au Revoir, Bold Officer, with Hugo Herrera aboard, battled second-place Robs Hero and Whiskeyandrye the first two times past the grandstand. Herrera rated Bold Officer until taking a 1/2-length lead on the final turn and held the margin to the finish line.
Bold Officer, a 5-year-old gelding, was rewarded with $2,200 for the victory and upped his career earnings to $21,657.
"I waited and didn't push him too hard early," said Hererra, who became a jockey three years ago at the age of 30. "I had to take a good hold of him. It's a long way to go so you have to relax the horse. When I sent him, he responded."
Individually, jockey Luis Torres registered his third consecutive leading rider title and James Young of Portland captured his first top trainer award. Torres, 27, tied for leading jockey with Nikeela Black in 2009 and has taken the crown outright the past two seasons. Young wrestled away the top trainer award from defending three-time leader Bob Beckner.
Torres won three races Sunday to give him 27 firsts for the meet. Camacho finished second (14 wins) and Hererra placed third (13).
This year's meet was a breakthrough for Young, a 43-year-old Portlander who's been clean and sober for 51/2-years.
"It's exhilarating," says Young. "I got my start here. It's a dream come true."
Young had eight wins on the season to edge Beckner and Gary Morris Sr. by one victory.
It was a routine day for Hewes, presiding steward Marty Hamilton and deputy steward Mike Twiggs. But Hewes' career has been anything from ordinary.
In 1934, he began competing in the boys pony race at a county fair back in Kansas.
"After I won three straight years, I couldn't ride in it any more," says Hewes, "and that's when I started riding with the big boys."
After serving in the Army for four years, he migrated out west and continued being a jockey on the California fair circuit before ending a 20-year riding career in 1954. He even rode at Grants Pass in 1948-49.
"When I was riding, I got a thrill every time that gate opened," says Hewes.
He transitioned into being a successful trainer in northern California, moved to Grants Pass in 1972 and retired from training in 1997.
Twiggs says Hewes has been an asset to the operation at GP Downs: "Cal has a lot of insight and valuable input on anything we might deliberate over. He's got a lifetime of experience to bring to the table."
Hewes says the 82 steps to get to the steward's perch in the pressbox high above the racing surface haven't got any easier to climb over the years and now is the time to really retire.
But Hewes still plans to be a racing fan during the local meet and maybe even buy a horse to run.
"I started riding horses when I was 4-years-old," says Hewes. "It got in my blood and has been my whole life."
A successful final weekend helped the GP Downs handle and attendance figures, but they still lagged from the year before.
Total handle for 2011 was $390,343 (down 5 percent) and attendance of 19,925 was off about 6 percent.
Sunday's attendance was the third biggest crowd (2,310) of the season and the handle of $47,619 the second biggest to only the Fourth of July.
"Overall we were pleased with the fact we were able to finish the 2011 season on a high note," says Tag Wotherspoon, director of communications and marketing. "Considering the circumstances, whether it's the economy or we didn't have as many horses as expected, we feel good with our numbers this year."
- A familiar face from the past turned up on Sunday's card. Tad Skaggs, a former GPD leading jockey, returned to riding for the first time in three years after battling injuries. Skaggs, 51, had been galloping horses in Portland and was aboard trainer Baxter Andruss' entry Hawkadoodledo in the GP Derby. Hawkadoodledo finished sixth in the seven-horse field.
- GPD record holder for 11/16-mile, Handy Man Jeff, is now being used as a pony horse. Handy Man Jeff set the record of 1 minute, 45.40 seconds in 2003.
- Twenty-year-old jockey Shyann Garcia picked up two wins on both mounts she rode on Sunday's card. Garcia, who had only one career win prior to the GPD season, finished fourth in the jockey standings with nine victories.
- Pari-mutuel manager Juanita Gillespy of Medford retired after a 28-year association with the Downs.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Good Thoughts (S. Garcia), 3.80, 2.10, 2.10; 2, Early Habit (R. Camacho), 2.40, 2.10; 3, Sweet Demand (A. Zacherle), 2.10. Q — 1-5 $5.00; EX — 5-1 $5.20; TRI — 5-1-3 $7.00. Time — 1:05.60.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Voice of Angels (H. Herrera), 5.00, 2.20, 2.20; 2, Mystacallie (L. Torres), 2.40, 2.10; 3, Seafair (A. Zacherle), 2.10. Q — 1-5 $3.20; EX — 5-1 $3.90; TRI — 5-1-4 $12.60. Time — 1:06.00.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Dodger (S. Garcia), 4.20, 2.40, 2.10; 2, Mary's Major Angel (T. Neal), 3.00, 2.40; 3, Mark the Cop (L. Gotham), 2.60. Q — 1-2 $5.80; EX — 2-1 $9.10; TRI — 2-1-3 $24.30; DD — 5-2 $11.40. Time — 1:05.20.
TB Mdn Clm, 41/2 F. 1, General Day (L. Torres), 4.20, 2.40, 2.40; 2, Pinotman (H. Herrera), 2.40, 3.20; 3, Chums Fib (L. Gotham), 5.40. Q — 4-6 $4.20; EX — 6-4 $4.10; TRI — 6-4-5 $8.50. Time — :53.60.
QH Derby, 400 yd. 1, Rf Pistol Pete (R. Camacho), 18.60, 5.00, 4.20; 2, Funny Face Nemo (H. Herrera), 3.80, 3.60; 3, Here Come the Budder (L. Gotham), 4.60. Q — 4-6 $15.80; EX — 6-4 $24.60; TRI — 6-4-1 $93.50. Time — na.
TB Mdn, 5 F. 1, Neri (J. Sherman), 8.20, 3.00, 2.20; 2, Thai Cheau (R. Camacho), 2.80, 2.20; 3, Run Rhodo Run (H. Herrera), 2.20. Q — 1-5 $11.00; EX — 5-1 $12.70; TRI — 5-1-2 $22.50. Time — 1:00.80.
TB Clm, 41/2 F. 1, Danzgal (R. Camacho), 8.60, 4.00, 2.60; 2, Sultana's Secret (H. Herrera), 2.80, 2.20; 3, Sandi's Speed Trap (L. Torres), 2.20. Q — 2-4 $11.00; EX — 2-4 $7.90; TRI — 2-4-5 $24.90. Time — :52.60.
TB Hdcp, 11/16-mile. 1, Bold Officer (H. Herrera), 11.80, 3.00, 2.60; 2, Robs Hero (L. Gotham), 2.40, 2.20; 3, Loose Tappets (A. Zacherle), 3.40. Q — 5-6 $10.00; EX — 6-5 $8.50; TRI — 6-5-3 $89.90. Time — 1:48.40.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Dracon (L. Torres), 4.20, 2.20, 2.20; 2, Surfer Dave (L. Gotham), 3.00, 3.00; 3, General Joe (R. Camacho), 3.00. Q — 2-5 $19.60; EX — 5-2 $13.60; TRI — 5-2-1 $56.10. Time — 1:05.00.
TB Clm, 61/2 F. 1, Rudeameanie (L. Torres), 4.60, 3.60, 2.20; 2, Sher Veil (H. Herrera), 7.40, 2.20; 3, Almost Toast (R. Camacho), 2.10. Q — 4-6 $15.60; EX — 6-All $1.40 and All-6 4.00; TRI — 6-4-1 $38.20; DD — 5-6 $7.00.
Attendance — 2,310; Handle — $47,619.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480, or email email@example.com