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Grants Pass horse-racing picture cloudy

GRANTS PASS — By November, the Josephine County Fair Board expects to decide if the half-century tradition of horse racing has a future here.

During a workshop Wednesday evening, the board pondered a recently released report that detailed how the Grants Pass Downs 2012 horse racing season lost about $22,000. In 2011, the nine-day event lost about $50,000.

At the same meeting, the chairman of the Josephine County Board of Commissioners recommended to the Fair Board that it consider privatizing management of the annual horse racing meet. Commissioner Simon Hare, who is also the commissioners' liaison to the fairgrounds, suggested the board put out a request for proposals from organizations that would be interested in taking over the event.

In the meantime, it was apparent that several board members are not willing to let Grants Pass Downs lose money indefinitely.

Board President Terry Canavello said, "We're killing ourselves."

Board members expressed concern that the admission numbers given in the report don't jibe with the amount of money collected. Some also wondered about the administration costs for staff work that contributed to the deficit and $11,000 spent on marketing the event.

Former Fairgrounds Manager Wes Brown, who prepared the report, resigned the day after presenting it to the board and was not at the meeting.

"We can beat Wes and the budget until we're blue in the face," said board member Dan Shepard, but added it would accomplish nothing. He said the board needs to look to the future.

Shepard urged the board to meet with racing officials about the possibility of an outside organization taking over the event.

"Part of this thing is bigger than we are," Shepard said of horse racing's long history in the community.

Board member Dave Daniel said he is a fan of the event, but said stemming the flow of red ink is more important than the continuation of horse racing.

Canavello said the fairgrounds is not a "charity" and cannot continue to be a drain on the Josephine County government, which oversees the facility. She said for the event to continue, "There has to be a whole new way of thinking."

The next Fair Board meeting is set for Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. in the Floral Building at 1451 Fairgrounds Road, Grants Pass.

Reach reporter Stacy D. Stumbo at 541-474-3806 or sstumbo@thedailycourier.com