GP Downs is back on track
GRANTS PASS — There will be horse racing at Grants Pass Downs this summer after all.
The schedule may not be as plentiful as it was last summer, but it’s more than how things looked just a couple of weeks ago.
The Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association’s application to hold a seven-day fair-style race meet at Grants Pass Downs this summer was officially approved by the Oregon Racing Commission during an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, according to SOHRA president Rod Lowe and GPD director of communications and marketing Tag Wotherspoon.
“That’s one more step that we got through,” said Lowe, who was recently elected to a new term as president. “It’s great to know that we’ve got the support of the Oregon Racing Commission and a lot of the stakeholders that want to see this happen. That was a key part of it to get that race meet application approved.
“It’s a big deal. We usually have months to try and put something like this together, so to try and do it in two weeks, it has been a whirlwind.”
SOHRA will be the host of the meet, which gets underway on Sunday, June 19 — running it in the same kind of manner the organization did from 2013 to 2019 before Travis Boersma, co-founder of Dutch Bros, and TMB Racing purchased Grants Pass Downs.
Other race days will be June 20-21, June 27-28 and July 3-4.
“It helped tremendously,” said Lowe in regard to how much previous fair meets helped GPD get approval from the ORC. ‘We know what we need to do, so that’s all great. On top of it, that is why the ORC was so quick to give us a license because they knew we could do it. We’ve done it before, and they knew we could do it again. It was a slam dunk because we had the experience of doing this before.”
The importance of something happening at Grants Pass Downs this summer is something that Lowe was well aware of.
“We would have really been on the verge of closing down the whole state for horse racing if this didn’t happen,” he said. “All of the stakeholders had a feeling that it might be the end of racing in Oregon completely if Grants Pass didn’t have a race meet of some kind.”
Tuesday’s news is just the latest development in what has been a roller coaster few weeks for horse racing supporters and fans in Southern Oregon.
Most recently, Boersma announced in mid-April that was canceling Grants Pass Downs’ spring-summer meet schedule, citing the ORC’s denial of an operation license for historic horse racing (HHR) machines at The Flying Lark, a 35,000-foot entertainment facility next to the track.
In February, the Oregon Department of Justice ruled that the HHR terminals that were planned for The Flying Lark differ from the traditional live horse racing, thus making the facility “a prohibitive casino” and not in accordance with Oregon state law.
The decision by Boersma to cancel Grants Pass Downs’ spring-summer meet resulted in 19 days of racing suddenly disappearing.
“As a result of the Oregon Racing Commission’s vote to deny an operating license to The Flying Lark, Grants Pass Downs has lost its economic engine,” Boersma said in an April press release announcing his decision. “While we remained hopeful we would be able to host a viable race meet, the uncertainty here and across the industry has resulted in a drastic reduction of race horses at Grants Pass Downs. At this point, it’s clear running the meet isn’t feasible.”
But with Tuesday’s approval of SOHRA’s license, horse racing at GPD is back on.
“Having Grants Pass Downs running, it’s important for the fair racing circuit in Oregon,” said Wotherspoon. “We’re just kind of reverting back to where we were before (the fall meet in 2019). … We just told ourselves, ‘There’s just too much history here, so we’re going to make this work.’”
There has been plenty to do besides just applying for a fair meet this summer, both Lowe and Wotherspoon noted.
SOHRA has worked with Boersma and TMB Racing, GPD’s leaseholder, to acquire enough equipment to be able to run this summer’s meet, some of which they used to previously own prior to 2019. They’ve had to acquire insurance and, as of Tuesday, a license to actually run the meet.
They’ve also had to work with Josephine County to be able to actually have GPD, which is located at the county fairgrounds, available to use for racing — “which we’ve been able to do,” said Wotherspoon.
“The Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association, we’re going to be running the race meet,” began Wotherspoon, “but for the most part, the race meet is going to be sponsored by the (Oregon Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association). They’re the ones that bought the equipment, they’re going to be helping with a lot of the expenses.”
With the limited number of racing days, Lowe said that there will be some differences from what has been taking place the last couple of years during the commercial meets.
“The only thing that really differs from the race meet side of things is that as a fair meet we’re not going to be simulcasting our races out to other parts of the United States,” said Lowe. “We’re just going to keep our races local and keep our wagering local.”
Tuesday’s news was almost like a sense of relief for Lowe, who previously served as SOHRA president before TMB Racing took over at Grants Pass Downs.
Another sense of relief?
Seeing trainers, jockeys and horses back on the GPD track again.
That could happen before the end of the week, according to Lowe.
“Hopefully in the next couple of days,” said Lowe. “We have one piece of insurance that we’re waiting on the policy for. I’m hopeful that we get that finished up (Wednesday), and if we get that finished up, we’ll be able to get out there and start working the track again and get people on the track within the next few days.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.