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First GPD commercial meet starts on Sunday

GRANTS PASS — For the first time, Grants Pass Downs will operate a commercial horse racing meet, and it begins Sunday.

The fall meet, a byproduct of Portland Meadows ceasing operations this year and the sport looking for a place to land, will run until Nov. 4, with racing on Sundays and Mondays.

The eight-race opening day program will feature the TMB Inaugural, with a full field of eight thoroughbreds competing for a purse of $11,650 at 5 1/2 furlongs.

Post time for all 14 race dates will be 1 p.m. Admission is $4, and parking is free.

Following the closure of Portland Meadows, Grants Pass-based TMB Racing applied for the license to host and operate live commercial racing with simulcasting rights.

The application was approved by the Oregon Racing Commission in March, and the company signed a 50-year lease agreement with Josephine County in August for use of Grants Pass Downs, formally marking an epicenter shift for horse racing in Oregon.

Significant upgrades to the Grants Pass Downs track and facility have been completed. They include:

n The installation of a state-of-the-art safety rail to ensure the welfare of riders and horses and raise the standard of the meet.

n An upgraded track to improve conditions for racing, with an additional 800 tons of sand laid last week in anticipation of wet fall weather.

n The addition of a digital scoreboard to enhance the experience for spectators.

n The installation of lighting that will eventually support evening racing.

“Demand has been high from the moment we announced our intentions to hold a commercial meet in Grants Pass, and stables filled up by early September,” Rod Lowe, Grants Pass Downs director of racing, said in a press release.

“Trainers have been running workouts for more than three weeks now, and the feedback on the track so far has been phenomenal,” added Lowe, who will oversee operations of the meet. “There’s a lot of excitement for opening week from the horsemen, and we’re anticipating great enthusiasm from fans.”

Lowe has assembled a team of racing industry veterans with deep Oregon roots, including racing secretary John Everly, track superintendent Steve Wood, and director of communications and marketing Tag Wotherspoon. Track announcer Michael Wrona will call the races.

The Oregon Racing Commission will oversee the meet, with Trident providing networking services, United Tote running betting operations and Roberts Communications handling satellite feeds.

“The loss of Portland Meadows threatened to create a huge gap for commercial racing between Seattle and the Bay Area,” said Lowe. “We’ve invested a lot of time, energy and resources into delivering a commercial racing atmosphere for this meet and beyond — and ensuring a long and prosperous future for racing in Grants Pass and Oregon at large.”

Travis Boersma, president of TMB Racing — GPD’s parent organization — and co-founder of Dutch Bros. coffee, grew up in Grants Pass and frequented the track. He later became a racehorse owner, then spearheaded the move to land the commercial meet.

“It truly is an honor to have the opportunity to grow the sport in Josephine County and help establish Grants Pass as a racing destination on the West Coast,” Boersma said in the release. “Beyond supporting the county through our lease and bringing racing fans into our community, this enterprise will also help agricultural business, Oregon breeding programs, and Grants Pass community groups like 4-H, the FFA and local high school equestrian teams, all of which will be supported with the funding model we’re creating.”

Grants Pass Downs’ summer meet was made up of nine race dates in June and July.

Attendance totaled 25,425 for the meet and had an overall handle of $573,982. The on-track handle was $353,902, and the off-track handle was $220,080.

The GPD fall meet will be provided to eight off-track betting locations in Oregon. Lava Lanes in Medford is the lone off-track site in Southern Oregon.

For more information on Grants Pass Downs, visit gpdowns.com.

Horse Racing at Grants Pass Downs on Sunday. [PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR]