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Lowe seeks Firecracker winner

GRANTS PASS — It's only fitting that Rod Lowe has finally put a horse in the finals of Saturday's $25,100 Firecracker Futurity at Grants Pass Downs

The Lowe-owned Frankie Valentine posted the fourth-fastest qualifying time out of 16 2-year-old quarter horses in the trials for the Firecracker on June 21 at GP Downs.

Lowe, a local horseman and president of the Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association, was instrumental in keeping Grants Pass Downs operating after the Josephine County Fairgrounds lost a reported $90,000 during the 2011 and 2012 racing seasons and was not going to sponsor the nine-day meet anymore.

With local live horse racing in jeopardy, Lowe spearheaded an effort by SOHRA to take over responsibility for the meet. Using his business experience as an owner of a construction company, Lowe formulated a budget that he was confident would create a positive cash flow. In the past two years, SOHRA has generated approximately $75,000 in profits.

"As far as carrying the burden, I would say Rod is 99 percent the reason they have racing there today," says Dan Shepard, a board member of both SOHRA and the Josephine County Fair.

Shepard, a longtime Grants Pass resident, believes the community embraces the legacy of horse racing that dates back to 1934. He also points out the meet provides several million dollars in economic impact to the community and adds another type of family entertainment at the fairgrounds.

"Rod gets up in the morning and thinks, ‘What will get done today,’" says Shepard, 67. "He's analytical and doesn't let his emotions get involved. He has the ability to pick and choose his battles."

Lowe wasn't planning on racing Frankie Valentine, who is out of his mare Be Dancing. But when bids for the quarter horse came up short at a yearling sale, Lowe purchased him back for $4,500.

"I tried to sell Frankie at the sale," says Lowe, "but I didn't like what was offered. He has a great body confirmation and he's a good-size colt."

Frankie Valentine is sired by Ocean Runaway, whose babies have earned $7.1 million. Ocean Runaway died of natural causes as a 7-year-old in 2011. Lowe purchased a share of Ocean Runaway for $200,000 when syndicated and part of the deal gave Lowe three free breedings a year to the stallion.

Because quarter horse breeding allows for the use of frozen semen — something not allowed for thoroughbreds — Lowe was able to breed Ocean Runaway with his mare despite the stud's death.

"Frankie is a progeny of frozen semen," says Lowe, who has entered horses in the Firecracker over the years. "I've never qualified a horse for the finals because either they weren't good enough or got sick or something else. But Frankie has a legitimate shot to be a contender in the race."

Lowe's entry has failed to win in four outs. But Frankie Valentine has showed improvement and has two seconds and a third in his trial here on June 21.

John Harris, the winning trainer of the 2011 Firecracker winner Bradens Bustlinbooty, says Frankie Valentine has heart and demonstrates a lot of professionalism for a young colt. With only two weeks between the trials and finals, Harris has used the less-is-more approach leading up to the biggest race of the season at GP Downs.

"I'm not training him very hard," says the veteran Washington horseman. "I'm just doing what needs to be done to keep him sharp. He's pretty much ready to run."

While Lowe is seeking his first Firecracker victory, owner Gary Chumbley and trainer Scott Raley have two Firecracker titles from their barn. Raley is only the third trainer to have three or more victories in the rich futurity that began as the Far West in 1991 at GP Downs.

Baxter Andruss, with five victories, and Jim Glenn, with four, are the others.

The Chumbley-Raley team has two entries — Ez Feisty Patriot and Shez Sneakin Fast — in the eight-horse field.

Raley is somewhat puzzled with Ez Feisty Patriot, the fastest qualifier, who is a full sister of 2010 winner Ez Gamer.

"She's got the ability," says Raley about Ez Feisty Patriot, "but she's not focused in yet. I'm always wondering what she's going to do."

Shez Sneakin Fast was the fifth fastest in the trials. Raley's "red mare" has a more congenial personality than her stablemate.

"She might be better right now because she's easier to handle," says Raley, 49, from Brush Prairie, Wash. "It's weird, but that's just how I feel."

Owner and trainer Juan Leon from Hermiston has two horses in the finals. Leon's entries are Shimmie Horn, the second fastest, and sixth-best Freaky Chick.

Former leading GP Downs trainer Bob Becker will saddle L Bar D Dixon Delite, and jockey Ruben Camacho, who rode two qualifiers, chose the third fastest, Double Down Corona, over the fastest, Ez Feisty Patriot.

Grants Pass trainer Jeanette Garrison will try for her first win in the Firecracker with slowest qualifier Secret Second Chance, who finished fifth in her heat. Garrrison's husband, Mark, was the winning trainer of the 2005 race.

Hector Magallanes of Boardman, winning trainer of the previous two Firecracker futurities, failed to have a horse reach the finals.

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or fsilow@mailtribune.com

Rod Lowe, left, and John Harris show off Firecracker Futurity hopeful Frankie Valentine during a break Wednesday at Grants Pass Downs. PHOTO BY DAN GUTHRIE
Ez Feisty Patriot (5) with jockey Ruben Camacho edges L Bar D Dixon Delite and rider Kassie Guglielmino to post the fastest time out of three Firecracker Futurity trials June 21 at Grants Pass Downs. PHOTO BY JOEL TAKARSH