GP Downs features rich quarter horse challenge

After setting the track record last year, Hannibal Lector returns to Grants Pass Downs today for the $10,000-added John Deere Bonus Challenge.

The 6-year-old quarter horse broke Mr. Doubtfire's previous GP Downs record of 17.52 seconds for 350 yards set in the 1995 Far West Futurity. Hannibal Lector raced to a 17.40 mark on June 24, 2007. Former GP Downs leading jockey Tad Skaggs rode both horses in their record-setting performances. Skaggs, 48, is presently recovering from a serious leg injury.

The first running of the rich John Deere Challenge at GP Downs has a talented field of seven quarter horses. Outside of the $40,000 Firecracker Futurity on the Fourth of July, the John Deere carries the highest purse of this year's meet.

"It's a big one," said Nichelle Milner, GP Downs racing secretary. "Honestly on paper, this shapes up as the most competitive quarter horse races I've had. These are class quarter horses."

Milner has installed Hannibal Lector as the early 3-1 favorite.

"Not only does he hold the track record," said Milner, "but Hannibal Lector is one of the hardest running horses. He'll do everything not to get beat. You can't help but love to watch him run.

"This is the kind of race that will be won or lost at the gate," concluded Milner.

The John Deere is the middle of three consecutive stakes races on today's 10-race card. A 600-yard $2,200-added Appaloosa Stakes is the seventh race and the $4,200-added HBPA Thoroughbred Stakes going 11/16-mile is the ninth race.

But the John Deere is the premier event. The race is loaded with speed, with two in the field — Hannibal Lector and Say Good Nite Grace — coming off of consecutive wins.

Eyes Okey, owned and trained by Ron Raley of Brush Prairie, Wash., and Cancino Dash, trained by Don Young of Boardman, should give Hannibal Lector the most competition. The three horses are familiar with each other.

Eyes Okey has run second to the other two horses in his last two outs. Eyes Okey has performed well at GP Downs in the past. The 7-year-old colt won the $3,000-added Mail Tribune Stakes in 2005.

"The real competition is Eyes Okey," said Young. "That's the one that got me worried. When you go against Ron Raley, you've got to run."

On his last start on May 24 against Hannibal Lector and Eyes Okey, Young's Cancino Dash got bumped and was never a factor in the 250-yard race at Dayton, Wash.

"(Cancino Dash) is a real consistent horse," said Young. "If we can get a clean shot out of the gate, he's double tough to beat. He'll run his heart out."

Eyes Okey has the most wins (14) and has won the most money ($62,657) of any horse in the field. Jockey Ruben Camacho gets his second straight mount on Eyes Okey.

Young, 71, has the favorite PJs Houdini in the five-horse Appaloosa Stakes. The 6-year-old mare won this race here last June 30th, but has been off for almost a year since hurting a tendon in her right foot two weeks later at Prineville.

"I don't think they are going to touch her," said a confident Young. "She should win it. We worked her the other day and she was excellent."

In the thoroughbred feature, present GP Downs leading trainer Karen Haverty has the top two choices in the five-horse field. Milner has Tioga Junction as the top pick at 8-5 odds, while Whenthewindblows is at 2-1.

Tioga Junction comes to GP Downs after a pair of third-place finishes at Golden Gate Fields. Prior to those two races, the 6-year-old colt posted consecutive wins at Bay Meadows going at least one-mile each time.

Post time for today's opening race is 12:30 p.m.

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