GRANTS PASS — A lot went wrong at Grants Pass Downs on Sunday, but not for jockey Antonio Alberto.
Jockey injuries, a starting gate malfunction, horses breaking loose on the track and longer than desired delays between races plagued the small pari-mutuel racing operation at the Josephine County Fairgrounds.
But it was Alberto who was able to rise above it all to win three of the five quarter horse trials for the Firecracker Futurity in front of a large Father's Day crowd of 2,715.
The 23-year-old jockey from California qualified two of the eight horses for the finals of the $40,000 futurity on the Fourth of July. Alberto won the second trial aboard Zillas Snow Bird, but the winning time of 18.18 seconds was not fast enough to make it into the finals.
"It's all the horses," Alberto said modestly. "And Patti (Harris) gave me the opportunity."
Patti Harris, trainer of last year's futurity winner Roberts Running Boot, placed the third-fastest qualifier Brimmerlette and fifth-best Misterious Lady into the finals.
Harris will have a chance to be the first trainer to win two consecutive rich Fourth of July futurities at GP Downs since Jim Glenn Jr. accomplished the feat in 1997 and 1998. Trainer Baxter Andruss won three straight from 1993-95.
"I met (Alberto) here last year," said Harris. "He approached me and said he wanted to ride for us in Canada. He rode for us and won a lot of races."
Alberto registered a victory in his first race as a jockey at GP Downs last season.
"(Alberto) was galloping for me last year when he just got his jockey's license," said trainer Glenn, who drove up for the trials from Southern California late Friday night. "He was sitting in my tack room at Los Alamitos when I said 'If you want to drive to Grants Pass I'll give you a shot.'"
Alberto won the maiden race on Eyes On Brimmer, then scored a victory in the Grants Pass Derby on the same horse.
"It was hard to find a mount down there (Los Alamitos)," said Alberto. "I never heard about Grants Pass before."
The fastest qualifying time for the 2010 Firecracker was posted by Ez Gamer in the first of the five trials. Ez Gamer made a big move on the outside in the final 70 yards to defeat Hooters and Beer by one length in a time of 17.64 seconds in the 350-yard sprint.
Hooters and Beer posted the second-fastest trials time (17.83). The third-place horse in that heat, the Andruss-trained Chicks Loveta Giggle, also made the finals field with the seventh fastest time (18.09).
Ez Gamer's fast time was all the more impressive because jockey Nikeela Black had to replace Joe Crispin at the last minute.
Crispin guided Ez Gamer to victories in her two previous starts, including this spring in the Portland Meadows Futurity. The veteran jockey was injured prior to the start of the first race. Crispin sustained a broken left elbow and possibly right foot when the thoroughbred First Cauzin reared up in the gate in a 51/2-furlong maiden race.
"Joe told me to hang on and just have fun," said Black, who is a second-year law student at the University of Idaho. Black is leaving this week for a two-week program in China and won't be back for the Firecracker finals.
Ez Gamer's owner Gary Chumbley won the 2006 Firecracker with her half-sister Ez Speedy Leader. Both horses are out of Chumbley's mare, Easy Verna.
Two-time Firecracker winning trainer Scott Raley believes the well-behaved Ez Gamer has a lot of potential.
"This fillie has another four gears in her," said Raley. "She's a real professional."
In addition to the Crispin injury, jockey Flip Nollar first got bucked off So Many Memories in the post parade then caught his left foot on the gate when he jumped off when So Many Memories reared up prior to the fourth race. So Many Memories was scratched and Nollar showed a definite limp but continued to ride the rest of the card.
But jockey Darlene Braden wasn't so fortunate in the final trials race. Braden was thrown off Royal Down Bunny shortly after the start of the race. Braden was momentarily knocked unconscious and was taken by ambulance to the hospital with a concussion.
A starting gate malfunction in the fifth race might have cost heavily favored Chick N Dales Dasher a shot at the finals. With the seven-horse field "locked and loaded" the gate opened but the bell didn't ring. All the horses had to be taken out of the gate and loaded again. This time starter Gloyd Whitmire had to manually open the gate. The problem was fixed for the rest of the races but none of the seven horses advanced to the finals from that heat.
The winner of the fifth race, Royal Lakota, tied for the eight-fastest time (18.11) with Minam second place in the sixth race. Minam got the spot in the finals through a tiebreaking procedure.
Jockeys Ruben Camacho and Luis Torres also each qualified two horses for the finals.
It was a difficult opening weekend for the track. On Saturday, two horses were injured and had to be destroyed because of an accident in the feature Daily Courier Inaugural Handicap. Also, jockey Marijo Terleski suffered a rib cage injury when the gate failed to open properly in the fourth race. Terleski was unable to ride Sunday.
"To put things in perspective, this weekend was a roller coaster ride for all of us," said Tag Wotherspoon, GP Downs director of communications and marketing. "Everybody made the most of a challenging situation because we were putting out one brush fire after another. Our fans were very patient and understanding. A lot of things that did happen were out of our control."
This years Father's Day handle of $63,773 surpassed that of last year (62,934) with 11 races compared to 12 in 2009.
The opening weekend total betting was $104,475 for 20 races.
- In Sunday's eighth race, the Guerrero brothers of Grants Pass brought home a winner. Jockey Jose Guerrero won aboard brother Emilio's thoroughbred Cousin Eddy in a 51/2-furlong claiming race.
- Shyann Garcia, daughter of jockey Ralph and trainer Jackie Garcia, got her first mount at GP Downs in Sunday's 10th race aboard Raise Again. Shyann finished tied for fourth on the thoroughbred trained by her mom. It was Shyann's ninth career ride.
- Patti Harris was the only trainer with four wins on Sunday. Harris combined three wins in the quarter horse futurity trials with a victory by the thoroughbred Aroseformadeline in the 51/2 furlong 10th race.
- Jockey Hugo Herrera match Antonio Alberto with three wins Sunday.
TB Mdn, 51/2 F. 1, War Wager (N. Black), 3.20, 2.40, 2.10; 2, Snowbound Hero (R. Camacho), 2.60, 2.10; 3, Oh Wilson (L. Torres), 2.20. Q — 4-5 $5; TRI — 5-4-2 $18.20. Time — 1:07.8.
QH Fut Trial, 350 yd. 1, Ez Gamer (N. Black), 3.00, 2.80, 2.20; 2, Hooters and Beer (R. Camacho), 3.40, 2.60; 3, Chicks Loveta Giggle (L. Torres), 3.00. Q — 4-7 $5.60; TRI — 7-4-2 $38.40. Time — 17.64.
QH Fut Trial, 350 yd. 1, Zillas Snow Bird (A. Alberto), 8.00, 4.40, 2.80; 2, Chitchatin Okie (R. Camacho), 4.20, 2.60; 3, Runaway Galpin (E. Gomez), 2.80. DD — 7-4 $17.00; Q — 1-4 $15.20; TRI — 4-1-7 $30.80. Time — 18.18
QH Fut Trial, 350 yd. 1, Brimmerlette (A. Alberto), 8.80, 3.40, 2.60; 2, Danner (L. Torres), 4.80, 3.00; 3, Hy Lonesome (R. Camacho), 2.80. Q — 1-3 $10.60; TRI — 3-1-8 $29.20. Time — 17.83.
QH Fut Trial, 350 yd. 1, Royal Lakota (H. Herrera), 18.80, 7.00, 5.40; 2, Jump for Joy (N. Black), 3.80, 3.60; 3, Eddies Claim to Fame (L. Torres), 4.20. Q — 3-7 $27.60; TRI — 7-3-4 $488.40. Time — 18.11.
QH Fut Trial, 350 yd. 1, Misterious Lady (A. Alberto), 3.60, 3.20, 3.00; 2, Minam (E. Gomes), 9.80, 6.60; 3, Pleas Brown (H. Herrera), 4.80. Q — 2-6 $131.80; TRI — 2-6-8 $547.40. Time — 17.98.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Devilish Wish (H. Herrera), 19.80, 8.00, 4.00; 2, Moments in May (N. Black), 10.60, 4.00; 3, Mocha Time (S. Keever), 3.00. Q — 2-6 $131.80; TRI — 2-6-8 $547.40. Time — 1:07.4.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Cousin Eddy (J. Guerrero), 7.20, 2.60, 2.40; 2, Bandalito Hombre (N. Black), 3.00, 2.80; 3, Sneaky Snitch (T. Birdrattler), 3.60. Q — 5-7 $8.40; TRI — 7-5-6 $197.20. Time — 1:08.2.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Aroseformadeline (T. Birdrattler), 18.80, 8.60, 4.60; 2, City Sleuth (S. Keever), 9.20, 7.60; 3, Purple Kaycee (N. Parker), 3.20. Q — 3-7 $116.40; TRI — 3-7-6 $707.80. Time — 1:06.6.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Low Expectations (L. Torres), 6.20, 9.20, 4.40; 2, Mary's Angel Annie (J. Guerrero), 8.60, 5.20; 3, Kanaire (F. Nollar), 4.60. Q — 5-6 $41.20; TRI — 6-5-8 $2,115.20. Time — 1:06.0.
TB Clm, 51/2 F. 1, Sher Veil (H. Herrera), 20.40, 4.40, 2.60; 2, Yagotkissesforpops (L. Torres), 3.40, 2.60; 3, Velvet Sword (S. Keever), 2.20. DD — 6-1 $53.80; Q — 1-5 $16.40; TRI — 1-5-3 R128.00.
Attendance — 2,715; Handle — $63,773.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or e-mail email@example.com.