Travis Boersma has fond memories of Grants Pass Downs. And he’s not through making new ones.
The founder of the Grants Pass home-grown mega coffee company Dutch Bros traces his interest in horse racing to his childhood.
“It’s been part of my life since inception,” Boersma said. “My grandfather Sam started taking my brother Dane to the track before I was born and I just followed suit. I would go down there with my brother when I was 3 or 4 and pick up tickets on the ground. Many times we would go through the paper on Monday and we would find some winners.”
When the GP Downs nine-day season opens Saturday, Boersma will have more than a spectators’ interest in the traditional local race meet that dates back to the 1930s.
The 47-year-old former third-generation dairy farmer has elevated his involvement in the sport to now owning horses. Boersma claimed his first two horses at Grants Pass Downs three years ago. Now he has three horses stabled at the Josephine County Fairgrounds that are scheduled to run during this year’s meet and five others at one of American’s premiere race tracks, Santa Anita Park in Southern California.
Boersma’s 4-year-old thoroughbred Bobby Magic is entered in Saturday’s co-feature, the $3,500 Daily Courier Inaugural Stakes.
Veteran trainer Darlene Braden of Tillamook has worked for Boersma since he got involved as a owner. Bobby Magic was claimed by the duo when the horse broke its maiden by 12 lengths at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale, California, Braden said.
“He and his wife and kids are amazing,” Braden said. “One of the reasons he got into it was to have his kids and him be involved in something together.”
Dane Boersma — 17 years older than Travis — died of ALS disease in 2009.
The brothers began their philanthropic involvement with GP Downs by contributing money to the Bettor’s Handicap organized by Grants Pass attorney Duane Schultz. Over the years, the Boersma family paid $1,500 a year to put the Dutch Bros logo on the water truck, contributed to purses and sponsored several races.
“We’re now on a big quest to improve the facility,” Boersma said. “There’s a lot of needs. The more the community really understands what the needs are, there can be positive results. We’re supportive of the county fair as a whole.”
This year Boersma has footed the bill for fixing up the jockey room, refurbishing the paddock area and gave a $5,000 donation for the track’s annual fundraiser Dinner For The Downs.
“(Boersma) has been a great partner and advocate for horse racing,” said Rod Lowe, president of the Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association, the sponsoring organization for GP Downs. “He really sees the value of horse racing in Grants Pass.”
The sport has become a fun family activity for Boersma, his wife Jen and four sons ranging in age from 7 to 13.
“My brothers kids and their kids, my two sisters — all of our family is engaged,” Boersma said. “It’s a great way to socialize and connect.”
When the dairy business became too burdensome, the family sold the farm by the Rogue River in 1991, which is now Dutcher Creek Golf Course.
“What seemed devastating at the time turned out to be a blessing in disguise,” says the 1989 North Valley High graduate, who played high school football on the field inside the GP Downs half-mile dirt oval.
In 1992, the two brothers opened a coffee push cart near the post office in downtown Grants Pass. And the rest is history — becoming the country’s largest privately owned drive through coffee chain.
The opening of Grants Pass Downs season years ago coincided with the Boatnik celebration over Memorial Day weekend.
“With the Boatnik parade close to our cart it was our busiest time,” the Grants Pass native said. “Once the parade was over, we closed the cart and went to the horse races. We made an event out of it. It was the pinnacle at Grants Pass Downs.
“I distinctly remember walking into the facility and there was a certain smell,” Boersma added. “There was the skill and gamesmanship of reading the racing form and studying the comparative analysis. It was a hell of a lot of fun.”
Boersma’s earliest memories of wagering as a youngster was on show tickets. But one day, he told his brother he wanted to bet a quinella.
“My brother said, ‘Those are hard to hit,’” Boersma recalled. “I wanted a 7-4. I knew those were the two best out of the group in the quarter horse sprint. The finish was like a blurr with a full field. I thought I won it but had a couple of minutes of anticipation before the other horse flashed on the board. I won $102 on a $2 bet. I thought I hit the mother lode.”
Boersma also reminisced on how he went to GP Downs with high school and college buddies during the track’s heyday, when there were full fields and big payouts.
“We walked out of the place more times than I can count with more money than we started,” Boersma says. “We partied with the winnings.”
Now the next generation of Boersmas are enthusiastic horse racing fans.
“My kids will sit and read the racing form,” Boersma said. “They have more perspective than me at times. It’s interesting to see who can pick the most winners. Sometimes I’m on the short end of the wagering.”
Boersma has used his financial success as a form of civic pride when it comes to the historic track.
“It’s a gift for our community,” Boersma said. “We’ve got the attributes of the river and the weather and the track is something extraordinary that we get to benefit from in our own backyard.”
THE OPENING weekend will feature a pair of $3,500 stakes races — the Daily Courier Inaugural and the Mail Tribune Rogue Dash — on Saturday, and three quarter horse trials on Sunday for the estimated $30,000 Firecracker Futurity, which is held on the Fourth of July.
Racing secretary Shorty Martin has installed the Nick Lowe-trained Mr. Takahashi as a 7-5 favorite in the 5-furlong Inaugural. Mr. Takahashi comes off a second-place finish in a $10,000 claiming race May 27 at Emerald Downs in Washington. The 6-year-old Mr. Takahashi has $86,840 in career winnings.
In the Rogue Dash — a 350-yard quarter horse sprint — The Cartel Hawk, trained by four-time Firecracker Futurity winning trainer Hector Magallanes, is a 5-2 choice and the 7-year-old Sneakin Tr, with $47,728 in earnings, is the second choice at 3-1.
TWO-TIME leading jockey Eduardo Gutierrez-Sosa returns for a shot at a third consecutive leading riding title. Gutierrez-Sosa posted 18 victories last year and 19 in 2016.
The popular Jake Samuels and Kassie Guglielmino, who were second and third, respectively, in the jockey standings last year, won’t be back this season. The married couple are working at Canterbury Downs in Minnesota.
FREE ADMISSION will be offered on Father’s Day for all dads. For the past four years, Father’s Day has registered the highest handle and attendance. In 2017, a crowd of 3,870 waggered $72,807.
A NEW PROMOTION, Josephine County Food Bank Day, is being held on opening day. Fans who donate two cans of food will receive a free GP Downs day pass to be used later in the season.
OTHER PROMOTIONAL DAYS planned for the meet include Dutch Bros Coffee Day (June 23), Ladies Hat Day (June 24), First Responders Day (June 30), Military Appreciation Day (July 1), Don Jackson Day (July 7) and Fan Appreciation Day (July 8). Free admission is a component for some of the promotional days.
THE FINAL DAY of the season will have the second running of the Grants Pass Mile with an estimated purse of $10,000.
THE POPULAR “Win, Place and Show Contest” gives fans a chance to win $200 each race day. A drawing for $100, $60 and $40 will be held at the east end of the grandstand after the seventh race. Instructions are posted at the track.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.