GRANTS PASS — Ruben Lozano was optimistic about the 2-year-old colt Harem Bar Cartel prior to the final of three trials for the Firecracker Futurity at Grants Pass Downs Sunday.
Lozano, a 28-year-old jockey from Compton, Calif., riding at GP Downs for the first time, had already won the first trial on Reginas Royal Choice with a fast time of 17.673 seconds. Sitting in the jockey room before taking the track with Harem Bar Cartel, Lozano sang the praises for a horse that had never had a race.
Well, Lozano’s assessment was right on the mark as Harem Bar Cartel outdueled the 3-to-5 favorite Arizona Favorite to win the third heat with the fastest mark of day — 17.605 — before a robust crowd of more than 4,000 racing fans on Father’s Day.
A field of 24 2-year-old quarter horses competed for eight spots in the $33,400 Firecracker Futurity to be run on the Fourth of July at GP Downs.
This will be the 26th running of the rich Independence Day futurity, which began as the Far West in 1991 and was changed to the Firecracker in 2002. The 1992 race was rained out.
“When I worked (Harem Bar Cartel) out I felt he was faster than his sister,” said Lozano, referring to Ladys A Cartel, who had won the $33,000 Pot of Gold futurity at Sun Downs in Kennewick, Wash., earlier this spring. Ladys A Cartel was not part of the Firecracker field.
With no experience in an actual race, it was unknown how the big, brown colt would respond, whereas it was the third race for Arizona Favorite, who finished second in the Pot of Gold.
But Harem Bar Cartel answered that question when he broke clean leaving the gate from the No. 2 post, veered in a little then moved out a couple of lanes before finding his stride and held off the hard-charging Arizona Favorite by 1/2-length.
Harem Bar Cartel paid $9.60 to win on a $2 bet.
Harem Bar Cartel’s trial time was faster than all but 11 past futurity winners and the third heat produced four of the eight horses for the finals.
“A few jumps out of the gate, he got green and started looking around,” said Lozano, “then hooked up and passed the three horse (Arizona Favorite).”
Jockey Eduardo Gutierrez-Sosa, aboard Arizona Favorite, had no excuses: “(Arizona Favorite) did everything right. He just got outrun today.”
Gutierrez-Sosa has won the Firecracker Futurity for two consecutive years.
It was a successful day for Lozano and trainer Danny Montes, who both came to GP Downs from the mecca of quarter horse racing — Los Alamitos in Southern California — for the Firecracker trials.
Montes wasn’t looking forward to being in the same heat with Arizona Favorite because of the experience factor.
“When I saw the draw, not only did we have the toughest horse in the field but we were right next to him,” said Montes, 38, from Riverside, Calif. “Experience makes a lot of difference.”
Montes is also is the trainer for Reginas Royal Choice, the third-fastest qualifier.
While this was the first time Montes has run a horse at GP Downs, it was not Montes’ first time in Grants Pass. From 2000-2003 Montes worked on a 20-acre horse ranch in Grants Pass for Scott Merrill, who helped get the California native started as a trainer.
“I thought I would come up here, save my money and buy a truck,” said Montes, about his earlier time in the area.
Montes talked Harem Bar Cartel owner Jorge Carmona of Los Angeles into coming to Grants Pass for the Firecracker trials. One reason was the horse needed two races in the Northwest region to qualify for the $100,000-plus Wild West Futurity later in the season at Los Alamitos.
Hector Magallanes, winning trainer of four of the past five Firecracker futurities, qualified three horses for the finals, including Arizona Favorite.
“You can’t win them all,” said a gracious Magallanes, who qualified four for last year’s finals “This field is tough. There’s a lot of fast horses. My goal was to get three in the finals.”
Magallanes had the 2017 fastest qualifier and Firecracker winner, I Deliver.
“Hector and I are friends,” said Montes. “We both take care of each other.”
It appears the two trainers will brace for a friendly rivalry on the Fourth of July.
FIRECRACKER FUTURITY FIELD
Harem Bar Cartel 17.605
Arizona Favorite 17.653
Reginas Royal Choice 17.673
Jusstafiably Jess 17.680
Lucky Ned 17.680
One Special Dynasty 17.944
L Bar D Top Prospect 17.989
Willy B Gone 18.094