GRANTS PASS — Danny Montes has added a new wrinkle to this year’s Firecracker Futurity.
The 38-year-old California native is positioned to challenge friend and fellow trainer Hector Magallanes to supremacy in the biggest race of the Grants Pass Downs season — the $33,400 Firecracker.
This is the 27th running of the rich Fourth of July futurity at GP Downs. The race began as the Far West in 1991 and was changed to the Firecracker 11 years later. The 1992 race was rained out.
Magallanes, winning trainer in three of the last four futurities, will attempt to win his third straight Firecracker, something only Baxter Andruss accomplished from 1993-95.
And Montes looks to be his biggest obstacle.
Montes arrived at GP Downs with a pair of 2-year-old quarter horses — Harem Bar Cartel and Reginas Royal Choice — entered into the Firecracker trials on June 17. And to Montes’ delight Harem Bar Cartel posted the fastest time (17.605 seconds) and Reginas Royal Choice was third-best (17.673) in the trials.
Despite Montes qualifying the duo into the finals, his rival Magallanes has three in the eight-horse field. Last year Magallanes placed five into the finals, including the winner I Deliver.
“We met at the track in Kennewick (Washington) a few years ago,” Montes said about Magallanes. “From there we developed a friendship.”
This is the first time Montes has run horses at the local track. He lived and worked at a horse ranch in Grants Pass from 2000-03 before he became a licensed trainer.
Montes says Magallanes has helped in his adjustment to GP Downs: “(Magnallanes) treats me right. When I need something he helps me get it. He knows who to talk to.”
A primary reason Montes came to Oregon with Harem Bar Cartel was to get the unraced colt two outings in the Northwest to qualify for the Ed Burke Million later this season at Los Alamitos in Southern California.
Harem Bar Cartel’s performance in the trials was certainly an eye-opener.
“He looked powerful,” said Montes. “The last 100 yards he got stronger with longer strides.”
The young colt is from the first crop of offspring from sire Five Bar Cartel, also trained by Montes and a former winner of the Ed Burke. Five Bar Cartel was named the 2013 American Quarter Horse Association champion.
Harem Bar Cartel came back with a “little heat on the shin” after the trials but Montes says he’s been training great.
“There’s 18 days between races,” Montes said. “The key is to keep him fresh and in light training. We don’t want to wear him out.”
Montes has had Harem Bar Cartel on the track without a rider three times since the trials and daily sessions on the hot walker. Plus, with a race under his belt, Montes believes the horse should improve.
“We knew he had talent,” Montes said. “If he can perform the same way as in the trials, he’ll be great.”
Montes’ other entry, Reginas Royal Choice, won the first of three trials with a time of 17.673.
“She’s real lightfooted and quick,” said Montes about the gray fillie. “I expect her to be at the front the first 100 yards.”
Magallanes comes into the race with lots of firepower, especially Arizona Favorite, who finished second (17.653) by a neck to Harem Bar Cartel. Arizona Favorite qualified and ran second in the Pot of Gold futurity this spring at Sun Downs in Kennewick.
The 36-year-old trainer from Boardman says Arizona Favorite had no soreness after the trials and his race experience should serve him well.
“It’s important to come back sound,” Magallanes said. “This is his fourth out. This gives him an advantage.
“I’m high on Arizona Favorite,” added Magallanes. “He’s shown a lot from Day 1. He did run a good race in the trials but just got outrun.”
Magallanes trains L Bar D Top Prospect and Willy B Gone, the seventh and eighth qualifiers, respectively.
L Bar D Top Prospect has shown a lot of talent, according to Magallanes, but has suffered problems getting out of the gate efficiently.
Willy B Gone won the second trials heat and is owned by last year’s winning owner, Chris Philbrook of Vancouver, Wash. Philbrook notched her third Independence Day futurity victory at GP Downs, more than any other owner.
“I would say this is one of the toughest fields since I’ve been coming here,” said Magallanes, who registered his first victory as a trainer in his initial race at GP Downs in 2008. “This year it’s as tough as they come.”
Seven of the eight qualifiers posted a time faster than 18 seconds — the first time that happened since 2006, when the entire field was under the 18-second mark. Also, Harem Bar Cartel’s qualifying mark is faster than all by nine futurity winners.
“You can have the fastest qualifier but it doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” Magallanes said. “In fact I’ve won a futurity with the slowest qualifier in a 10-horse field.”
Magallanes is differential to Montes when it comes to today’s rich race.
“Quite honestly that colt (Harem Bar Cartel) of Danny’s is fast,” said Magallanes. “Danny’s horses are the ones to out run. Props to him.
“But anything can happen,” concluded Magallanes.
That’s called horse racing.
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.