While Eduardo Gutierrez-Sosa and Hector Magallanes were winning their third consecutive top jockey and trainer titles respectfully, unheralded Kitti Schaub was winning the hearts of horsemen and racing fans at Grants Pass Downs.
Schaub never pictured herself as having the nerve to be a jockey. But three years ago, because there weren’t enough jockeys for the horses entered in races during the Tillamook meet, she was issued her jockey license on the spot. The 38-year-old Walla Walla, Wash., native ran third in her first race and posted her first victory the next day.
Schaub lit up the winner’s circle during this year’s GP Downs campaign. Though she tied for second among jockeys with Louis Zacherle, the 5-foot, 90-pound late-bloomer won 11 races on just 32 mounts — a 34 percent first-place rate.
By comparison, Gutierrez-Sosa posted 12 victories in 59 starts, winning 20 percent of his mounts.
Magallanes led all trainers with nine wins. Bill Hof and Nick Lowe were tied for second (5).
Grants Pass horse owner and trainer Mary Boyle recognized Shaub’s good instincts.
“She just connects with horses,” said Boyle, who had the most wins (4) among owners. “Horses will run for Kitti.”
Schaub won on Boyle’s Latitudefortytwo on the final day of the season by bringing the 7-year-old male off the pace in the 6 1/2-furlong race.
“I explained to her how to ride the horse,” said Boyle. “She didn’t try to second-guess me. She listened and was very patient and she won. I would use her any day on any of my horses.”
Schaub has worked around the track for a long time as a pony person and morning workout rider.
“She’s up early in the morning and rides until they close the track,” said Boyle. “She really tries to get around to everybody that needs help. She’s appreciated by the trainers.”
Last year Schaub had one victory in four mounts at GP Downs.
“I came to Grants Pass expecting to gallop and pony and pick up a couple of rides if there was a shortage of jockeys,” said Schaub, who missed the first two racing days. “I never thought I would ride multiple races each day let alone win so many and have trainers coming to ask me to ride for them I never thought I would have to turn a horse down.”
Boyle observed Schaub’s popularity the final weekend: “Oh my goodness, it seemed like the fans weren’t paying as much attention to the horse as the rider. She’s a bundle of energy and that comes across to the fans.”
Schaub, who started her association with horse racing 18 years ago, was reticent about becoming a jockey.
“I never thought I was brave enough,” said Schaub. “But it’s not as scary as I thought. There’s a lot going on in the races. You have to make lots of spur-of-the-moment decisions.”
Schaub made plenty of correct ones at GP Downs this year.
The season that was
Tag Wotherspoon, GP Downs director of communications and marketing, says the 2018 figures for attendance and on-track handle were similar to the year before but there was a big increase in the amount of money bet off track by people with Advanced Deposit Wagering accounts. This year $214,567 was bet off track compared to $82,383 in 2017, which is up more than 160 percent. Total handle for the season was $554,995 an average of $61,666 daily. The previous year had $425,846 total wagering with a $47,311 average.
“When you look at the big picture the preliminary numbers are very comparable to last year,” Wotherspoon said. “The two most significant things is the huge increase in what happened off track and a higher average field size.
“We had more exposure on the ADW networks,” Wotherspoon explained. “It put us a position where more people had opportunity and access to bet on our races.”
The average field size for the season was 6.11 horses per race. After the first three weeks, it was 6.55 but nine three or four horse fields over the final three days brought that average down.
Wotherspoon points out in 2012 — the year before the Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association took over management of the track — the average was 5.09 and in 2017 it was 5.82. This season there were 16 races with full eight-horse fields while the previous five years had a combined total of 15.
“Field size makes the races more competitive and better from a wagering stand point,” Wotherspoon said. “Toward the end, we had a lot of racing in a short period of time — five days over a nine-day span. That’s really hard on the horsemen.”
Wotherspoon says the positive support from the community is shown in $250 race sponsorships, which increased to 31 from 19 the year before. Also program advertising was at an all-time high.
“People appreciate live horse racing,” Wotherspoon said. “There’s a lot of history and tradition here. We had more support from our corporate partners and people in general than ever before. People want to be involved with what we are doing.
“Our challenge is to get people to the track,” continued Wotherspoon. “If they come, they’ll enjoy it. The energy is good and the action is good. The feedback from the fans is very positive and they appreciate what we’re doing here.”
Schaub’s popularity also contributed to the success at GP Downs.
“(Schaub) enjoyed the whole Grants Pass Downs experience,” said Wotherspoon. “She just loved it here. She became a fan favorite right away.”
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.