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AND THEY'RE OFF...
By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
UNION Thoroughbred race horse owner Jim Garrett said he is having a good season, but the economy in general is hurting the sport.
"The industry is short of horses all over the Northwest," he said before sending off his two horses in the Friday evening races at the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show.
"Purses are good here and they should get better in Oregon, but because of the effect of the economy, people are hesitant about getting into breeding, and a lot of the small tracks have closed, too," he said. He mentioned tracks at Yakima and Spokane in Washington state that have closed. Portland has curtailed its season.
He would go to races at those tracks and would sometimes buy horses there.
The purses at Union, which used to be $800 to $1,300, are now from $2,000 to the special $2,400 race Sunday, he said. The increased purses, which he credits to the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of Oregon with boosting by $800 a race, has attracted plenty of horse owners here, Garrett said.
"That support keeps the horses going, keeps the industry going."
There are 75 to 80 owners with more than 100 horses here for the three days of racing, Garrett said.
The small-time circuit also is suffering from a lack of competent jockeys, he said.
"There are not a lot of up and coming riders. That makes this type of racing suffer. Last year, at Burns, there were only three races. The problem is there are not enough young people (jockeys) getting into the business."
Of his two horses, his best chance, he said, is with an 11-year-old named Blue Cinders.
"She's still good to go. She's been a good bush league horse for me. She's won 23 races for me and 26 in her lifetime. I run her at Boise a lot," said Garrett.
He's a retired 58-year-old school superintendent from the 2,500-student Middleton district near Boise.
He now lives in Boise, but he was born in La Grande and raised in the Medical Springs area, he said.
Traveling to such races as Prineville and Burns and others in Oregon is a "nice diversion" for him, he said.
"A lot of Idaho horsemen support the Oregon races, and we'll see more support if the purses stay up. The $2,000 races for Union are a big leap.
If you can win $1,200 to
$1,300 a race, that makes it worthwhile."
There are a lot of incidental expenses involved in racing, including the unforeseen, he said.
"I had two flat tires on the way here and that's $75 each to replace," he said.
"You can't win every race, but you can't run for $800 and not lose money," Garrett said.
Jockeys get their share of the purse, too. They get a flat fee, maybe $40, then the winners get 10 percent of the purse.
"They can make $400 to $500 on a good day," he said.
He is using Melissa Marshall of Boise to ride his horses. She's been riding for him for two years. While young, he said, "She'll be fine."
He'll be back for future races in Union, he said.
"I like it here. I come here every year. It's not cutthroat competition. Hardly any one person dominates. Over the years here, I've been lucky to win a lot of races," Garrett said.