By T. D. Thornton
Grants Pass Downs was plunged into complete darkness eight seconds into the running of the final race of the meet Tuesday evening when the half-mile track's lights cut out unexpectedly, leaving the field of six sprinters barreling blindly into the first bend of a three-turn race.
Two jockeys were unseated from their mounts before the field hit the finish wire the first time, and both were subsequently treated for foot injuries at a local hospital. No horses were injured during the blackout, Grants Pass Downs president Randy Evers told TDN via phone Wednesday.
“Alex Anaya has a little body soreness and a possible broken toe. And Patrick Henry Jr. also had a couple broken bones in a foot,” Evers said. “Mr. Henry was released at 1 a.m. and Mr. Anaya was released [Wednesday] morning. In light of everything, they're actually doing pretty doggone well. We got all the horses into the paddock, and all of the horses returned to their barns safe.”
Speculation on social media about the lights being on a timer that was not properly set after the daylight savings time switch this past weekend could not be confirmed. TDN placed calls and left emails for Jack McGrail, the Oregon Racing Commission's executive director, and Mike Twiggs, the presiding state steward, but neither called back prior to deadline for this story.
Evers did not want to comment on the cause of the lights going out, citing advice from the track's attorneys. He said a statement about the incident was being drafted and was subject to vetting by lawyers. That press release was also not available in time for deadline for this story.
Race 11 on Nov. 9 at the small southern Oregon oval carried outsized implications for bettors. It was the culminating race in a jackpot Pick 5 that had carried over with $51,211 in the pool, and the bet was expected to attract several hundred thousand additional dollars in new wagers. When the race ended up being declared a “no contest,” that bet was calculated as an “all” payout for the final leg, substantially reducing the pari-mutuel winnings.
The race was a 6 1/2 -furlong sprint for fillies and mares that went off at 10:28 p.m. Pacific time, according to the stamp on the video replay. Just as the tightly packed field approached the first turn, the video feed abruptly went black.
“The lights just went off!” announcer Jason Beem exclaimed in his race call. “Somebody just turned the lights off. All the lights went off. I've got no clue what's going on, and hopefully everybody's staying safe out there because we can't see a thing.
“Unbelievable,” Beem added after a pause.
The photo-finish line lights were still functioning and so was the infield video board, allowing Beem to see and announce that two horses had lost their jockeys. He asked the riders to pull up if they could hear him, then later instructed anyone on the track in the aftermath of the blackout to bring their horses into the paddock, which was lit.
TDN reached Beem for a follow-up Wednesday afternoon while he was driving from Oregon to his next race calling gig at Tampa Bay Downs in Florida.
“It was terrifying,” Beem recalled. “They went into the turn, and I was on my binoculars, and everything just went to black. It took two or three seconds to realize what happened because our lights in the booth, the press box, and in the grandstand were still on. It was completely pitch black out over the course. The leader came running [through the homestretch] with the rider, and then the next two horses were riderless, and that was when it kind of got really scary.”