His time on his home track comes to an end this weekend.
Which means the marathon traveling is about to begin.
But Hector Magallanes wouldn’t have it any other way, because he’s doing what he loves.
Magallanes, 34, has become an all-star trainer with quarter horses these past few years, mainly around the Northwest.
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He was named the Northern Racing Quarter Horse Association’s top trainer for 2015. He won that same award from the Oregon Quarter Horse Association last year.
Magallanes will have 16 horses entered over the final two days of racing at Sun Downs Race Track in Kennewick on Saturday and Sunday.
The smallest purse of the weekend’s four biggest races is $16,000. The biggest will be the $28,000 Pot O’Gold Futurity, Sun Down’s signature race — and a race his horses have won in 2012, 2013 and 2015 — that will be held Sunday.
Other owners from all over the West have started taking notice of Magallanes’ work and have asked him to train their horses.
Last year, Magallanes’ stable in Boardman had 20 horses.
This year, it’s up to 30 — a number that he says almost puts him at capacity at a facility he and longtime girlfriend Tryn Espelien run with three other grooms.
“Any more, and I’ll need more help, more of everything,” said Magallanes, taking a break on the back side of the track at Sun Downs this week.
But for Magallanes, this has been a dream come true.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve liked horses,” he said. “I was going to do something with them. Then the chance of being around horse racing came along.”
Magallanes started as a young teenager working for Hermiston trainer Don Young.
“I was a groom for him,” Magallanes said. “I started out being a stall cleaner. Then I started riding the horses (in training).”
The 2001 Riverside High School graduate gradually worked his way up the ladder until he struck out on his own. Among others, he’s trained horses for his father, Reuben, and for Hermiston dentist Matt Hayden and his brother at Hayden Brothers Ranch.
“Matt Hayden was one of the first guys to give me a horse to train,” said Magallanes.
It’s been a great relationship.
“Hector is a good guy, a very hard worker,” said Hayden. “Hector really does take care of his horses well. He really puts his heart and soul into it. And we had a pretty good horse together last year.”
That horse, Tickle Ur Fancy, won the 2015 Pot O’Gold and was named the Champion 2-year-old filly of the year by the NRQHA in January.
The stunning fact in all of this is that Magallanes only quit his full-time job last August.
He was a control room operator at the Pacific Ethanol plant in Boardman.
“It was a good job, hard to get,” he said. “But they’ve been so great to me, giving me time off when I needed it to race horses. I just love that place. They told me if I ever want to come back, my job would be there.”
Juggling the job and training horses was beginning to run him ragged.
“I didn’t sleep,” he said. “For three years I’d work the graveyard shift, then go work with the horses.”
There were stretches of days where he’d get off of work, drive to Portland Meadows, race his horses, then drive back to Boardman just in time for work.
A few years ago, he nearly had a bad accident coming home when he almost fell asleep.
“I was getting burned out,” he said. “But I liked horse racing that much.”
So the job offer at the plant is a great safety net, but he probably won’t need it.
Magallanes has gotten this horse racing thing down, and like most trainers, he has a winning formula.
He believes in hard work.
“What I think helps is the time we put into the horses,” he said.
That’s why he works 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It really is a balancing act,” he said. “I’ve got to juggle (time with) all of the owners as well.”
He believes in practice.
“That’s part of horse racing,” Magallanes said. “Just like people, horses are like creatures of habit. You’re trying to teach them something.”
Then there are the finances. He needs to know what to charge his owners.
“Bales of hay cost $10 here, but it can be $22 a bale at the bigger tracks because in the city they don’t grow it,” he said.
He also studies bloodlines. He’s good, to the point some owners give him a budget and he goes to shows to buy horses.
“I sit in my recliner or at my desk a lot, on my computer, to search bloodlines,” he said.
Finally, there’s that calendar he has, mapped out months ahead of time so he knows which horse needs to go to what track. And tracking the progress of each horse.
After this meet, he’s headed to Arapahoe Park, Colo., Grants Pass, Ore., and then it’s off to Canada and then California.
His dance card is pretty full.
Nobody is saying he’s there yet, but Nancy Sorick — who runs Sun Downs for the Tri-Cities Horse Racing Association — sees a lot of similarities in Magallanes that Bob Baffert and D.Wayne Lukas have. Yes that Baffert and Lukas, who are two of the greatest thoroughbred trainers in the industry.
Sorick is quick to remind that at one time those two trained quarter horses.
“Bob Baffert and D.Wayne Lukas would run quarter horses back in the early 1970s at Sun Downs,” Sorick said. “Nobody in the country ran in the winter time but us at that time. They were just starting out then. We were just a straightaway track only at the time.
“I can see Hector going that way (to bigger tracks). He’s ending up getting a lot of the good horses. Just like Lin Melton did here a while back.”
Owners like what they see in Magallanes. And it may be that he ends up at a Ruidoso Downs or a Los Alamitos.
But he’ll never stop racing at Sun Downs, either, he said.
“Sun Downs is home for me,” Magallanes said. “Kennewick is my home race track. This is where I came to watch my first races. If I ever did leave (for the bigger tracks) I’d still come back to race horses here. A lot of people here are like family. I’ve honestly grown up at this race track.”
Sorick likes that idea. A Magallanes-trained horse is good for business at Sun Downs. But she also knows talent when she sees it.
“He’s a hard worker, a good horseman and strictly business,” Sorick said. “He’s a real asset to the quarter horse industry in the Northwest. But he’s not going to be here long.”
Magallanes doesn’t worry about that. He’s too busy having fun with what he’s doing.
“I love the passion I have for horses,” he said. “Watching your horse get inside the gate is such an adrenaline rush. I love it. I don’t feel like I’m going to work.”
Racing on Saturday and Sunday starts at 1 p.m. … Fans can wager on and watch the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. The race has a scheduled start of 3:34 p.m. … Saturday’s big local races include the $25,000 AQHA Adequan Derby Challenge Finals; and the $16,000 AQHA Dick Monahan Maiden Challenge Finals. … Sunday’s major races will be the $28,000 Pot O’Gold Futurity; and the $21,000 Sun Downs/AQHA Meriel Distaff Challenge Finals. … All four races are quarter horse races. Winners of Saturday’s Adequan Derby and Sunday’s Distaff Challenge races will advance to the national finals, set for October at Los Alamitos.