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As Sun Downs saddles up for horse racing season, this trainer is still the guy to beat

This race horse trainer is still the one to beat at Sun Downs

Hector Magallanes has been the perennial trainer of the meet the past few years at Sun Downs Race Track. The Boardman, Ore., resident recently moved his horses to California to train but he's back for the three weekend spring meet in Kennewick.
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Hector Magallanes has been the perennial trainer of the meet the past few years at Sun Downs Race Track. The Boardman, Ore., resident recently moved his horses to California to train but he's back for the three weekend spring meet in Kennewick.

It’s hard to picture trainer Hector Magallanes not being at a Sun Downs horse race meet.

In fact, it’s hard for Magallanes to picture himself not at the races. So he doesn’t.

Magallanes has been the perennial trainer of the meet the past few years at Sun Downs. But he’s also been making his mark at the bigger tracks, such as Los Alamitos.

In fact, the Boardman, Ore., resident (who has a track at his home to train) has moved his base of operations south.

“We moved the whole barn to California for the competition and the purses,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview while watching one of his horses work out at Sun Downs. “And the bad winter here took its toll. But I’m back. I just got here Sunday.”

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Trainer Hector Magallanes leads a horse named KR Olive Oil with jockey Jaime E. Lopez back to the stalls following a training run Thursday morning at the Sun Downs Race Track. Magallanes’ fiance Tryn Espelien walks along with them. Trainers and riders are busy preparing for this weekend’s start of the three weekend spring racing meet at the Kennewick track. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Magallanes said he brought just eight horses from his stable to run at the Kennewick meet, which runs every Saturday and Sunday for the next three weekends (April 27-28, May 4-5 and 11-12).

“But I believe those (eight) horses are good runners,” he said. “Three will run in the ($30,000 Pot O’Gold) Futurity trials, and three more will run in the (American Quarter Horse Association Adequan Derby Challenge) trials.”

Sun Downs has always been his home

Magallanes, now in his late 30s, has always considered Sun Downs his home track. It’s where he grew up around horse racing. Even when he worked full time as a control room operator at the Pacific Ethanol plant in Boardman, he never stopped training and racing horses.

It was only in August of 2015 that he felt comfortable enough to leave that plant job – with the promise from his bosses that he could go back any time – did Magallanes make a concerted effort to be a full-time trainer.

“It took some baby steps for me to do that,” he said.

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Trainer Hector Magallanes of Boardman, Ore., has brought eight horses to participate in the three weekend spring meet at the Sun Downs Race Track in Kennewick. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Until someone unseats him, Magallanes will be the guy to beat at this year’s Kennewick meet.

Weather delays local training

The bad weather of February caused enough havoc for horsemen out at Sun Downs that training was delayed for over a month. That’s not a bad thing, said Nancy Sorick, who heads up the nonprofit Tri-Cities Horse Racing Association, now in its 32nd year of existence.

Traditionally, the track’s opening weekend has always been busy and well attended, with trial races for the Pot O’Gold.

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Horses, riders and trainers are busy preparing for the three weekend spring racing season at Sun Downs Race Track in Kennewick. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

Same story for the final weekend, with the Saturday Kentucky Derby wagering and the finals of the Pot O’Gold Futurity, as well as the stakes races.

But the middle weekend has always been slow, as the faster horses take that weekend off to race in the big-money races on the final weekend.

Now, however, with the schedule change, the Kentucky Derby weekend is the middle weekend.

Local fans can bet on Kentucky Derby

Once again, Sun Downs will be simulcasting the Kentucky Derby (May 4), and local fans will be able to wager on the race.

“The middle weekend will be key,” said Sorick.

The TCHRA also signed a new three-year lease with the Benton County commissioners that begins this year.

“We have a good rapport with the county commissioners,” said Sorick, who noted the TCHRA has had the track open since Feb. 1, and the group has to be out by June 1.

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Racing at Sun Downs in Kennewick is popular among local race fans. Once again, the track will host three weekends of racing. Courtesy of John Panther

The past four years, too, the TCHRA has considered its meets successful. And Sorick has her usual desires for a great meet.

“Have a good, clean race meet,” she said. “And a lot of horses. And everybody comes out and enjoys the races. And they have a good time.”

She’s confident that will happen.

“I believe people will be there to support us,” Sorick said. “The horsemen will be here. We’ll make it.”

Magallanes confident this season

Magallanes believes that too. Horse racing is what makes him go.

“Watching your horse get inside the gate is such an adrenaline rush. I love it,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m going to work.”

He always has the same goals for each meet.

“My goals, with traveling so much, is to try to win (the big races), and have my horses be competitive and run well,” he said. “I believe they’ll do well. They’re pretty well mannered around the other horses.”

That’s a good sign, especially for a guy who makes sure he comes home each year to the track that he loves so much.

“This … this is home,” he says with emotion. “This is where I started.”

Notes: First race is scheduled for 1 p.m., each day. Cost of admission is $5, while parking is free. … Race cards – the number of races scheduled each day – varies anywhere from seven to 10.

Jeff Morrow is former sports editor for the Tri-City Herald.
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