When The Flying Lark opens in Grants Pass in 2022, it will be Southern Oregon’s premier dining, entertainment, and equine art destination. As the most significant private investment in Grants Pass in decades, the land-mark project ushers in revitalizing the regional economy and renewing the equestrian legacy in one of Oregon’s most beautiful river towns. Grants Pass is one of Oregon’s uncut gems—balancing a deep appreciation of all that is historical with the pleasures of year-round outdoor activities. Boasting a superb mountain backdrop, its lush valleys are pleasingly segmented by the “Wild and Scenic” Rogue River. Grants Pass residents delight in the beautiful climate for which the region is well-known. The storied history of Grants Pass is steeped in the heritage of horse-human relationships. From pioneers who, alongside their horses, carved a new life in the wilderness to the proud heritage of racing horses on a dirt oval, Grants Pass has had a lasting love affair with horses. The very heart and soul of The Flying Lark venue begins with the formation of Grants Pass Downs at the Josephine County Fairgrounds.
A Dream Takes Flight
The story begins in 1934 when Grants Pass Downs held its first race meet during the annual county fair. In
the 1950s, visionary Don Jackson formed the Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association, and in 1968, the track began to offer pari-mutuel wagering. In 1969, Jackson acquired a colt named Flying Lark, who would become his prized horse and the inspiration for improvements to the half-mile track and its surrounding land. In the 1980s, the talented Flying Lark piqued the curiosity of the horse racing world, leading the nation in wins for two years, and his identity and stallion pedigree would help put Grants Pass Downs on the map.
After his racing days were over, Jackson brought Flying Lark to his ranch in Grants Pass. The horse ultimately would become one of Oregon’s most famous stallions. Jackson’s undying commitment to cultivating a racing legacy in Southern Oregon created the foundation for Grants Pass Downs’ present and future success. Carrying that torch forward, Grants Pass native Travis Boersma, co-founder and Executive Chairman at Dutch Bros Coffee, writes the next chapter. Following the closure of Portland Meadows in 2018, Boersma assumed the state’s only commercial horse racing license. Forming TMB Racing, LLC in 2019, Boersma has made a significant investment in updating and enhancing the facilities and amenities at Grants Pass Downs.
By the Numbers and More
The Flying Lark venue has the unique opportunity to create a legacy, putting Grants Pass and the Josephine County Fairgrounds on the map as a year-round destination. Together with Grants Pass Downs, they will help restore the horse racing industry in the Pacific Northwest. The beneficiaries of this endeavor include horse owners, trainers, veterinarians, jockeys, and a wide range of vendors and suppliers across Oregon. As a result, there is a positive cycle of spending and impact between gaming and horse racing. Boersma and his team set out to beautify Grants Pass Downs with the addition of a lush green infield (used for youth soccer,) landscaping, barns, and various upgrades to the vintage grandstand. Over the past two years, 2,000 tons of new dirt was added to the track, making the surface one of the safest in the industry. In addition, a new safety rail was repurposed from the Los Angeles County fairgrounds and installed at the facility. Amenities, however, don’t overshadow the people whose lives have been touched.
Meet Hector Magallanes, who worked a 40 hour a week job and trained horses another 40. Sleep was a luxury he couldn’t afford if he wanted to live his dream and still feed his family.
After surviving a near-fatal car accident, he quit his job and started a new journey as a trainer. Magallanes went to California to try his luck running against some of the best quarter horses in the country. He discovered he could do it, but only if horses and people came first and profit came second. So when he heard about Grants Pass Downs, Magallanes told the owners of his best horses that if they wanted to stay in California, he would help them find another trainer. Magallanes was impressed by the commitment to racing integrity, safety, and equine wellness at Grants Pass Downs. As a result, one hundred percent of his clients stuck with him on his journey back to Oregon.
Drawing on the same hometown values of community spirit and hospitality that inspired the revitalization of Grants Pass Downs, The Flying Lark is positioned to be a dynamic destination for locals and visitors alike. Stroll the imaginative equine art walk, enjoy a casual meal at Jack’s restaurant and try your luck on the gaming floor. Just a short walk to the track, and you can take in the color and majesty of the horses as they thunder down the racetrack. Whatever you choose when you visit The Flying Lark, you are guaranteed a memorable day.
For more information and opening dates, please visit www.theflyinglark.com
By Melinda Sheckells, a California-born, Las Vegas-living travel and lifestyle writer who covers destinations near and far, and Charlotte Angin, communications specialist at GP Downs.