Monday, March 30, 2009

Local race horse wins big for Oregon National Guard

Mystacallie (#2), starts out her last race of the 2008-2009 season in the lead at Portland Meadows on March 23. Although she finished third-place in this particular race, her season’s winnings—just over $30,000, were donated to the Oregon National Guard Emergency Relief Fund—an organization which helps families of deployed Oregon soldiers and airmen.

Although Mystacallie didn’t win in her final race at Portland Meadows on March 23rd, her 2008-2009 race season was a windfall for the Oregon National Guard.

While Mystcallie paced anxiously in front of officials from Portland Meadows, representatives from the Oregon National Guard and local sports radio station, 95.5FM The Game, presented a check for $30,000 to the Oregon National Guard’s Emergency Relief Fund.

The presentation followed Mystacallie’s participation in the $18,000 Donna Jensen Handicap, her final race of the season. Although she finished in a respectable third-place, her entire race season—and the donation to the Oregon National Guard as a result of her winnings—came as an unexpected surprise to many.

“I figured she’d win one or two races,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Wirfs talking about his initial impression early in the season of a then little-known race horse. “No one knew it was going to get this big. But once she started racing, it was win after win after win.”

Horse owner and trainer Ben Root originally figured Mysticallie would win one or two races, and perhaps take a total race season purse of $3,000 - $5,000, said Portland Meadows General Manager, Will Alempijevic. But Mysticallie surprised everyone.

“She’s been an unbelievable success story,” said Alempijevic. “Mystacallie has turned into the darling of the northwest horse racing.”

Indeed, she ended up one of the winningest horses at Portland Meadows, racking up seven out of 11 first place finishes, netting her owners $30,574.50—the same amount written on the large check presented trackside to Wirfs following race number six.

Wirfs, who is Vice President of the Emergency Relief Fund, said the donation comes at an opportune time. Later this year, more than 3,000 Oregon soldiers are set to deploy to Iraq for a year—the single largest deployment of Oregon’s citizen-soldiers since WWII.

With the bulk of requests for assistance coming from families of deployed soldiers facing temporary financial difficulties, Wirfs said the money is a welcomed relief, especially in light of the ongoing economic downturn and increasing job layoffs.

“We’re getting more and more requests as the brigade gets ready to deploy,” Wirfs said. “This donation will potentially help families who otherwise may have nowhere else to turn.”

The relationship between the Oregon Guard and Mystacallie does seem like an unlikely marriage, said Alempijevic, who is nonetheless thrilled with the outcome.

“This is great,” Alempijevic said, as he flipped up the collar on his jacket to ward off the cold drops of rain just before the start of Mystacallie’s last race of the season. “I couldn’t be happier with the way things turned out.”

The growing popularity of the state lottery, keno and Oregon casinos, along with dwindling track attendance meant coming up with an innovative promotion, said Alempijevic. In early 2008, he and Portland Meadows’ trackside announcer, Jason Beem, collaborated with local sports radio station, 95.5FM The Game to lure horse lovers and casual observers of horse racing to the track.
Their idea was to designate a horse as “The People’s Horse”, where honorary owners would have access to the trainers and riders, and be able to take pictures in the winner’s circle if their horse won.

Portland Meadows pledged to match any winnings of this horse, with proceeds going to the radio station’s charity of choice. They chose a lightly-raced and little known Oregon filly named Mystacallie, and 95.5FM The Game chose the Oregon National Guard’s Emergency Relief Fund.

“Everyone knew the money was going to the Oregon Guard,” said Alempijevic. “If it wasn’t the same charity, I don’t think it would have caught on. I don’t think people would have followed if it wasn’t going to such a great cause.”

Wirfs is grateful things worked out for everyone. The fact that The Game chose the Oregon National Guard, Mysticallie had a very successful race season, and Portland Meadows agreed to match her winnings, were a true blessing, he said.

“The amount of interest and support, and how everything worked out quite frankly has been overwhelming,” Wirfs said.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Nick Choy,
Oregon Military Department Public Affairs Office

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