Back in the 70’s Gary Lusk happened to stop in at a little place called Longacres with some friends and it was love at first sight. Lusk attended the races regularly from then on and became a super fan. He said he was pretty decent at picking winners too but it was more than just the thrill of cashing a big win, it was the sport itself. The beauty of horse racing is its honesty about the importance of gambling to its sport. When you feel you are part of one of the competitors it gives you more than a feeling of just being a spectator. This is why all the other sports are now seeing the beauty of allowing fans to have an intimate part of the action, something horse racing knew long ago.
Lusk loved that feeling of studying the racing form, getting to feel like you knew personally each horse you selected then followed the jockeys, trainers and even owners. As much as Lusk loved the gambling side of the game he always felt he was missing out on a big part of it all but told himself, come on how could I afford to be an owner? How could a blue collar mechanic/automotive average Joe get in the big time game and so he dreamed of owning a horse figuring that is as close as he would ever get.
Lusk and his wife Deborah just celebrated their 41st anniversary and have 3 kids two sons Kyle and Jeff and daughter Kim and many grandchildren. Lusk never thought he could own a horse as he worked as a mechanic and his kids were playing sports as they raised their family in a true middle-America style where they paid all their bills, went on vacations and had some savings but certainly not extra money to invest in a racehorse.
In the meantime this blue collar average Joe began building his own businesses, yes plural, businesses. He now owns Poor Boys Auto wrecking and Mid-Valley Recycling with his two sons, Kyle and Jeff. Kim has her own business a convenience/concession business in Puyallup. As Gary put in his years of work and business building he continued his love of racing and often attended the races at Emerald Downs.
It was then a fateful moment in 2016 when Gary Lusk was introduced to trainer Vince Gibson through a mutual friend in a fantasy football league. Lusk says when he met Vince he was an instant friend. After talking with Gibson, Lusk realized owning a racehorse was not just for the rich and famous and that he was in a position to actually own a racehorse. After discussing it with his wife Deb who was instantly supportive Lusk decided to dip his toe into the ownership ranks and they went out and claimed Italian Warrior on April 16, 2017 at Emerald Downs for $5,000.
He’d only have him for 2 races where he finished 3rd and then 2nd and then claimed for $8,000 so the quick dip into the ownership pool was successful and in fishing terms the hook was set as far as Lusk was concerned. He then decided to re-invest his earnings and went to the WTBOA yearling sale and Gibson picked out this dark brown colt by Harbor the Gold and told Lusk, that’s the one!
Lusk raised his paddle and took ownership of the yearling with a winning bid of $9,000. The Lusk’s were then charged with coming up with a name and since all the grandkids call Gary “Papa” they used that along with using Golden from Harbor the Gold and then Boy just felt like it completed the name. Son Jeff pushed Mine for Nine because his auction number was Hip #9 and they got him for $9,000 and mine from Mining for Gold but it was Papa that won out.
Gibson took charge of the youngster and got him ready for the track in 2019. His debut was a 6-furlong MSW and he broke 6th and finished 7th not showing any of that early speed we have become accustomed too. In his next start he got out a bit better in 4th place but ran even finishing 4th. Not looking like an eventual Stakes winner or Longacres Mile competitor just yet. In his 3rd start another 4th place finish with virtually an identical race starting 4th moving up to 3rd and ending up 4th and so far through 3 races Papa had yet to see the front end of a race.
In his final start of 2019 he would finish 2nd but again began in 4th place and made a move to clearly finish 2nd but that would be it for the year for Papa. It appeared he was on the verge of getting that maiden win but thoughts of anymore than a solid claiming horse were wishful thinking at this time.
While being turned out a couple of things happened he grew more and matured and Gibson clearly felt it was time to get this guy on the lead. Vince Gibson is part of a large horse racing family all owners, trainers and jockeys and Vince rode at Longacres in the 70’s and was known for putting his horse on the lead. He trains much like that and loves to put his horses out in front figuring you can’t win if you’re never in front. He clearly took that approach with Papa going into his sophomore year of racing.
Papa’s Golden Boy had trained long and hard preparing for the 2020 season which we all know was delayed due to the pandemic. But boy was it worth the wait for the Lusk’s. Papa’s Golden Boy started the 5 1/2 furlong race and jumped to the lead immediately with jockey Gary Wales aboard and quickly took a length lead. Setting fractions of 21.36 for the quarter and 44.25 for the half Wales had Papa out flying and a 5 length lead at the top of the stretch, a lead that was too big and he won by a clear length. The ownership group of Gary Lusk to Gary and Deborah Lusk was now at Gary, Deborah and Jeff Lusk and the entire Lusk clan was thrilled to get their picture taken in the Winner’s Circle.
In his next outing Papa served notice that an everyday claiming horse he will not be. In an allowance and his first try against winners he tormented his competitors by jumping out of the gate and quickly building a 6 length lead extending it to 12 at the top of the stretch and winning by 8. After setting down fractions of 21.37 and an eye catching 43.37 1/2 mile he finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.38 geared down.
With that effort in him it was time to test the Stakes and he was entered in the 6 1/2 furlong Mt Rainier Stakes. Once again Wales got him out to a big early lead of of 4 1/2 lengths and pushed that to 6 lengths at the top of the stretch but this time the Calvary charge came running and Elliott Bay caught him in the final 50-yards with Take Charge Deputy flying late. Papa never stopped trying and did well hanging on to 2nd place.
That effort was enough for the Lusk crew to consider running in the Longacres Mile with the big question can he be slowed down a little to be able to get the mile distance. There was no question he was going to the lead and got out to a 1 1/2 length lead but he never did draw off to a big lead as longshot La Waun kept close early with Anothertwistafate and Five Star General both lurking in 3rd and 4th place. Papa would get out by 2 1/2 lengths but Anothertwistafate did not wait and made his mover after 6-furlongs and engaged Papa on the turn and had surged past him for a clear 1 1/2 length lead at the top of the stretch. Papa would get passed by 3 others and end up 5th just 1 1/4 out of 3rd and 4 lengths back of 2nd.
Despite the 5th place finish it was the thrill of a lifetime for Lusk. To even consider he would actually own a horse racing in the Longacres Mile was to much to comprehend and he couldn’t have been more proud of Papa and his whole team. They would finish 2020 up and down with one more win in a 6-furlong allowance race squeezed in between 2 6th place finishes and it was clear Papa was tired and ready for a break.
The time off was really good for Papa as he geared up for the 2021 season. One difference is that Gary Wales would not ride him in 2021 as Wales did not return to Emerald Downs. Gibson would go with another heady veteran especially since he would be here for the start of the 2021 season. Julien Couton is based in Northern California and usually heads to Emerald Downs after the Golden Gate Spring meet and skips the Cal fair circuit. This year with Emerald starting late in May he was here from the beginning and began getting on Papa in the mornings.
He blistered an Allowance field in his first start winning the 5 1/2 furlong race by 6 in a blazing time of 1:02.11. Up next was the Budweiser Stakes and as good as he had been Papa had yet to win a Stakes race and in the Bud he would face heavy favorite Baja Sur. Papa again went to the lead and never looked back as Baja Sur could not make up the deficit in the stretch and Papa scored his first Stakes win with a 2 3/4 length win and covered the 6 furlongs in an eye popping 1:07.71.
Up next was the 6 1/2 furlong Governor’s Stakes and in this one he would face another true speed horse in Windribbon from the Blaine Wright barn. Papa was ready from the get go and popped a 1 1/2 length lead and Windribbon never did put pressure on him like many thought we’d see in that showdown. Couton would let Papa get out by 3 1/2 and won by 2 1/2 lengths. Couton says trying to judge Papa’s speed is difficult because it doesn’t feel like you are going that fast. In the Governor’s he went 1:14.50 but more importantly won a race longer than 6 furlongs.
Couton feels like he is getting Papa to save a little and says you notice we don’t go out to a 6 or 8 or 12 length lead, he says I want him to save some of that speed for just the right time. Couton believes he could get Papa to actually once again sit off some early speed and not get caught up in a killer speed duel.
With Papa’s performances of 3 starts and 3 wins with 2 Stakes under his belt there was no question Lusk and Gibson had their eyes set on the Mile. There is a lot of early speed signed on and Lusk was hopeful he could draw a post position outside of the 1 and 2 holes and allow Couton to have some options of maybe just sitting off the pace a little bit instead of needing the lead coming from the inside.
As the horses were being drawn randomly for this year’s Mile, a representative for the ownership would come up and shake the pill out of the bottle determining their post position. After 5 horses had been drawn the 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 10 positions were still open. Lusk would love either 7 or 8 even 3 just not 1 or 2. When he pulled the pill racing secretary Bret Anderson announced to the crowd that Papa’s Golden Boy would break from the #1 post. When Gary pulled the pill you could hear an audible groan from the Papa’s table.
The disappointment of not being able to try something new was apparent but on the flip side it’s not known whether they could slow Papa down out of the gate anyway. The only thing that has changed is whether Couton can conserve enough of Papa like he did in the Governor’s Stakes to finish off the mile distance. That was the question to begin with and until he does it it won’t be answered.
The Lusk crew will all be there on Sunday and regardless of how Papa finishes they are proud to own him and proud he is a Washington bred. The excitement and joy is overwhelming. Just prior to last year’s mile one of Lusk’s grandchildren, Peyton, was added to the ownership line-up and he says more of his grandchildren are wanting to get involved as well. Lusk says a name change for the ownership may be in the cards soon or they will run out of space to list all the owners in the program. Maybe the Lusk Family Farm Stable or better yet how about the Poor Boys Stable?
What a tribute that would be for this regular guy doing his best to raise a great family, earn a respectable living with good old fashioned hard work and being patient to find just the right time to do the previously undoable. Lusk says “I will never own a professional sports team of any kind, ever but I am a Race Horse owner and that’s pretty dang cool.”
Horse racing is truly an interactive sport from the betting to owning and everything in between and Gary Lusk personifies how the sport dubbed “the sport of kings” is actually the sport of the commoners. There is opportunity for everyone to be involved at some level. Lusk encourages those who have always wanted to take that step from fan and bettor to owner. There are many ways to do it at a very affordable level and every single trainer is no doubt willing to work with anyone wanting to get into the game but simply don’t know how.
Lusk thanks his friend Gary Wallace for introducing him to Vince Gibson. Lusk says the Gibson’s are part of our family now and we feel like we are part of theirs along with the larger thoroughbred family as a whole.
In the end Papa’s Golden Boy will run on Sunday as maybe the best chance for a local horse to keep the big trophy home in Washington State. He will, like his owners, give it his best shot and let the cards fall as they may. If at the 1/16th pole he is clear by 5 and cruises to a Mile win or if he is overwhelmed in mid-stretch and battles to stay on the board he will represent his connections exactly how they would want to be represented, hardworking, fun-loving and a never give-up effort.
Gary Lusk’s dream is not on the line in this race, he’s already living it.