WALLA WALLA - Ten years ago, Walla Walla's Bob and Deanna Williams watched from the owner's box as Rdustys Chick charged to a win in the Heritage Place Futurity, picking up a $500,000 purse in the Oklahoma quarter horse race from the third slot.
And on Saturday, the Williamses will again be in the box, watching Rmiss Jessy - Rdustys Chick's daughter - and hoping for a win and the $1 million purse. From the third racing hole.
Both mares were the eighth fastest in their time trials - with Rmiss Jessy clocking in at 17.839 second May 6, the third-fastest time on the day out of 91 total horses.
"But it's not my birthday this year," said owner Bob Williams, who left town for Oklahoma on Sunday. "This is only the second time we've qualified for this race. We just happened to win it last time."
The Williamses are a small operation, with just two horses currently racing. They have two or three foals per year, and bring them up to run.
When Rmiss Jessy, a 2-year-old gray filly, was born, she also had a half-sister.
"We decided to keep this one because we kinda liked her," Bob Williams said of his stakes-grade mare.
Good thing, too - her half-sister's racing career is likely over with a damaged knee.
And this filly has been a joy for the Williamses to watch.
In the time trial, she led early and closed well ahead of her nearest competition, and looked like she had more to spare.
"She breaks early and gets her hook and says ‘adios,'" Williams said. "She likes the distance. She gets stronger as she closes."
Rmiss Jessy was foaled in Oklahoma and came back to Washington with Williams as a weanling, where she was a handful to break.
"She was trouble," Williams said fondly. "She was always going faster and faster in the round pen. But we got her to (the trainer) and he got her to settle. He rode her through brush and streams and brought her in."
And though Williams recognizes horse racing is a business, he's also got a soft spot for the creatures.
He grew up on Whidbey Island, where the father of a friend was a Navy captain with four horses.
"There was Scout the Shetland pony, Cheetah, Tommy and Lucky," he said, remembering the horses who first touched his life. "The Navy captain taught me to ride. The Navy shipped those horses everywhere he went - Ohio, Hawaii ... where he went, the horses went.
"I've always liked horses," he continued. "Then I got to middle school and high school and got involved with sports and didn't have the time, but I circled back to horses."
And the pictures of race horses, both past and present, around Williams' home just south of Walla Walla are displayed rather like a parent might a child.
In 1972, Williams moved to Walla Walla, and in 1976, he and Deanna bought their first racehorse, Bay Ricky.
Since then, the Williamses have had just three graded stakes winners.
Graded stakes are a type of horse race with bigger entry fees - and greater purses.
Rmiss Jessy could become the fourth.
"This mare is qualified," Williams said. "They don't come around very often, especially for us in such a small organization."
Although based in Walla Walla, the Williams keep and breed their mares in Oklahoma and primarily race there, due to incentives from Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association and racing associations, though they say it isn't enough to make up for the costs of horses - feed, training, upkeep, veterinary bills, horse shoeing and more.
But the Williamses are having a good year. Since the season began in March, the Williams' two horses have more than earned their keep, bringing in $32,000 with three wins and a third-place finish.
"They've paid for themselves this year," Bob Williams said.
But racing fillies has its issues.
One filly easily beat the field - then came back to a time trial and lagged behind, Williams said.
"RSpecial Chick would run a hole in the wind, and then she'd go to time trials, against horses she'd beaten, and run dead last," he chucked. "I guess she's a typical woman! She decided she didn't want to run any more."
"Fillies are a lot of headaches, but they're fun."
And the Williamses have had a fair number lately.
Bob and Deanna made a deal years ago that the fillies were hers and he owned the foals. With mostly fillies in the last few years, he's found a new title.
"I'm just the keeper of the barn," he said.
From Rmiss Jessy's ultrasound results ("She doesn't have a dimple on her") to her next race, he's looking forward to life with this quarter horse.
After the Heritage Place Futurity, Rmiss Jessy will travel to big races across the West, including the All-American 1/4 Mile and Texas Classic, both with $1 million purses.
"But all the money you make goes back into it," Williams said.
And soon enough, Rmiss Jessy will be a dame herself, with her foals running around the Williams' property.
It will help soothe another first - this is the first time since 1997 that they've left town without a horse behind.
Viewing the race
Locally-owned quarter horse filly Rmiss Jessy is racing in the Heritage Place Futurity for a million-dollar purse at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, with an approximate post time of 8:30 p.m. PST this Saturday.
Rmiss Jessy is owned by Bob and Deanna Williams of Walla Walla.
Although the race will not be televised on cable, it is available on the racetrack website at www.remingtonpark.com, on the horse racing channels on DirecTV or DISH Network, and a group of friends and fans will be at the Blue Mountain Tavern to cheer the filly on.