As cherished as a malt from the Tastee Treet down on Third Street and as raucous as a Saturday night at the Horseshoe Tavern over on Main, the Crooked River Roundup horse races return to Prineville this week for the 46th consecutive year.
Racing starts tonight at 7:15 at the Crook County Fairgrounds, where the gates will open at 6 p.m. Admission is $5 per person each night — the races run through Saturday — and tonight is Ladies Night: all women will be admitted for free.
“We’ll have some really good races the first three nights,” said Crooked River Roundup horse race chair Doug Smith. “And Saturday should be absolutely fantastic.”
Saturday’s race lineup is highlighted by the Jack Rhoden Memorial Quarter Horse Sprint, which boasts an $18,000 purse, the largest one-race cash prize in CRR horse race history, according to Smith. The American Quarter Horse Association donated $2,000 to the Jack Rhoden Memorial, giving the race its exceptional payout.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and there’s been nothing anywhere near that,” Smith said.
With a full slate of races scheduled for each night, Smith said he expects the 2012 CRR to challenge last year’s four-day handle of $232,000, the races’ highest gambling total since the Oregon Lottery was established in 1984. (Racing handles around the state went down once Oregonians had the chance to legally gamble every day with the Oregon Lottery.)
“Every place is down, but I believe we’ll be up,” Smith said about the Oregon’s other pari-mutuel horse races this year. “Don’t try and get a hotel in Prineville, they’re all booked up. Don’t try and get a spot at the Crook County RV Park, they’re all booked. And we’ve got 200 people living at the fairgrounds for the week. ... I was in downtown Prineville earlier today and it was rocking, and it’s just Tuesday.”
The horse races, which were added to the Crooked River Roundup rodeo in 1945, have over the years become an economic lightning bolt for Prineville. Smith said he estimates that the four-day event brings in more than 1,000 racing enthusiasts from outside Central Oregon and many more from Bend, Redmond, Madras and other neighboring communities.
“This thing has a very good impact on Crook County,” Smith said. “And if all the hotels in Prineville are filled, you know people are staying in Redmond and probably some in Bend.”
In addition to being the only sanctioned horse races in Central Oregon, the Crooked River Roundup also won’t break a spectator’s bank account, Smith observed.
“We try to keep admission (which is $5) to where you can come in as an individual with a $20 bill, have fun all night long and with a little bit of luck walk out with a $20 bill in your pocket,” Smith says. “That’s good, affordable entertainment in today’s world.”