There is money to be made in Prineville this week.
The 2013 Crooked River Roundup horse races kick off tonight at the Crook County Fairgrounds. The gates open at 6 p.m. and post time for the first of eight races is 7:15. Pari-mutuel betting will be available for every race on each of the four nights of racing.
“We should have a fantastic group of quarter horses on the ground and some really nice thoroughbreds,” says Doug Smith, the CRR’s horse race director. “And we expect some really good older horses, too.”
According to Smith, the number of horses entered in the popular event, which is now in its 47th year, is down from races past, a reflection of more conservative breeding strategies during the economic recession.
“During the recession, many horsemen didn’t breed their mares and we’re just now seeing that,” Smith says. “There’s not as many young horses out there as in the past. ... We’ll be fine, though. Instead of running eight horses a race, we’ll run seven and it’ll still be great.”
Each race at the Crooked River Roundup has a minimum purse of $2,300 — money that goes to the top horses and jockeys in each race — while some, such as the Jack Rhoden Memorial on Saturday night, are as large as $18,000. Smith says those steady payouts, the largest minimum on Oregon’s summer race circuit, bring to Prineville a more diverse stable of horses than most small-town races in the Northwest.
“We attract horses out of Emerald (Downs in Auburn, Wash.) and horses out of Boise, (Idaho), horses that haven’t been in Oregon,” Smith says. “It’s what makes racing in Prineville really unique. There’s a strange mix of horses so it’s really unpredictable.
“You’ve got horses and riders that hit the track and they’ve never run against one another,” Smith adds. “That’s what makes racing here so interesting and why the payoffs are so high.”
Running 10 days after the Crooked River Roundup rodeo — usually the two events are at least two weeks a part — has been a blessing for the horse races, Smith says, following a bout of unseasonably warm weather.
“All the equipment and watering we did for the rodeo, it came back and helped us get ready for the races,” Smith says. “(The track) will be in great shape.”
Prineville looks to double in size the rest of the week as Smith says the typical four-day attendance is between 13,000 and 14,000 spectators.
“It’s the biggest thing in Prineville,” Smith says about the area’s only horse racing event. “As far as paid attendance goes, it’s probably the biggest four-day event in Central Oregon.
“And,” Smith deadpans, “it’s doggone sure the biggest horse race in Central Oregon.”