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Massive crowds are expected to attend the Crooked River Roundup Horse Races, which start on Wednesday evening

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Crooked River Roundup Horse Races return this week after the event was canceled because of COVID-19 in 2020.

The Crooked River Roundup Horse Races are back, and organizers are expecting a massive event to make up for last year's COVID-induced postponement.

Race Director Doug Smith has watched huge crowds show up to rodeos in late June and early July and heard good attendance reports from Union, where horse races were held about a month ago.

"My expectation is this will be the biggest party we have ever had," he said.

Smith said the races will look similar to the 2019 event, primarily because the COVID mandates that limited gatherings were a main focus in the planning process. Once the mandates were lifted, just two weeks before the races, organizers decided to bring back what was done during the last event.

"As we were making plans for this two or three months ago – do we go, do we not go? – I elected not to simulcast, which means this is a local event. What happens at the fairgrounds is at the fairgrounds – it is not on the internet this year," Smith added. "That was done because I know how much time it takes to set that up and frankly, we didn't have the time or the manpower to do something like that – not with COVID this close to our rearview mirror."

While that is the case, Smith noted that race enthusiasts can expect some upgrades to the viewing experience. For example, the concession area will be significantly expanded to provide room for a lot more food choices.

"There's more room behind the grandstands for people," he added. "We are working really hard at gathering up enough volunteers to make the betting lines shorter, and there will be more self-serve betting machines on top of that."

In addition, event organizers focused on racetrack safety. Smith said that the Oregon Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association funded new equipment that will "allow us to try to speed up the races and ensure we have the safest possible surface for our horses at the same time."

The races once again kick off with Ladies Night on Wednesday. Post time is 7:15 p.m. each night. Eight races will take place Wednesday and Thursday, and 10 races are scheduled Friday and Saturday.

Race distances range from 250 yards to 5-1/2 furlongs. Highlights of the four-day event include the Jack Rhoden Memorial Quarter Horse Stakes, featuring an $11,900 payout, and the Woodward Memorial Thoroughbred Stakes, with an estimated payout of $10,000.

"We have some really good races scheduled," Smith gushed. "It's going to be a big party, and I'd hate to see anybody miss out on it."

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Tickets are $10 each night. Children ages 3-12 are $5, and children 2 and under are free. Wednesday is Ladies Night; all women get into the races free. Fans under 18 are welcome to attend with an adult but are not allowed to gamble. Tickets are available at Prineville Men's Wear and Bayberry Lane in Prineville, Coastal in Redmond, and Boot Barn in Bend. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., post time is 7:15 p.m.


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