Crooked River Roundup races result in record times and big crowds
The Crooked River Roundup Board of Directors knew going into this year's race meet that there were going to be some challenges.
After the unfortunate death of jockey Eduardo Gutierrez-Sosa last year, there were concerns about track safety. There was also a shortage of horses.
Race organizers were not concerned about the quality of the track, but they still took steps proactively to make sure that the track was as safe as possible. Prior to the start of Wednesday's first night of racing, a nationally known track expert come in to inspect the track and offer his advice.
"We had Steve Wood, who was the track man at Santa Anita, come up here and look at it on Wednesday," race meet director Doug Smith said Saturday night. "He said, 'You are doing everything right, don't change a thing.' We actually softened it a little bit since then, and truthfully, it's very forgiving."
During the course of the four-day race meet, a handful of jockeys were thrown from their mounts, all following the conclusion of races, but none were seriously injured. In fact, early Saturday night, jockey Jose Guerrero took what looked like a bad fall. However, after spending some time on the ground and being checked by paramedics, Guerrero bounced back up and continued to ride. Guerrero later rode Warlock to victory in the prestigious Jack Rhoden Memorial Challenge, the biggest race of the race meet.
Not only did Warlock win more than $9,000 in the race, which had a total purse of $19,423, he broke the track record over 250 yards. The quarter horse track record over that distance had been 12.950 seconds prior to the 2022 race meet. On Thursday, July 14, Fooses Flyer lowered the mark to 12.823 — and then Warlock went even faster, clocking a time of 12.81.
"I was here and watched Vodka Soda No Fruit set the track record in 2011, and I know the track was hard and fast," Smith said. "We had set the record twice that year, and he just tore it apart. I thought we would never see it again because since then, I have made sure that the track never got that hard because of safety for the equine athletes. You look at it tonight that track is soft under your feet, it's worked before every race and it's very forgiving."
"When we finished that race (The Jack Rhoden Memorial) tonight," Smith continued, "a horseman came up and said 'Doug, this is the best place we have ever been.' That's telling something — and that's not just talking about me. That's talking about the entire Crooked River Roundup board and all the volunteers that support us."
The Jack Rhoden Memorial was far from the only exciting or fast race over the course of the four days. The very next race, the Art Smith Memorial Stakes, contested over a full seven furlongs (a furlong is one eighth of a mile) — the longest race of this year's race meet — saw three horses battle down the stretch for a photo finish that took several minutes to determine the outcome. Subtle Ride, ridden by Rachel Goodgame, came in first in a time of 1:28.59.
The shortage of horses forced meet organizers to alter some races and cancel a couple more. That could have had a negative impact on the race meet, but instead, Smith said that everyone pulled together to make things work.
"I believe that the relationship that the Crooked River Roundup has with the horsemen and the riders is just unbelievable," he said. "We look at each other, and we have each other's backs. When I needed horses, they found horses to run in the races. We had shortages of horses — probably only had about half the normal number of horses on the grounds — but we were able to come together, work together and put together one heck of a good show."
During Ladies' Night on Wednesday, July 13, the time between races was a little long. Smith said that was because the race meet had made several major changes, and it took some time to get things running smoothly. Once they got the bugs out, things ran smoothly.
"We tried some new things on Wednesday, and it took us a while to figure out exactly," Smith said. "We wanted to work the dirt on the entire track between every race, not every other race like had been done in the past. We wanted a fresh racing surface for every race."
"We've worked two years putting it together," he continued. "We came out Wednesday and we tried it and there were some hiccups with it. After we figured out how to do it, it has worked exceptional. Because of that, this is probably the safest and yet the fastest dirt that we've ever had in Prineville."
More than a quarter million dollars went through the betting windows over the course of the four days, an incredible amount of money for the size of the race meet. What makes that even more incredible is that the entire race meet is run by volunteers, with all the betting windows manned by volunteers.
"Every place you look, there are volunteers, and they do the yeoman's amount of the work that is done," Smith said. "By race time, I'm not sweating — I'm just nervous. The volunteers in the windows are just unbelievably important to us. There's probably 150 volunteers every night over the course of the week. I'm guessing we run through close to 300 over the course of the four days. It's just incredible what we get done here using volunteer help."
Large crowds attended all four nights of the race meet, with an official attendance of 19,200 over the four days.
"The other thing that I want to get across is that the crowds here are knowledgeable," Smith said. "They understand racing and yet they have fun. Look around here. You aren't going to find anybody that's not having fun."
"You don't find this at any other race meet on the west coast," he added. "We've got bigger crowds than they get to some of the big fair meets in California. For a total draw area that is a little less than 300,000, to put four, five or six thousand into the grandstands and the area out back and have them come in here every night, it's an incredible atmosphere. And the racing has been great."
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