Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pari-mutuel racing debuts at 1950 Round-Up

The 1950 Pendleton Round-Up kicked off August 23 with evening pari-mutuel racing at Round-Up Arena, one of many events that is no longer a regular part of Round-Up week. The week’s races were the inaugural meet of Round-Up night racing held in Pendleton and, unfortunately, did not go off without at least one hitch.

One of the jockeys in Wednesday’s second race, being “underfed” at 90 pounds, had a lead pack placed under his saddle to bring his weight up to the minimum 115-pound requirement. Unfortunately, the pack obscured part of the number on the horse’s saddle cloth, and when the race was over the judges awarded the race to the wrong horse, having mistaken the partially obscured number 5 for a 3. According to the story in the Aug. 24 East Oregonian, “Everybody knew — the crowd knew, the jockeys knew, probably even the horses knew — that No. 3, Lieuallen Brown Bob, had run fourth, and No. 5, Vivian M., had won. But the judges had seen a ‘3’ so they authorized pari-mutuel to begin paying bets.” By the time someone pointed out the error and the judges reversed their decision, $198 had already been paid out to those who had bet on the No. 3 horse to win. And none of the payees were willing to give the money back when the mistake was discovered. Round-Up directors got together, talked over the situation, and ponied up the money out of their own pockets to make up the difference so the correct winnings could be paid out.

On Friday, one of the horses overcame some serious odds to win the third race of the evening. Helen Hart, a five-year-old chestnut mare owned by the Golden Horse ranch, was run in the afternoon races and then mistakenly bedded down for the day with a meal of oats and plenty of water, even though she was scheduled for the evening races as well. Despite her heavy, unaccustomed load she managed to pull ahead of the favorite to win in the final stretch.

State-sanctioned pari-mutuel racing at the 1950 Round-Up consisted of three different types of races: open races, mostly run by thoroughbreds; quarter horse races, which were harder to bet on because often the fastest horses — unused to a curved track — could be beat by a slower horse that was accustomed to hugging the rail; and the Indian races, featuring reservation-bred Indian-owned ponies that were completely unknown, leaving bettors to make their selections based almost as much on the professional rider as the horse.

Perhaps the Round-Up Association could consider returning pari-mutuel racing to Pendleton as one way to increase the usage of the Round-Up Grounds — and add another reason for tourists to come to Pendleton.

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