The grandstands will soon fill up at Arapahoe Park. Horse racing fans will gather to put a few bucks down, and cheer on the stars of it all – the dozens of horses that will compete every weekend.
At the track, just days before the races are set to begin, the early Monday morning air was peacefully quiet. The only sounds that could be heard were horses churning up the soft dirt during a practice run, an occasional whinny and snort of the equine athletes, and the good-natured chatter between jockeys.
The morning workout routine, something many race-watchers don’t get a chance to see, is a stark contrast to the buzz of activity during race day. But for the riders and trainers, whose entire lives are the sport, these mornings offer a chance to appreciate the beauty of the horses.
“I’ve been in this game since I was a kid. My father rode and I’ve done it all since I was 15,” said Lynn Heath, who watched the morning workouts from atop her horse, Tiny Two. Heath is an assistant trainer for racehorse, Dru Hall.
“The horses are special. They’re kind. They can get high and rambunctious, but there’s just something about a horse. You touch their nose and it just relaxes you.”
The start of the three-month racing season at Arapahoe Park will mark the 27th consecutive year races have been at the track.
The park, in southeast Arapahoe County across from the Aurora Reservoir on East Quincy Avenue, originally opened in 1984, but took a quick hiatus until it was re-established in 1992.
The track has hosted thoroughbred, quarter and Arabian horses on weekends in May through August ever since.
Most people’s experience with horse racing is limited to watching the races of the Triple Crown on TV, such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. The idea of going down to a track and spending a Saturday afternoon watching races might seem intimidating, especially if there’s no desire to place any wagers.
Jonathan Horowitz, announcer for races at Arapahoe Park, said people should not be deterred from visiting the track. The image of gamblers screaming at horses and tearing up betting slips is far from reality, he said. Instead, a day at the track is a chance for friends and families to watch the beauty of horse racing.
“I found that friends that I bring to the races, once they come for the first time, they are captivated by it. It’s a fascinating dynamic, with the horses out there running and competing against each other. It draws people in,” Horowitz said. “They see that rather than just gambling, it’s a chance to enjoy time together and spend a nice summer afternoon outside.”
Horowitz said unlike other sports, watching a horse race at the park gives one a chance to get up close and personal in a way no other sport can. And it’s just straight-up exciting to watch.
For Heath, even after a lifetime spent in racing, the thrill of watching the animals give it their all while tearing up the track has never gone away.
“They just go so fast, the quarter horses are just unreal to watch. It’s exhilarating,” he said. “It’s exciting. It’s so much fun to watch.”
The Arapahoe Park race season begins with races at 1 p.m. Friday through Monday on May 26 through Aug. 12. Tickets for the races are $5 for adults; 55 and older $1; and children 17 and younger are free. For information, visit www.mihiracing.com.