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ong Prineville tradition has come around for yet another year. Visitors from all over the Pacific Northwest began flocking to the Crook County Fairgrounds over the weekend, gearing up for the Crooked River Race Meet, on tap for Wednesday through Saturday.
   Spectators will be treated to parimutuel horse racing, which begins Wednesday, with a post time of 7 p.m.
   "We like it down here," said 57-year-old Bill Hof of Walla Walla, Wash., sitting in a lounge chair. "We like the people and we have fun. We camp out, kick back and cook."
   Hof made his way into town Saturday, a practice which has been a long tradition for the man who has spent 30 years as a horse trainer. Hof figures he has been coming to the Prineville races for the past 20 years.
   "These guys work hard and do a good job," he said about the organizers of the meet. "They are very accommodating," added Vickie Moyer of Milton-Freewater, sitting nearby.
   Hof brought 16 horses for this year's event and looks to enter all of them at one time or another as the week goes on.
   The races, which began in Prineville two days before the Crooked River Roundup in 1966, will dart out of the gates Wednesday with Ladies Night. All women are admitted free. Thursday night is Chamber of Commerce Night. Spectators can visit the Chamber office, 390 NE Fairview for free tickets which will be issued on a first-come first-serve basis. Free tickets are also offered for Thursday at local Chamber business. Those who don't pick up their tickets at area business Thursday, tickets are the regular price of $4.
   The races continue Friday and Saturday. Post time each night is 7 p.m. Parking is free.
   Organizers are anticipating a successful event this week, one that's sure to be enjoyed by both the fans and the race owners, riders and trainers.
   "I've never gone into a race meet event as excited about what's happening," said Doug Smith, Crooked River Roundup Race Meet director.
   "We have a funding stream that is growing on a state level and we have a sport that is suddenly, even on a national basis, starting to get stability and to come back around after being kicked around a little bit by lotteries and legalized gambling."
   Some of this year's races will be run for as much as $2,000. The longest distance will be 1-1/8 mile, with the shortest being 250 yards.
   Smith added that the Prineville outdoor arena is one of the elite venues in the state for horse racing.
   "On a local basis, we've got one of the nicest facilities for running the race horses in the state of Oregon outside of Portland," he said. "We will draw a larger crowd than they do at the Portland Meadows."
   With the Crooked River Race Meet, comes a lot more than entertainment for members of central Oregon. The event, Smith said, helps out the local economy.
   "We will bring in 100 plus people who will live here for a week, fill our hotels, buy food for their horses at our feed stores and buy food for themselves at our restaurants. Plus, we're going to bring a lot of people from the rest of central Oregon in for the actual event itself," he said.
   Smith added that although betting is a part of the Crooked River Roundup Race Meet, gambling hasn't become a problem in the history of the event. The people of central Oregon simply consider the event as a form of entertainment.
   "The crowd isn't about wagering," he said. "For the size of our crowd, we probably handle fewer dollars per person than anywhere else in the state. But what we have are people who come down and bet $2 and $3 a race and if they win, fine, if they lose, that's fine too...I don't think we have anyone who comes down here and loses a house payment."
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