AURORA | Names like “Carvers Corona,” “Ima Cutie Patutie” and “Mariwon Oh” probably don’t mean much to the many new residents of east Aurora’s sweeping expanses of rapidly developing plains.
But for 39 days this summer, those mysterious monikers become temporary epicenters of the normally desolate prairie.
Arapahoe Park, Aurora’s far-flung sanctuary of equine athletics, opened its roughly three-month-long season Friday, marking the first of many summertime pilgrimages to the eastern edge of the metro area for fans, animals and jockeys draped in iridescent polyester.
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This year marks the 25th consecutive season of racing at Arapahoe Park, which originally opened in 1984 but took a quick hiatus until reestablishing itself in 1992. The track has hosted thoroughbred, quarter and Arabian horses on weekends in May through August ever since.
The track, marked by a looming grandstand across from the Aurora Reservoir on East Quincy Avenue, has experienced something of a resurrection in recent years, despite the defeat of a 2014 ballot initiative that would have brought a multi-million-dollar casino to the racetrack facility.
The recent success has been due in no small part to a late string of Triple Crown excitement, according to Jonathan Horowitz, spokesman and announcer for all races at the track. (The horse California Chrome won two legs of the three-race series in 2014, and last year American Pharaoh became the first horse to win the esteemed series since Affirmed in 1978.)
“There’s been a certain magnetism to horse racing stars of the last few years, and that’s created the interest of people wanting to experience it live,” Horowitz said.
That desire to be at the track extends beyond watching live racing, even if it’s off-season, according to Horowitz. He said that Arapahoe Park has started to host Kentucky Derby events in recent years after receiving requests by patrons who wanted to take in the festivities at Churchill Downs in a racing atmosphere. That’s despite the fact that the Derby takes places several weeks before the racing season starts at Arapahoe Park.
“There’s been a renewed interest in not just coming out to see live racing, but being in a racing environment to follow the big races from around the country,” Horowitz said.
He said that more than 100 people came out to the race track to watch this year’s Derby.
Those year-round events have only increased in popularity in recent years, according to Shannon Rushton, executive director of the Colorado Horse Racing Association who lives and works at Arapahoe Park during race season. Rushton said that the track has made concerted off-season efforts to educate new residents of the track’s existence and, hopefully, entice them back once the season opens in May.
“The more people that move out in this direction the more they realize the track is here,” he said.
Once the season starts, however, a day at the track has a different cadence than a baseball or soccer game, according to Horowitz, who said that to casual observers, the sprawling layout of the grand stand can at first be overwhelming or confusing.
“It’s so much stimulation all at once, but there is sort of an order and a flow to it,” he said. “It’s a little bit different than baseball or football game because you’re not tied to one location or one spot. You see a migration of people from watching the horses warm-up, to place their bets, then maybe to go to the rail to watch the races.”
On Friday, the track featured nine quarter horse trial races in the Cherry Creek Futurity, with the 10 fastest horses over 330 yards qualifying for the finals on June 5. For about 20 seconds every 25 minutes starting at roughly 1 p.m., attendees clutching programs gathered at the railing to watch their chosen winner compete.
Following the short burst of excitement, Horowitz barked out the biographies of the top three animals, including their lineage, where they were bred, as well as the all-important odds and winning purse. Most races yield less than $10.
But, for savvy viewers like Littleton resident Harry Medved, those small purses add up.
“I’m about $35 ahead, but that’s one of only a few times I can say that,” said Medved, a longtime racing fan who has attended the races since the track first opened.
Formerly involved with breeding horses at a company called Blue Sage Breeders, Medved said that he usually places a few small bets on Friday races when the crowds are smaller. But these days, he enjoys sharing the spectacle of the sport with his grandchildren more than making money.
“It’s a good outing for the whole family,” Medved said.
But Medved is a portrait of the horse player of old, according to Horowitz, who reiterated that Arapahoe Park has been trying to lure a new generations of fans to the track.
“There’s so much growth in the area, and that’s bringing people out to the track,” he said.
Arapahoe Park boasted its highest day of attendance ever on the last day of the 2015 season, with 6,683 patrons, according to Horowitz.
Rushton said that he’s hopeful last year’s late success will bleed into the 2016 season.
He said that, typically, popular days at the racetrack are Father’s Day and Fourth of July weekend. But he’s hopeful the public’s recent fascination with watching big races in a track setting will help buoy attendance numbers for the running of the upcoming Belmont Stakes in June.
“We’ll see if in three weeks, when the Belmont (Stakes) hits, that excitement still plays over with more people coming to the track,” he said.