Featured Post: Arapahoe Park

[Editor’s Note:  I asked Rich Halvey, who blogs at halveyonhorseracing.com and is also quite active on twitter @rich_halvey, to provide some background on Arapahoe Park. Due to ADW restrictions, I can’t play the track from home in Colorado, and most of my action is simulcast. Small tracks can also provide some good betting opportunities and entertainment.  The photo is from “somewhere near Arapahoe Park.” Rich will be in the paddock at Arapahoe Park on Sunday, July 20. SA]

I grew up a stone’s throw from Saratoga. It was the first real racetrack I ever went to, and for me it is still the best venue in racing. Saratoga is wonderful – interesting people, the best horses in the world, fabulous grounds, lots of history. The Vatican of racetracks.

A few years after breaking my betting maiden, I decided to move to Colorado. In those days when simulcasting was barely an idea, if I wanted to bet horses it was going to be at Centennial Race Track, an austere but functional facility located in the southwest part of the Denver metro area. It may not have had all the pageantry and names of Saratoga, but I really learned to love betting at a “small” track. And to be honest, I never had more successful years than I did at Centennial. Then in 1983 they announced Centennial had been sold to land developers and the old racetrack would be no more. Horseplayers were given hope in the form of Arapahoe Park. The price of land being what it was in Denver, it was decided to build Arapahoe Park about ten miles east of the last vestiges of civilization, and on my first drive out there I was taking it on faith that eventually I would run into a racetrack, since there seemed to be little else to indicate that Zebulon Pike or some other explorer had discovered that part of Colorado.

So in 1984 Arapahoe Park opened. There were porta-potties instead of real bathrooms (there was a problem with the water quality) but it was real live racing. 1984 was as good a year as all those years at Centennial. But that was the last year of racing at Arapahoe Park for eight long years. It reopened in 1992 and has operated every year since, lately with a 39 day meeting with racing Friday through Sunday for 13 weeks from around Memorial Day to the middle of August. Arapahoe Park runs a mixed meeting, mostly thoroughbreds but a healthy mix of quarter horses and Arabians. Along with Delaware Park, Retama, and Pleasanton, Arapahoe is one of the top Arabian tracks in the county. There are 38 stakes races worth $1.6 million, topped by three $100,000+ races, the Arapahoe Park Classic (Aug 16), the Mile High Futurity (Aug 17) and the long-running Gold Rush Futurity  Aug 17).

Arapahoe Park really gives the local Colorado horsemen a place to shine. Long time Colorado trainers such as quarterhorse specialist John Hammes, Holly, Colorado native Temple Rushton, Monk Hall, Bill Brashears, Shawn Davis (son of Colorado legendary trainer Dean Davis), Kenneth Gleason (and the other Gleasons, Tyrone and Justin), and Owen Bringhurst give many of the stakes races a familiar Colorado flavor. At this point in the season the top thoroughbred trainers list has a familiar ring. Kenneth Gleason is leading in money won, followed by Dwain Eaton, Sharlot Martinez (the leading trainer in wins), Temple Rushton, Cole Jackson, Jonathan Nance, and Kim Oliver. The aforementioned Tyrone Gleason, Owen Bringhurst and Monk Hall round out the top 10.

Arapahoe is a standard one-mile oval. Most thoroughbred races are run on the dirt at the sprint distances. Only 10-15% of the races are at a mile or longer. There is no turf course at Arapahoe. Arapahoe has one of the most unique 7-furlong courses in America, starting from a chute just beyond the end of the homestretch and running on an angle to the end of the clubhouse turn where they straighten out for the backstretch run. As with the 6½ turf course at Santa Anita, experience in running the 7-furlong distance is an important handicapping factor.

As with every track, the riders who understand which trips win at the various distances inevitably top the jockey standings. Travis Wales is currently comfortably on top of the jockey standings, in terms of wins, money won and in-the-money percentage. Gate specialist Dennis Collins is second. If he is riding an early speed horse, he inevitably seems to break on top, move to a good part of the track, and hold the horse’s speed together. Russell Vicchrilli seems equally at home on top of quarter horses or thoroughbreds. Karlo Lopez has lately been riding well and threatening to move up the jockey standings. Mike Ziegler, Brian Theriot, Luis Rodriguez and Kelsi Bridges have also been riding creditably.

Trust me. Betting at a track like Arapahoe is not exactly like betting an “A” track, but if you work at it, there is plenty of money to be made. All races with more than four betting interests have WPS, exactas, and quinellas. Races with more than six betting interests have trifectas and superfectas, and the minimum on those bets is $1. There are daily doubles on the first two and last two races, but no pick 3/4/5/6 or other exotic bets. My experience is that a lot of the sprint race winners are presser/midpack sorts that circle wide around the turn and finish mid-track. Speed horses hugging the rail seem to struggle in the stretch. Occasionally a rail bias develops, but most often look for a wider horse within a few lengths of the lead coming out of the turn to have the advantage. Trip handicapping is critical at Arapahoe. Horses who have had a start over the track are definitely at a competitive advantage once the meet gets going. My other piece of handicapping advice – don’t get lured by the 0 for 20 horses that have competitive figures in maiden races. They are a historically bad investment.

No, Arapahoe Park is not Saratoga or Del Mar, but if you live in Colorado you should make it a point to occasionally support local racing. There is free parking, cheap admission, plenty of free grandstand seating and it is always a fun day.  

Image: David Herrera, “Mount Evans and Denver skyline.” Copyright 2009.