Betting on horse races remains illegal in this state — the Utah Legislature effectively killed a bill earlier this year that would have allowed parimutuel wagering — but half of the above activity is still legal.
The racing horses part.
The Utah Quarter Horse Racing Association is intent on building a following for horse racing in Ogden. To that end, the UQHRA is offering a number of flat-track horse races this spring at Weber Downs, located at the Weber County Fairgrounds.
Tom Close, president of the UQHRA, said this is the third year of bringing horse races to Ogden. He said there used to be races in Ogden, but those went away a couple of decades ago.
“So three years ago we decided to step in and see if we could make it work again,” Close said. “And so far, it’s been good.”
Two races have already been held this year at Weber Downs — the Golden Spike Futurity trials and the Jake Kapp Derby trials were both held April 13. The finals for both the futurity and derby will be run this Saturday, April 27, at the track.
Additional races there this spring will include the Hadley-Giles Futurity trials on May 18 and the Utah Bred Derby trials on May 19. The finals for these are scheduled for June 1. Racing starts at noon each day this spring, and admission is $7.
Kevin Layton, who is on the board of directors for the UQHRA, said Saturday’s event will include a full day of racing, with some of the area’s top flat-track racing colts being featured. He said the majority of the horses come from Utah, although some hail from elsewhere in the Intermountain West. What’s more, jockeys are coming in from as far away as California and New Mexico.
Layton called flat-track quarter horse racing a good family-friendly activity for all ages. Indeed, he said that earlier this month the UQHRA was contacted by the family of an 80-something-year-old woman from Utah County who’d always had on her bucket list to watch a live horse race. So they brought her to a recent race at Weber Downs, and organizers even invited her into the winners circle.
“She and her family were absolutely thrilled,” he said.
Layton said these sorts of stories are happen regularly at Weber Downs.
“We’re gradually growing the horse races up here,” he said, inviting folks to “come and have fun.”
“We have programs people can buy that have all the races, horses and trainers, just like at Las Alamitos or Santa Anita,” Layton said. “The only thing you can’t do is wager.”
Close, who has been involved in chariot-racing and flat-track racing for more than 20 years, says there’s a lot of gambling in the horse business around here — just not the cigar-chomping-bettor-standing-at-the-payout-window kind.
“A lot of people at the races will say, ‘I’ll bet you a dollar — or a Coke — that my horse wins,’” Close said. “So there is a lot of ‘gambling’ in the horse business. Hell, I’m gambling that my horses stay healthy and are going to be able to race.”
Flat-track racing has struggled in the Intermountain West in recent years. A large facility in Boise, Idaho, shut down in 2016 when that state’s legislature outlawed horse racing gaming machines that collected money to help support the sport — although Close said there are still smaller races held in Pocatello and Blackfoot.
And the races at Wyoming Downs, in Evanston, will start up in July. Close says that’s the reason Weber Downs runs in the spring, instead of the summer.
“We don’t have enough horses to be able to compete against each other,” he explained.
Here in Utah, Layton said there’s flat-track racing at Laurel Brown Race Track in South Jordan, as well as at a track in Southern Utah.
Layton encourages those who’ve never attended a flat-track horse race to give it a try. He says you don’t have to know anything about horses to enjoy the races. And for those who do want to learn?
“For somebody who doesn’t know anything about horse racing, there are plenty of people around who are knowledgeable and are more than happy to answer questions,” he said.
And despite the legislative setback earlier this year, Close said they’ll continue promoting horse racing here in Utah — without the parimutuel wagering.
“We’re not going to have a Kentucky Derby here, but by golly we’re going to do our best to have some good races,” he said.