Off to the Races

If you’re looking for a new sport to enjoy, horse racing gallops into the Sooner State every year.

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Fair Meadows Race Track in Tulsa hosts a variety of horse races in the warmer months. Photos courtesy Expo Square

Many people have harbored an interest in horses at one time or another, especially in Oklahoma, where the animal is as ubiquitous as farms and tall grass plains. And what better way to indulge a love of all things equine than to watch live horse racing?

The activity can seem complicated, with a high barrier to entry for the casual observer. However, the three live race tracks in Oklahoma: Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Fair Meadows in Tulsa, and Will Rogers Downs in Claremore, can help even the most green of newcomers learn the ropes.

John Lies, director of racing at Tulsa’s Fair Meadows, has a simple recommendation for someone wanting to try out live horse racing: just go and experience it. He says whether it’s the Kentucky Derby or a race at Fair Meadows, it really doesn’t matter – when the horses come thundering down the track, it’s thrilling.

“Really, no matter what level you’re talking about, it’s exciting to get into it in person. And we definitely have that here in Oklahoma … just go to the track and pick it up live and physical,” he says.

And the best way to truly experience it is to get as close as possible to the horses. Lies recommends going to the paddock, where the horses are saddled, as well as to the starting gate. When visitors go to these areas, they can watch and listen to the horses as they load in.

“It’s a very unique moment there when the assistant starters are loading the horses into the gate, and then when they break from the gate,” says Lies. “A lot of first time fans really get a kick out of that.”

There are some things to remember when you first visit a track. Lies reminds visitors who are close to the horses to be observers, and not to make too much noise. The observer will notice that the horses are all very healthy and well groomed; Oklahoma also has a thriving aftercare program, according to Lies. Many of the racers have a long, useful career as hunters, jumpers or pleasure horses after their racing days are done.

“People in [Oklahoma], they know horses. Oklahoma is a state of horses,” says Lies. “People here … love them, they get them, they understand them, and so racing just fits into the culture. But it’s a really easy hobby to pick up, as far as coming out to the track, experiencing the horses in person.”

Want to Wager? 

Wagering on horse racing can seem overwhelming, but it’s easy to get started. Start by procuring an official program. This will have the races, horse number and jockey names. It will also have instructions for how to place a bet.

Lies suggests keeping it simple: Pick one horse that you like and bet on them to win. Start with the two dollar minimum bet. Essentially, you’ll walk up to the window and say, “First race, two dollars to win on number five.”

Then, after the race, if that horse won, take that ticket back to the window and cash it. If you want more information, visit the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission’s website, ohrc.ok.gov.