Jockeys and their mounts thunder to the finish on Saturday at Desert Park in Osoyoos.

Jockeys and their mounts thunder to the finish on Saturday at Desert Park in Osoyoos.

Spectators pony up as horse racing returns to South Okanagan

Desert Park in Osoyoos played host Saturday to first organized event in a decade, much to the delight of those hoping to get lucky

Spectators lined up five deep along the rail Saturday to watch as horse racing returned to Osoyoos  and more like 10 deep to place bets on the ponies.

The set of six races at Desert Park marked the first such organized event in the South Okanagan in a decade. Purses ranged from $3,000 up to $15,000.

Racing fans were also trying to cash in, although their betting strategies seemed to place a heavy emphasis on luck alone.

Osoyoos man Rick Greschner put his initial bet on a horse that had the longest odds in the hopes his hunch would pay off handsomely. It didn’t.

“We didn’t win any money, but at least (the horse) got second,” Greschner said while looking over the odds for the second run of the day.

“My wife went online and got things organized before we came, and we just started betting,” he added.

The last time Lorna Patterson put money on a pony before Saturday was the last time a race was run at Desert Park. Her tried-and-true strategy hinged on the weight of the jockeys and the age of the horses.

“If it’s a light jockey, maybe the horse can run faster,” she said with a laugh.

Patterson, an Osoyoos resident, acknowledged her best days at the track weren’t terribly lucrative.

“I might have made $2 bucks the whole time,” she said. “It’s not to make any money, just a good day out.”

She wasn’t the only one just soaking up the atmosphere. Hundreds of people and vehicles jammed the neighbourhood around the race track, which was put back into use by the non-profit Desert Park Exhibition Society.

“They weren’t ready for this crowd,” Patterson said, noting just a small section of the grandstand was open to seat about 100 people, while many more stood.

Penticton woman Judy Glowa agreed organizers may have been caught flat-footed by the big crowd, but enjoyed the races nonetheless.

She placed her bets on horses whose names caught her ear, animals like Two Penny and Mr. Gnarly.

“I just like the sounds of their names,” she said.

Glowa’s first $4 wager earned her $40, but was based instead on a tip she overheard in line.

“Actually, the lady behind me was saying which (she chose) and I just said, ‘Let’s pick those two,” she explained. “It was just luck of the draw.”

All bets will be on again when racing resumes at Desert Park on Aug. 31.