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Montana Board Of Horse Racing "One Track" concept

July 29, 2005     E-mail this page to a friend!

July 28, 2005

The Montana Board of Horse Racing (MBOHR) conducted a meeting today via conference phone hook-up to discuss a “one track” concept proposed by Same Murfitt, Executive Secretary of the MBOHR.
His proposal is to conduct 30 days of live horse racing at a single track in Montana and to use all simulcast revenue to support that track. The aim seems to be to give Billings the only race dates and eliminate racing at every other facility in Montana.

The reasons for coming to this conclusion, as he explained, seem to be:
1. Putting all simulcast revenue at one track could raise the purse structure high enough to attract more horses to come to Montana.
2. One track could improve the facilities to accommodate early training.
3. Horsemen would not have to travel.
4. The commissions and fair boards of the other tracks seemed unwilling to offer support for racing and they indicated to him at these meetings that they would like to see racing gone.
5. The only way to save racing is to raise the purses, and the only way to raise purses is to use all the simulcast revenue at one track.

Sue Austin, Chairman of the Board of Horse Racing, then stated that:
1. She didn’t want to be chairman of the board that killed horse racing.
2. That the board was doing every thing they could do to save racing.
3. That racing management needs to step up to the plate and do their part.
4. That the only way to save racing is to raise purses.

Track management then had an opportunity to express their opinion on the “one track" concept:
1. Billings supported the idea and stated that they were ready to commit to 5 years and provide the track improvements needed to make it work.
2. Great Falls, Missoula, Kalispell and Miles City all indicated they wanted to continue racing, but if racing was taken away from their fairs, the space used for the track would soon be replaced on their fairgrounds with something else and racing would never come back.

Comments presented:
1. Cascade County Commissioner, Peggy Beltrone: “The Board issues dates that are not economically profitable and refuses dates that could be profitable.”
2. Carol Grell Morris, MBOHR lawyer: “Tracks request their own dates.”
3. Patty Rambo of Helena: “Track management and the industry leaders need to get together to resolve the problems and make plans for the future.”
4. Scott Mader, Missoula Fair Manager: Plans are underway to renovate their facility and build 400 stalls and fix the infrastructure to comply with regulations.
5. Bill Nooney, Montana Simulcast Partners: “If there is only one track, why would other cities want to continue conducting simulcasting when bettors can stay home and bet on TVG?”

Topper’s comments:
After listening to two hours of discussion and no conclusion other than meetings planned for Missoula and Billings to continue the discussion, I will offer my opinion.

First of all, unless the Montana Legislature passes a bill to construct a racetrack and full casino facility with a percentage of the gross going to support horse racing, one track running all summer will never happen.

Montana racing was, is, and needs to be a place to start young horses and a place to race horses that are not fast enough to be racing for the big purses at better tracks.

Montana racing is “fair racing” entertainment. There is not a city in Montana that can maintain 120 days of racing without some major financial input like a percentage of the lottery or a casino to support it.

Montana needs a racing circuit. A few days in Miles City, the month of June for Helena, July in Great Falls, August for Missoula and Kalispell, and then Billings could run from their fair until the end of September.

Purses are not the answer. Sure everyone wants as much as you can get, but you have to be able to run fast enough to get it. How many trainers have hauled their horses to tracks where the purses are great and their horses finish out of the money and they come home empty.

Lethbridge is a good example. When their purses were around $1000, there were lots of open stalls and trainers from Montana went north and won races. Today the purses are $4000, stalls are hard to get and to win a race is even harder. Their handle is not where they get the purse money; it comes from the gambling machines in Bullys Sports Centre.

Hollywood Park has big purses with five horse fields. Why? No one wants to run for sixth place—it doesn’t pay!

Prairie Meadows has half of their stalls open. Their purses are around $20,000 for each race. Why so many open stalls? If you can’t run in the money, you don’t get any of it. Better to go some place where you can get some of the purse.

Fair meets will never be able to offer big purses for every race, and if they did, someone else with faster horses would come in and get the purse.

Simulcast was designed to supplement racing and that is all it can do. It will not support all racing.

Several years ago the MBOHR suggested that the answer to the problems of racing was to use all available funds from simulcast and Senate Bill 65 for purses and supplementing the tracks. That move killed the breeding industry in the state and it didn’t change the decline of racing at all.

Now the idea is to put all that money into one track with high purses and attract all kinds of good horses for 30 days and everything will be great.

In my opinion, in two years that track will be closed and racing will be finished in Montana. Sam Murfitt will be retired and Sue Austin will have the dubious distinction of being Chair to the Board that killed horse racing in Montana.

Fair managers need to take care of their meets and work with each other to develop a strong circuit for racing in Montana where the sport can continue. Montana will never be Hollywood Park or Los Alamitos. But it can be a place to start your horses, and when you get a Panther Mountain or an AB What A Runner or a Medaglia d’Oro or a Buddy Gil, you can send them to the bigger tracks and score big. And if they don’t make it big, you can bring them back to Montana and race them until they are 10- or 12-year-olds and still win.