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Is horse racing worth saving?

December 6, 2005     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Curt Backa, Great Falls Tribune sports writier

Helena, MT, Dec. 3 - That was the question posed by Ray "Topper" Tracy in front of about 50 interested horse racing enthusiasts, including Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy and Montana State Board of Horse Racing executive secretary Sam Murfitt, here Friday at Jorgenson's Hotel.

"If it is worth saving, how can we do it?" said Tracy, a former horse trainer and owner who is currently the publisher of the Racing Journal magazine. "Two or three years ago we said that horse racing was in trouble and we didn't do anything about it.

"Two or three years are now here."

Tracy and Montana Simulcast Partner head Tom Tucker put Friday's seminar together to address the problems the sport is encountering.

"Hopefully, when I leave this meeting and get back in my car I won't feel like I wasted my time," said Tucker.

"Over the years we've had so many splinter groups involved in horse racing, we could never get anything done." said Tracy, who lives in Hamilton. "Hopefully, we can act as one unit and make one big push to save the sport."

Tracy presented an overview of live horse racing in the state, while Tucker gave a history of the state simulcast program.

"I certainly believe simulcast will be part of the solution because it has served us well in the past," said Tucker. "But, the future of live racing concerns me."

For three hours the group bandied about solutions to the problem, finally agreeing to form a select committee to approach Governor Schweitzer and his admininstration with a number of ideas.

"I think it is really important you use the adminstration as a sounding board for these ideas and see what it would be willing to support," said Townsend's Robert Brastrup, of the Montana Board of Horse Racing.

"From that we can find out what is the best idea to push and we can get behind it," said Tracy. "For years, horsemen have beening approaching the legislature for more money and they have asked us for a plan.

"We have to be able to present a plan."

Some of the ideas proposed were petitioning the legislature to allow a full-gaming casino with large horse race track, installing a casino at all horse track locations, asking the legislature to pass a one or two percent cut of the state's gambling revenue to go to horse racing and looking into simulcasting the summer meets across the state to increase each track's handle.

"Before any ideas are proposed I suggest we find a group to meet with Evan Barrett," said Kennedy. "He is the guy who has the governor's ear."

Barrett, from Butte, is the chief business officer of the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity.

"Not to be dire," said Murfitt. "But we have only one legislative session left to put this all together."

Tracy, along with Kennedy, Missoula's Bill Nooney, Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone were among names mentioned to serve on the select committee to meet with the adminstration.

"I think we also need Native American representation, and maybe a representative from each of the state's tracks wouldn't hurt," said Tracy.