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Montana racing – the fat lady holds her breath


March 26, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

March 24 - Somewhere there’s a fat lady that hasn’t yet begun to sing. But the roller coaster publicity that currently describes Montana horse racing may be enough to get her started.

As of this date, she is still holding her breath.

Live horse racing in every state is facing increasing daily expenses, as is any industry simply due to the rising cost of living. Couple that with January’s notice of a huge increase in jockey insurance rates for race tracks and the uncertainty in Montana of how many live meets will actually continue for the 2006 season, and horsemen here are left in a quandary.

Facing due dates for nominations for stakes races, stall application deadlines, and the need to plan for the season, horsemen are being pushed to the time limits of decision-making.

Following the February 25 meeting of the Montana Board of Horse Racing, fairgrounds managers and race track directors were following up with local fairboards, county commissions, and race groups to assess the racing picture for 2006. To encourage the local entities to continue with live racing this season, the MBOHR conducted a conference call with fair managers and racing personnel on Monday, March 20. The phone conference reiterated what had been accomplished at the February 25 meeting of MBOHR and reminded managers that simulcast revenues and SB65 monies could be used to continue to cover jockey insurance deductibles if the need arose.

The racing picture for the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale is positive.

“We’re going ahead,” reported Don Richard, director of racing. “We’ve got horses in our stakes and things are looking good. We can’t afford it, but we’re going ahead.”

Richard reported there are currently 25 nominations for the Quarter Horse Derby, 26 for the Quarter Horse Futurity, and indications of more coming. Fourteen nominations are in for the Paint Futurity and 10 for the Paint Derby, and Richard said there have been lots of calls regarding the overnight Thoroughbred races.

If you plan on attending the live race meet at Miles City, “You’ll have to bring your own hotel,” Richard said with a chuckle. Rooms are already booked for miles around for the nationally famous bucking horse sale and racing event.

Ben Carlson, Director of Racing for Yellowstone Downs in Billings, said, “I don’t know what the rest are doing, but we’re committed and we’re running! Come hell or high water, we’re going.”

Spring training at the MetraPark oval in Billings will open April 1.
The Montana ExpoPark Fairboard in Great Falls has a meeting scheduled late in March to address the jockey insurance situation and race picture for this season. Marketing Director for Montana ExpoPark, Lori Cox said, “We are proceeding as if we are going to run. We already have horses in training,” she added.

Missoula County Commissioners met last week to discuss the status of a race meet at the Western Montana Fair, and were inclined not to conduct a meet for the 2006 season, possibly ending a one-hundred year fair tradition. The fairboard in Missoula held a public meeting Wednesday, March 22, to try to come to a conclusion on the matter so they could then make a recommendation to the commissioners.

A motion was made at the fairboard meeting to discontinue live horse racing, but it died for want of a second. Therefore the fairboard returns to the county commissioners on Tuesday, March 28, to make a recommendation to continue the race meet for this upcoming 2006 season. As of this date, it remains to be seen if the county commissioners will accept that recommendation.

The county commissioners at Flathead recently met to discuss the same regarding a live race meet for 2006 at the Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell. Commissioners approached Fair Manager Jay Scott with negative news. The commissioners felt the cost of a live race meet to the taxpaying public was too great to continue. In addition, the Flathead Fairboard met on Thursday, March 23, in a public forum to discuss the merits of horse racing. Two fairboard members voted against holding a race meet in 2006, and two abstained.

“I haven’t called anybody yet (to say racing is over) because I’m hoping the racehorse people will go to the commissioners,” reported Jay Scott, Northwest Montana Fair Manager, on Friday morning following the fairboard meeting. “The commissioners give the fairboard direction, and the position the fairboard took yesterday was not to race.”

“We’ll see what we’re going to do Monday. I think it’s pretty well done, but I’m hoping the commissioners will have one last consideration here,” Scott said.

Ben Carlson of Yellowstone Downs will be meeting with MetraPark officials in Billings to discuss the availability of dates for the last two weekends in August during the fair there on the strong possibility that there will be no live racing at the Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell.

At the Montana Board of Horse Racing date hearing in December, Yellowstone Downs had requested those dates in their date application with MetraPark embracing a return of horse racing to the fair, but Kalispell dates overlapped those August weekends. Kalispell dates were approved as well as all dates for Yellowstone Downs at that hearing, but Yellowstone Downs subsequently revised their dates so as not to overlap with the Northwest Montana Fair.

Now Carlson will find out if MetraPark has already scheduled events to fill the time slot during the fair or if those dates remain open for horse racing.

“We’ll take a look and see what the last two weekends in August look like,” Carlson said. “It’s an option that we may go ahead and run more than eight days, whether 10 or 12. We have to sit down and pencil out some scenarios and see, with the additional funding coming in, what it’s going to do to the purse structure.”

Carlson said choices will have to be made with consideration to a lengthened meet and purse structures at the same rate or possibly lower than current levels, or sticking with an 8-day meet and raising purses.

Another factor in the mix is whether or not Missoula offers a race meet this season.

“That will change whether there’s more funding available, which would increase our purse money, which could very well increase our stakes amounts,” Carlson explained.

Due to press schedules, further updates were unavailable for the April issue of The Racing Journal. Follow our website for current updates at www.theracingjournal.com. Also, you may sign up on our website for our free weekly enewsletter if you would like to receive updates directly to your email.