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Montana Task Force digs in

June 9, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Phyllis Tryon
The horse racing industry in Montana needs to research possible solutions to financial aspects of live racing, consider the viability of one or two training facilities to support racing at fair meets in the state, and examine the entertainment value of the sport.

Members of the Governor’s Task Force on Horse Racing rolled up their sleeves and dug in to devise solutions to the current failing condition of live horse racing in the state at a meeting in Helena on Tuesday, June 6. Three subcommittees were formed.

The first Subcommittee: Equine facilities in Montana
Topper Tracy, Bill Schmitt, Ron Thibert and any other interested people were assigned to this committee and asked to check with existing racing facilities in Montana and contact counties to see if there is interest in building an equine facility with a track, covered grandstands, and arena that could be used for all equine events in their county.

The second subcommittee: Financing the industry
John Tooke, Ben Carlson and Shawn Real Bird and any other interested people were assigned to this committee and asked to find methods of financing racing in Montana. They will research other states to see what is being done elsewhere and what ideas can be used in Montana to generate a strong financial base for the industry, and if possible find new methods to finance the sport.

The Third subcommittee: How to improve entertainment value of equine events
Sherry Meador, Joe Birdrattler, and Dale Mahlum and any other interested people were assigned to this committee and asked to research ways to help make racing and other equine events an enjoyable entertainment experience for the public.

Two things are definitely needed to support the industry state-wide, members of the Task Force agreed. An immediate “shot in the arm” to keep racing on its feet for the next couple of years, as well as a long-term plan to get the industry healthy again, are required for horse racing in Montana to continue.

It seemed clear that the committee agreed that more race dates are needed, facilities to train and race need to be improved or built, increased financial support is needed to make the industry as stable and profitable in Montana as it is in other states, and more attention needs to be given to the entertainment value of horse racing.

Present at the meeting were Task Force committee Chair Dale Mahlum and board members Bill Schmitt, John Tooke, Sherry Meador, Ray “Topper” Tracy, Ben Carlson, Ron Thibert and Shawn Real Bird. Excused was Joe Birdrattler.

The group is also looking at available means of putting together an economic impact statement for the state-wide industry as a necessary tool to demonstrate the viability of horse racing to government entities as well as the public.

“The legislature needs concrete information on the impact of racing and breeding in Montana,” said Chair Dale Mahlum.

“Our journey here is to see how racing impacts the state. We need to pursue it,” said board member Ron Thibert.

The Task Force encourages public participation and will work to ensure notice of meetings are publicized. Public comment sessions were held twice during the meeting.

“It’s very important to listen to the public,” Chair Mahlum emphasized at the meeting.

Sam Murfitt, executive secretary for the Montana Board of Horse Racing, was present for the meeting as well as a handful of concerned horsemen and citizens. Representatives from a newly formed state-wide breeders’ organization attended, as did fair staff from several locations.

Task Force subcommittees will pursue information gathering and ideas for solutions and report at the next meeting, which will be held at the fairgrounds in Great Falls at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, July 14, a day before live horse racing begins at that location.