MISSOULA — The Western Montana Turf Club has written off horse racing at the 2013 Western Montana Fair and will shoot for a revival next year, even as the ax hangs over the racetrack at the Missoula County Fairgrounds.
The turf club “will not be participating in our Montana horse racing industry this year, and are relinquishing our 2013 August dates. We are, however, already moving forward to the 2014 race dates,” Toni Hinton said Wednesday in a note to Tom Tucker, executive director of the Montana Board of Horse Racing.
Meanwhile, the state racing industry got a shot in the arm when Cascade County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to partner with the Great Falls Turf Club to bring racing back to Great Falls after a one-year hiatus.
The Montana Board of Horse Racing meets by conference call Saturday and set a Thursday deadline for tracks to solidify their racing dates.
Miles City’s three-day meet in May was the only one held in the state in 2012 after funding from the racing board dried up.
Tucker said Thursday that Billings remains on the fence for 2013 but has submitted a tentative budget and requested dates for up to eight days of racing in August and September.
Great Falls is looking at four days – July 20, 26, 27 and 28. Kalispell, which traditionally hosted the other major race meet in the state during the Northwest Montana Fair, has reportedly withdrawn its dates for 2013.
Steve Earle, Missoula County’s fairgrounds director, told county commissioners this week that he has scheduled motocross racing for the racetrack on afternoons during the coming fair.
Hinton, who helped found the Western Montana Turf Club in 1999, hailed the news from Great Falls. She said the two turf clubs have worked together in support of each other for the past year. Missoula club members plan to travel to Great Falls to help with the race meet in July.
“We’re really thrilled that they’ve got their dates this year, and I certainly hope that our county takes a different look at it,” Hinton said. “I’m anxious to see how they do.”
Missoula County hasn’t held its traditional six-day race meet at the fair since 2006. A private company headed by Eric Spector of California produced two days of racing in 2010.
Hinton said the Missoula turf club held out hope of holding a truncated meet this August, even after a fairgrounds advisory committee voted last month to recommend that the future footprint of the fairgrounds not include a race track.
County commissioners haven’t taken up the question formally, but they’ve shown little inclination to keep racing afloat. Michele Landquist is on the advisory committee and strongly favored the board’s recommendation.
At a State of the Community event last Thursday, Commissioner Jean Curtiss defended doing away with the race track.
“We have 47 acres and over half that acreage is encumbered by a racetrack that you wouldn’t want to run your horse on because it’s in crappy shape, and all the facilities that go with it,” Curtiss said.
“It’s a tough Band-Aid to rip off,” she added. “We understand the passion behind the people, but this is a problem nationwide that small racetracks, unless you have a gambling facility attached, are closing. It’s a challenge that we have to face but it wouldn’t be responsible not to improve our assets that belong to all of you.”