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Horse Racing Task Force gets financial support from industry


August 10, 2006     E-mail this page to a friend!

By Phyllis Tryon
With cash and pledges totaling over $15,000 coming in at the August 7 meeting of the Montana Horse Racing Task Force, the group is well on its way to procuring an economic impact statement (EIS) for the industry and garnering much needed support.

The Task Force met in Missoula on the eve of the opening of six straight days of live horse racing at the Western Montana Fair.

The cash began rolling when the Western Montana Turf Club of Missoula presented the Task Force board with a check for $1,000. The Western Montana Fair then presented another check for $1,000, and Montana Simulcast Partners presented a check for $2,500. The American Quarter Horse Association committed $5,000 to the fund, and AQHA field representative for racing, John Ward, was present to verify the commitment.

It was noted that the Montana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association was also willing match AQHA’s contribution. Task Force board member Ron Thibert, as a member of the Kalispell Turf Club, suggested that group could pledge $1,000, and Task Force member Ben Carlson of Yellowstone Downs in Billings felt that the Yellowstone Downs Horse Racing Association, another support group for racing in Billings, may also be willing to donate to the cause.

In addition to cash support, Ward indicated that the 6,000-plus Montana members of AQHA could be called upon to offer letters to the state supporting the industry.

The Task Force has determined that an EIS is a necessary tool in presenting the legislature with any requests for legislative changes to aid this agricultural and entertainment industry, which is presently struggling state-wide to make ends meet. After researching costs, Sherry Meador of the Task Force board was able to report that MSU-Billings could provide an EIS for approximately $8,000.

Chair of the Task Force, Dale Mahlum, duly noted that the biggest hurdle facing the group has been, “to make sure we have information to approach the Legislature. Now we can.”

Montana horse racing is an historic element of local county fairs. In its hey-day, some 15 tracks were in operation in the state. This year four communities are holding live race meets: Miles City, Great Falls, Missoula and Billings. Only a few years ago, meets were also being conducted at Shelby, Helena, and Kalispell.

The one-mile track in Helena, which has not held live racing since 1999 and is danger of being completely destroyed in current plans of the Lewis & Clark County Fairboard, has recently been nominated to be placed on the National Historic Registry. The track is one of the oldest tracks in the nation and one of three one-mile tracks located west of the Mississippi River.

Jack Tuholski, a Missoula attorney working with Save the Track Foundation of Helena, requested the Task Force to consider the Helena track a viable venue for live horse racing in the future.
Efforts by the Executive Secretary of MBOHR, Sam Murfitt, to get a commitment from the State of $367,000 a year for the next two years in the MBOHR budget proposal has so far been denied. The money would help defray costs of running a race meet by providing for services and activities required by statute and rule, including regulatory officials.

Murfitt said he would continue with his efforts. The Task Force previously agreed with Murfitt that a two-year financial bridge to aid the industry could keep it on its feet until further legislative changes could be made.

Overall, board members agreed the Task Force has made progress in its goal to help find solutions to industry problems. The group is in the process of formulating a mission statement. Mahlum assigned subcommittees to address what action other states within our region are taking to help the horse racing industry in their states.

Mahlum pointed out that the Governor has charged the Task Force with finalizing its efforts by December, at which point the group will be dissolved. He also stated he believed that the Task Force will be ready by November with an EIS and legislative proposals.