GREAT FALLS – The Great Falls Turf Club has been putting on horse races for the past five years. The Montana State Fair marks the kick off of the horse racing events.
Great Falls is home to one of only two horse races in the state; the only other is in Miles City.
“It’s kind of sad. Horse racing has been a big part of the history of Montana, we were fortunate enough to work out with the county to bring it back,” said Turf Club member Sparky Kottke.
Organizers and participants said there are many reasons to love the sport.
“Races are exciting and a place to let your hair down and have some fun,” explained Washington-based horse trainer Clifton Dennis, whose horses are running for the third time in Great Falls
“The excitement of the race,” re-iterated Kottke. “The horses running. It’s a family event, kids absolutely love it.”
Fernando Gamez, who rides the horses that Dennis trains, has been a jockey for 38 years and said nothing compares to the atmosphere.
“It’s a natural high for me,” said Gamez. “Especially when I’m winning up there up front and you win the race and people are, you know, yelling for you to cross the finish line first.”
The races provide not only entertainment, but gives the Great Falls economy a boost.
“Last year we had 13,000 come to the races and 1,800 of them said they spent the night in Great Falls. Motel rooms and going out to restaurants and things,” said Kottke.
Betting helps bring in revenue, but the organizers are the ones taking a gamble this year by adding another night.
“We’re not sure if people will come to the races on that Friday. Four days of racing has helped our economy and expanding this year to five, hopefully, that’ll bring another night of rooms and things,” said Kottke.
One thing is a sure bet, “You might go away with a hoarse voice, but you’ll sure have a good time,” said Dennis.
The Turf Club will host 48 races over five days, starting the first day of the Montana State Fair.
The first races will take place on Saturday, July 22 and then again on Sunday, July 23. They will start up again on Friday July 28 and go through Sunday July 30.
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MTN’s Julianne Dellorso