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Horse racing returns to Montana ExpoPark

Horse race practice.jpg
Posted at 6:19 PM, Jul 14, 2023

GREAT FALLS — The Montana State Fair is less than two weeks away - but one of the most anticipated events leading up to the fair begins Saturday, July 15. For three consecutive weekends, Montana ExpoPark welcomes the State Fair Horse Racing meet.

Eight races scheduled are for opening day with another eight to follow Sunday with the State Fair Meet continuing for the next two weekends.

“We’ve got some good trainers and jockeys coming in. I think everything is going to be a go,” said Sparky Kottke, president of the Great Falls Turf Club which organizes the meet. “For the betting window booths, I think we've got a teller for every machine this year. So I think we're very positive. All we need now is get the people to come out and watch and hopefully have a good time.

Horse Racing In Great Falls (2023 preview photo)
Horse Racing In Great Falls (2023 preview photo)

As for the conditions, participants say the track is in great shape for the first race.

Buckshot Nelson noted, “The surface is like A-plus. This is literally the best surface we run on anywhere we go. It's super amazing,” said owner and trainer Buckshot Nelson of Loring, Montana. Nelson has six horse running Saturday and four on Sunday. He’s been a part of racing at the State Fair Meet for as long as he can remember.

“The track's looking perfect. I think it’s best I have actually seen the track look,” said jockey Shance Bird Rattler. “They’re keeping it maintained, grooming it, watering it.”

Among the horses Bird Rattler is scheduled to ride Saturday is Abraa Jabraa in the Princess Stakes race.

“She's a nice mare. She's probably looking at a win. Her last two outs were stakes wins up in Lethbridge,” said Bird Rattler.

Horse Racing In Great Falls (2023 preview photo)
Horse Racing In Great Falls (2023 preview photo)

The three-weekend schedule allows for horsemen to run their horses more. And the Saturday Sunday format is a financial decision.

“We were not making any money on that Friday night deal, so we thought we would just hopefully have better fields and more spectators on Saturday and Sunday and better races on Saturday and Sunday of the Fair,” said Kottke.

Miles City and Great Falls are the only places in Montana offering live horse racing. Kottke says the races may not have the purses found in Wyoming and Idaho, but Kottke said the Turf Club gets great support from Cascade County and has loyal sponsors. Betting has become even more convenient with a program called fast bet mobile where people can set up an account on a self-betting machine and bet on their phone.

“With the technology now and stuff that people can come in and get that done and then they don't have to move around and go up and down the steps and that kind of stuff,” said Kottke.

Horse Racing In Great Falls (2023 preview photo)
Horse Racing In Great Falls (2023 preview photo)

Kottke says everything is in place for the races, now it's just a matter of fans showing up, something that makes the meet stand out.

“We just love to come here. Everybody's fun and outgoing,” said trainer and owner Kayla Warren of Farmington, New Mexico. “The crowds here are super, super good. We love to see the people come out and support it and enjoy it. It's probably one the best crowds.”

Warren, who has been racing at Montana ExpoPark since 2011, has two horses scheduled to run Saturday and four on Sunday

Post time for all race days is 1:00 pm.