And They’re Off!

By Lilly Platts


Every third week of May, people converge on Miles City, Montana for the famed Bucking Horse Sale (BHS) weekend. In addition to the excitement of watching broncs, horse racing is a vital part of the event.  Since the 1960’s, races have been held between the bucking horse draws, giving the crowd an additional fast-paced event that keeps the energy high and the audience interacting.  Throughout the event’s history, horse racing has undergone a variety of changes, but today, pari-mutuel betting allows spectators to be directly involved.

“The races add excitement and the chance for people to participate via pari-mutuel wagering on each race. We know there are people coming a long distance to visit Miles City and attend the BHS just because of horse racing,” BHS Board member John Morford said.

The first races held in Miles City were hosted by the Cow Capital Turf Club. In the 1960’s, the Miles City Jaycees took over the organization of BHS and horse racing was added to the roster of events.  Until the mid-1990’s, the Cow Capital Turf Club continued to host the races, but the group eventually was unable to continue.  For three years, horse racing was cut from the lineup at BHS.

At the time, the BHS Board of Governors was newly formed and attempted to fill the space left by the absence of horse racing.  A variety of events were tested, including rodeo clown acts and roping.  It was soon decided that nothing could replace the fast-paced excitement of horse racing, so the event was brought back to the famed weekend of western fun. Since then, it has continued to play a major role in bringing people to BHS, involving the crowd, keeping ticket sales up, supporting food and drink vendors, and generally adding support to the Miles City community.

“More people attend because they can have more fun.  The event makes more money with horse races than without it,” Don Richard, longtime horse racing director for BHS, said.

Beyond the weekend of festivities during BHS, the Mother’s Day Races have become a popular highlight.  Each Mother’s Day weekend, the first race is ran and all mothers can attend free of admission.  The Mother’s Day Races were born from necessity.

Due to the structure of racing, horses have to qualify to run during BHS, and these races must be completed at least a week beforehand so horses can recover. Initially, the races were held on the Saturday before, but attendance was poor, so it was moved to Sunday.  This change was combined with the holiday to create the tradition of the Mother’s Day Race.

Horses are brought from across the Western U.S. to race in Miles City.  Every year, the state of the racing industry in general has an effect on entries, but participation has remained steady overall. However, organizers have to put a significant amount of work into ensuring the prize money is substantial enough to draw in horses and cover the cost of insuring the high-risk event.  The 2019 futurity races have a purse of nearly $20,000, and the derby races will pay out $13,000.

Horse racing has remained an important part of the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale despite challenges and the significant amount of organizational work.

“The BHS Board of Governors consider it our mission to provide a quality event that represents the western heritage in Miles City and the surrounding area.  Three days of horse racing along with all of the other events that make up the World-Famous Miles City Bucking Horse Sale bring thousands of visitors every May to Miles City.  The economic impact of those thousands of people coming to Miles City every year are very important to the lifeblood of Miles City businesses,” Morford said.

The 2019 Mother’s Day Races will be held on May 12.  Additional races, plus many other BHS festivities will occur on May 16-19.


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