Ninety-nine years after Lady Goo Goo won the first horse race at the Missoula County Fairgrounds, commissioners cut the cord with the sport Wednesday.

Citing obligations of fiscal responsibility to taxpayers and what Commissioner Jean Curtiss called “the slow death” of the racing industry, Bill Carey, Michele Landquist and Curtiss voted unanimously – and defended their decision vigorously – to accept a planning committee’s controversial recommendation to exclude the half-mile racetrack and facilities from development plans.

They did it in the form of an update to the revolving five-year plan for the fairgrounds, one that tentatively schedules the first big-ticket renovations for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

But Curtiss said commissioners have already instructed fairgrounds director Steve Earle not to entertain any more proposals to stage race meets before that.

“Until we can finally say that we’re not going to let the track sit there and crumble waiting for horse racing to come back, or to let horses race in the (interim), we can’t move on,” she said.

There have been just two days of racing in the past six years, both of them in 2010 when a private company headed by Eric Spector of California produced a weekend meet. The last full-scale race meet in Missoula was held in 2006. It had been a popular staple at the fair for the previous 53 years.

“We’re dealing with a once-viable business or industry, horse racing, that’s no longer viable,” Carey said. “We just have to accept that and move on.”

Landquist, who serves on the 15-member fairgrounds committee that commissioners appointed two years ago, told racing supporters in the room and on community access television that she has nothing against the sport.

“If horse racing’s really going to make a comeback, go buy some land somewhere and make a horse track and make it come back,” Landquist said. “But having horse racing for seven days out of the year, and it’s really only three, maybe five – that’s not very sustainable, and it’s just seasonal at that.”

The hearing at the commissioners’ regular biweekly Wednesday meeting included passionate pleas not to ax the track yet.

Two state legislators from Missoula, Sen. Cliff Larsen and Rep. Kimberly Dudik, urged commissioners to overrule the advisory committee and keep the track.

“I as a country boy really resist the idea of turning this facility into something that’s really more of a broad-scope enterprise than remaining focused on agriculture,” Larsen said.

Racing has been proven to increase the revenue of concessionaires during fair time, he added.

“Why not allow it until you’re ready to build something new and better?”

Dudik said there’s been substantial public outcry against destroying the racetrack and she doesn’t think the committee sufficiently incorporated that sentiment into its planning. She pointed out that when the fairgrounds were built in 1914, the racetrack was the first structure that appeared.

“It is the lynchpin of the Missoula County Fairgrounds,” Dudik said. “This racetrack would be 100 years old next year, but instead of having a 100-year anniversary, we’re considering demolishing it.”

Former state Sen. Dale Mahlum of Missoula also spoke against losing the track. He chairs a Montana Board of Horse Racing that he said is making strides to bring back the industry.

“If we lose the racetrack we lose part of our identity,” Mahlum said.


Missoula County’s decision comes less than a week after Cascade County commissioners approved a one-year contract for the Great Falls Turf Club to conduct a four-day meet. Miles City completed three days of racing last weekend, the only other state-approved racing slated for 2013.

Chuck Leonard, a University of Montana professor, wondered about the objectivity of an advisory committee with members affiliated with Glacier Ice Rink and the steering committee for a Missoula Events Center.

“If it’s a choice between a racetrack and an event/ice hockey arena, there are people who potentially have the perception – and perception is important here – of having a conflict of interest,” he said.

“They’re not the ones making the decision,” Curtiss told him. “These three people here (the commissioners) are, and we don’t have a conflict.”

Harvey Hergett, president of the board of the Missoula Area Youth Hockey Association, said he agrees with the decision to remove the track and urged that it be replaced by an events center that the ice community would use and support.

Jason Shearer, a charter member of the advisory committee and associate executive director of Missoula YMCA, said it’s not a question of horse racing versus an events center or hockey.

“It’s an issue about community impact and community benefit,” he said, adding the committee challenged racing supporters over the past year.

“Where is horse racing? Are we taking something away, or are we recognizing that something doesn’t exist?” Shearer said. “We just simply need to ask ourselves what use might we put that land to that does more for Missoula.”

Landquist agreed.

“That’s taxpayer money that’s going into these grounds and facilities,” she said. “It makes sense that we’d want them to be sustainable and kind of paying for themselves instead of bleeding us all dry.”

Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at (406) 523-5266 or by email at

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(44) comments

Flying Gitano

As an owner and trainer of Quarterhorses and Paints and as a former Director of Queen City Racing here in Helena, your county commissioners are making a huge mistake. We no longer have our historic 1 mile track or the horse racing. The barns here in Helena were maintained by the horseman, built with money from the horseman and the track was maintained by the horseman. Money from stalls and money from the Racing Association paid to Lewis and Clark County was put into the General Fund. That money should have gone back to the Fairgrounds but did not. It went where the commissioners decided. I attended numerous meetings and listened to more lies than I care to state here. The majority of people of Lewis and Clark County no longer support the fairgrounds in Helena. The
The fairgrounds board is literally scratching their behinds trying to figure out where to come up with the money to run the fairgrounds. Helena economy lost over 9 million dollars a year that was spent during the horse the horse racing and from the race people training on the only 1 mile track in the state. Get an attorney and file an injunction to stop this or at least to force them to put it on the ballot. We loved running in Missoula and supporting all the tracks in Montana.


It is very sad that they made this decision, but does that mean that folks have to just sit back & accept it? Does anyone know any way to get this on a ballot perhaps? Can we get petitions circulated, & signed to have this issue put onto the ballots come November & let the public that is being ignored voice their desires this way & force them to let us run horses. They use all sorts of excuses but they just continue to feed us BS? In the past three years there have been proposals submitted to the hold races. We continuously get road blocks put up. There was a proposal submitted this year also & they would not even consider it. Even though the advisory board assured the WMTC that they were going to leave the track open with options to run in the future, & they have choosen to cut out these possibilities. There was a proposal made this year & one is being put together for next year, but Steve Earle was instructed not to accept any horse raceing proposals thus leaving the track empty AGAIN. The fair grounds never lost any money due to horse racing, they got 11.5% of the total handles with 80% going nn back to betters. Then there is the HUGE increase of income from food venders due to racing bring in soo many more fair goers(17%).


I have been looking into a few options, if something works out I will put it on my facebook.


Horse racing has a long and colorful history in Montana. Racing the fastest breed of horses on earth began in the Big Sky country right after the Civil War, when Texas cowboys trailing herds to the Montana Territory kept themselves in pocket money by matching their Steel Dust and Old Billy horses against all comers. From then until modern times, when horsemen such as Blane Schvaneveldt, D. Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens came out of the North Country to rise to national and international prominence, horses and horsemen from Idaho to Minnesota have written their names in the annals of the sport and industry. Montana needs Quarter Horse racing and Quarter Horse racing needs Montana.


Horse racing has a long and colorful history in Montana. Racing the fastest breed of horses on earth began in the Big Sky country right after the Civil War, when Texas cowboys trailing herds to the Montana Territory kept themselves in pocket money by matching their Steel Dust and Old Billy horses against all comers. From then until modern times, when horsemen such as Blane Schvaneveldt, D. Wayne Lukas and Gary Stevens came out of the North Country to rise to national and international prominence, horses and horsemen from Idaho to Minnesota have written their names in the annals of the sport and industry. Montana needs Quarter Horse racing and Quarter Horse racing needs Montana.

Hakon Montag
Hakon Montag

Ah yes...we here in Helena had an initiative a few years back to rebuild our Fair Grounds INCLUDING and as a MAJOR PART OF...the Horse was specifically stated in the initiative to do so.

It passed overwhelmingly...the Commissars took our votes and snubbed them and tore down the track...ya gotta love this country don't ya...


So many people vote for their friends, or have voted because they work in the City or County Government, and think their jobs rely on keeping these three curmudgeons in office. Then factor in the uninformed voters. There will be an opportunity to vote Michelle Landquist out of office, and we can only hope and pray that people will wake up and see the corrupt government we have in this community. Why......there may be an ordinance passed that forbids us to "smile" any longer. Laugh at this if you will, but face reality...there are more can'ts and don'ts and losses of freedom every day under this regime.


Look again at the master plan for the Fairgrounds, Downtown and the rest of Missoula, look at the people that were responsible for them, I do not recognize one non-progressive person involved in every single plan.


I've worked the beer garden for years (all volunteers) and know firsthand the difference between racing and no racing, They are taking tens of thousands of dollars away from local charities that operate during race week.I won't be volunteering any more.

These twits live in an orwellian world. The commercial building is historic but 100 years of racing isn't. And you can bet the rodeo will be next. They have found a way of finishing off a dying event. A sad situation. Similar to floating an open space bond and then destoying open space in the middle of turn a la rollz royce.....simply an orwellian place we now live in.


Missoula has been begging for our traditional fair back for years and the County Commissioners do as they please. They have their own personal agendas at stake, not ours. I am so frustrated by this mind set. In March of 2007 Jean Curtis made the comment in the Missoulian .....

"Racing is a drain on county coffers, Curtiss said. "When it gets to be $80,000 a year, I question whether that's where the taxpayers would like their money spent, so that a few people can watch horse racing for a few days and drink beer.""

First of all Ms Curtis, I am not an addictive gambler or a problem drinker. Both are limited within my life. And if I was, I can drink and gamble in Missoula 365 days a year.
Gambling at the fair? Oh my goodness.....well then we had better get rid of the carnival games for the children and the Bingo booths! On second thought, you will probably do that too.

So you are not in the horse racing business? Correct. Nor are you in the rodeo, concert, demo derby, or 4-h business. But it is your charge to keep our traditional county fair in tact. That is your business. You failed.

Our community did not like the master fair plan and continued to ask for horse racing when it was first presented at the gazebo at the fair years ago, and it has since been shoved down our throats without racing time and time again. I never saw one single master fairgrounds plan with a race track, Hmmm.

Even though my family and I enjoyed the fair every year in the past 3 generations, we will never set foot on that mess of a fairgrounds again under these conditions. Nor will we ever set foot in the ice rink or stupid events center. Missoula needs another event center like it needs a hole in the head. And in the middle of a fairgrounds. How stupid.

Never have been one to vote on the ticket, but this makes my mind up. I cannot wait to vote against every one of you. You have over the years destroyed one of Missoula's favorite treasures with your neglect and your wing nut agendas.

So go on with yourselves, we will be in Great Falls enjoing their fair and horse racing this summer. No interest to EVER attend the Missoula fair again.


This was a poor decision on the boards part. It was pretty clear all along that the majority of the group didnt like horse racing, and they would use any excuse possible to shut the whole operation down. Its been said already but the events at the track, both horse racing and otherwise, were a big draw to the fair every year. I dont really see a reason to go to the fair this year other than the free family day, although I wouldn't be surprised if that went away as well.

Box T Ranch

How incredibly sad and ignorant to ignore the eager and overwhelming response to the returning horse races in 2010! Shane on you for not following in Cascade County's footsteps to preserve a tradition (and money making venture) there in Missoula - you cannot say it doesn't bring revenue to your city and county - we spend PLENTY while we are there for the horse races (and at the fair too)!!!! I am embarrassed for you,


I do hope that the Salish/Kootenai tribe and Polson is looking at this and realizes they could have a 'cash' cow or horse in this case, with horse racing at the Polson farigrounds, the lake and of course, the droves of people that would make it a destination. It's too bad this has had to happen. Perhaps the board of racing should be disbanded and revamped also. I wonder how long it will be before the rodeo is no longer a part of the WMF also.


It was a sad day when I heard they cancelled horse racing in Missoula, so many factors being left out of the mix. I am from out of country and guess I will never have a need to visit your town again as this was the only reason ever to attend the fair was to attend the horse races first and foremost and the fair was there so checked it out. I was so amazed at the number of people who came out to see the races and supported the races and the revenue it brought to Missoula, it is unfortunate how these individuals who make these rash decisions cannot see the big picture and how they can't take a step back and look at what horse racing brings to its towns and cities, it benefits not only the fair but the community as well - hotel/motels/restaurants/shopping/horse feed and supply centers etc., It is NOT a singular benefit for horsemen only. It seems it is the trend these ruling bodies see only what they want to see and it is self-serving to their own needs and not representing the people who were led to believe at the time what their real intentions were. Sorry to see this decision.


The commissioners are short sighted. Very sad about this....


Say Good Riddance to the Western Montana Fair. the Carnival is disgusting, the food choices are minimal, and the whole place is dirty! Plow it under and turn it into an amusement park like Silverwood. expand on Splash Montana, bring in a roller coaster, and build an aquarium or some sort of attraction that can run during the winter. We've already got the ice rink, let's build a couple more of those on the grounds, and host some tournaments.


Silverwood here I come!


My husband, at the time an Army Captain, and I were stationed in Hawaii when we became engaged. We wed and chose to honeymoon in our beautiful state of Montana where many generations of both our families were born and raised. Our honeymoon's grand finale was a weekend at the Western Montana Fair horse races where we met up with friends and family from all over the state. If my memory serves me correctly, we went in with a group of folks on a winning trifecta box and split the purse. I have a great picture of my husband and me as newlyweds posing with a hundred dollar bill in front of the pari-mutuel windows - surrounded by a happy hoard of sunburned Montanans from every walk stuffed with Vikings and cold beer.
Neither of us are gamblers or have any particular connection with horse racing but we do have great connection to the people of Montana and our deep Montana roots and traditions. We've come back for The Fair nearly every year with our kids but we probably won't anymore. Without the horses running the magic is gone.


Whoops - I meant "horde" :)


The sardine-packed turnout for the horse races at The Fair in 2010 spoke volumes about community support. Unfortunately the county commissioners ears are filled with self-righteous plugs. Don't they get that this isn't just about horses running around a track?
There is almost nothing more infuriating than listening to someone tell you what you need. With tears in my eyes I say farewell to The Fair.

Wild Rose

When I was a kid (which has been some time ago) the Fair was the event of the summer! I think the first bad move was making the concessions, which were almost entirely nonprofits, give up a big whack of their profits to the County. The next bad move was to stop horse racing. Insurance was too expensive. Well, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't. I have no interest in ice hockey so I certainly can't understand wiping out the track to build a new hockey facility. As the people


Ladies and Gentleman, this is another step in the death of the Missoula Fair. The first was the firing of the all volunteer board several years ago and replacing the all volunteer board with paid employees who are "yes men." People who don't have fair experience mind you. Killing the horse racing is like cutting the head off the snake. Eventually everthing else will die. Landquist said. “But having horse racing for seven days out of the year, and it’s really only three, maybe five – that’s not very sustainable, and it’s just seasonal at that.” In a few years, after people stop going, Landquist will use the same exact quote, but replace "horse racing" with "the fair." I wish they would stop making excuses and just say what they want. They want that land in the middle of Missoula. They want to build homes, apartments, shopping, parks etc. Our all Liberal County and City leaders ignore the people and only push forward their adgenda. VOTE THEM OUT!!!!

independent voter

The decision by our Commissioners and the Fair Advisory Board to end horse racing in Missoula is wrong by any number of standards. There is no doubt Missoula is in need of additional ice hockey facilities. But, to provide resources for one group at the expense of another is unacceptable. Why did the county commissioners give the ice hockey rink $100,000 for parking lot renovations and yet refuse any funding to upgrade the race track? Why does a new rink have to be placed where the existing track is located? Similar to the University golf course/Missoula College debacle, the ice rink, while needed, is proposed to be built on a piece of ground based on knee-jerk convenience rather than considering alternative options that would not divide our community. Following up on the conflict of interest of certain Fair Board members, a quick online search reveals that no less than 3 members are associated with hockey and an "events center study group." An additional 2 are neighboring YMCA administrators. I don't know what can be done at this point other than for the Commissioners to show the same courage as University President Engstrom has recently shown as he is re-considering his very public decision to build on the golf course. He appears to be listening to the community and is making efforts to find a more suitable location for Missoula College and save a community gem. The race track is another historical gem that could easily be included into a central park concept for our fairgrounds.


Good point!
But, to provide resources for one group at the expense of another is unacceptable. Why did the county commissioners give the ice hockey rink $100,000 for parking lot renovations and yet refuse any funding to upgrade the race track? Why does a new rink have to be placed where the existing track is located?


Independent voter the progressives always stack the deck with their people, I have provided links to many master plans across Missoula and I have yet to see one person involved that is not a progressive, getting a pay back or favor. The joke is when they pick individuals out of the community and parade them around as being normal every day folks when in reality they are progressive activists.


Thank you, commissioners. The vocal pro-racing minority will make a lot of noise, but this decision best serves the larger, non-gambling (and largely non-vocal) population. The racing minority perhaps can't see beyond their own self interest but should not be surprised to learn that *most* citizens' identity is not associated with racing and gambling. Much has changed in Missoula and American society in a century, and while the track might have been the "lynchpin" 99 years ago, that makes for a weak argument today.

dave ajou
dave ajou

The weak argument is yours. I worked ( volunteered) every year in the 70's for one of the aforementioned non-profits. Horse racing and the rodeo, along with the 4-H exhibitors and auction drove the attendance. People came from all over western Montana, eastern Washington and northern Idaho. They came with families and friends, they shopped locally and supported retailers, restaurants and hotels. The hundreds of thousands of dollars they spent supported the local business community, and pumped annual budgets to the non-profits. We saw many of the same people every year. Most people who enjoyed the races saw them as an opportunity to get together with friends, swap stories have a few beers, most of the betting was about as hard core as throwing a few bucks in the office World Series pool. It meant something tangible and real to thousands of people. Even the beer garden, after it was operated by the Missoula County tavern owners,pumped tens of thousands of dollars annually to more of the non-profit programs for kids and needy families. Do not presume to speak for the majority. Those of us who know better, know what is now lost, and what all the ramifications are. We don't begrudge you your x-box and skateboard, stop trying to destroy the few remaining things that made Missoula unique and enjoyable.


What an inane comment, Rabbit-brush. Have you driven around Missoula enough to notice the many, many, gambling venues and casinos? If most of Missoula is "non-gambling" who is supporting those establishments?

Horse racing supports more than simply a "minority" of fair attendees. Racing is a beautiful sport, and I attend purely to watch the magnificent animals and their skilled riders- without ever lining up at a betting window. However, I do spend lots of money in other ways at the fair, which I will now no longer do.


Wow, what a rediculous argument. I don't gamble at all, but spend $20 gambling on horses when they show up as part of the experience, it's a just a fun day. If you are so set on making a statement for the "non-gambling" population, why don't you make people stop putting up keno machines in every other building? Probably because you like restaurants and an occassional bar, and it's the only way they can afford liquor licenses. Disguise this decision however you want by saying it's a bunch of gamblers throwing their lives away, but it was really just a fun experience that many people (both gamblers and non) took in every year. I'm sorry you never watched it, it's a great time, and I'm sorry that of the handful of people that agree with you, enough were on this committee to start the ending of the fair, and make room for more commercialized space... and yes... more casinos with gambling year round. Yuck.


As a cameraman filming the horse races I would love to thank you for making life a little harder.


These commissioners are idiots. I cannot even be civil about this. The best thing about the fair was horse racing.

Denise Moore
Denise Moore

Of course they voted to end horse racing. Discussions have been "off the table" with these three for quite some time. Talk horse racing and watch for the bored eye-roll. When it comes to other wants and needs, the county (and the city) tend to find ways to fund and advance their agenda.

FTMI (follow the money and incentives). Who really wins? It is known that there has been a PR effort to garner support for pushing the Fairgrounds out by the airport or some such area for years, now, and it has not been a popular notion. This can't be accomplished as long as a horse track is needed.

The purported goal? To convert the grounds to an events center. Coming next? Would have to be motels/hotels. Events centers can not survive without rooms. That's just how it goes. Think Malfunction Junction (check that... Dysfunction Junction) is a boondoggle now?

The following excerpt from this article sums it up best: "Chuck Leonard, a University of Montana professor, wondered about the objectivity of an advisory committee with members affiliated with Glacier Ice Rink and the steering committee for a Missoula Events Center."

FTMI, my friends. FTMI.


@Justaguy, your comment about “wise decision for the future that was based on fiscal responsibility and not on sentimentality” shows your ignorance on the subject at hand. Yes Horse Racing is tradition its roots run deep here in Montana, but it is something that people have forgotten about. It is not just sentimental for us horse racers, it’s a livelihood; it’s how we put food on the table, a roof over our families heads, and pay the bills (that includes our taxes to the state and counties which we reside in). I am sure you work a 9-5 job 5 days a week, were up at 4am, 7 days a week 365 days a year. When the tracks started closing and racing stated to become extinct the horsemen started leaving to other states! Just like if you lost your 9-5 job you go where there is work or like some horsemen they gave it up completely. Horse Racing can turn a profit, but of course it can’t turn a profit if it’s only allowed to race two days out of the year, and we have nowhere to train. If you think I am making this up please look up our neighbors in Idaho who are turning a profit and coming up with new ideas to keep the tracks open and running for more than two days out of the year. Also one of the commissioners made a comment about her sheep and raising them in an area where Agriculture is dying. So she understands the hardship of losing Horse Racing. Did I miss something? Montana is an Agriculture state, and if Ag is dying in your area it’s because of the people who run the community. The commissioners stated it’s not their fault, and they can’t fix it. You can’t fix something when you’re dead set against it, and putting every obstacle you can think of up to prevent it.


Say goodbye to the Western MT Fair.


Fair hasn't been the same since racing was abandoned, for whatever reason. You will never convince me that they could not have generated the revenue in gambling to make that a viable part of the fair and help everyone. No more fair for me....just not the same...sorry.


Where do I begin.......I say we start with ending the progressive ideology of do as I say not as I do, we know better than you! The Missoula County Fair has been intentionally run straight into the dumpster by the excuse making team of Killjoys and their appointed cronies. I said it years ago that the end of racing would be the death of the Fair as we know it, now it has come to fruition. Time for people to get off of their laurels and stand up for themselves, historically we don't move until we feel the heat from the fire and by then it is too late. Next year Michele Landquist is coming up for re-election and I for one can't see spending $67,000 a year (her wages) to be talked down too, they have no respect for the public only their short sighted agenda.


I would like to thank the County Commissioners on making a wise decision for the future that was based on fiscal responsibility and not on sentimentality. While I appreciate Mr. Larson's roots "as a country boy" because I too was raised in rural Montana, it is not a valid reason in which to make a decision. Mr. Mahlum's statement that “If we lose the racetrack we lose part of our identity” might be true for him but is not true for all. Again, I feel no "lose of identity" if horses don't run around an oval track. Again, sentimentality is not a valid enough argument in which to make long term decisions. Maybe it is time to ask the bigger question of whether or not we even need a county fair at all.


@justaguy, fiscal responsibility would have been to keep horse racing in place, how is spending 50,000,000 dollars considered fiscally responsible again, I must have missed something in economics. Why don't you crawl out from behind your avatar and tell the community who you are. I am sure you would rather hide in the world on anonymity and push your intrusive progressive agenda forward to satisfy your insatiable appetite for forcing your will upon others. I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in, I don't hide behind an avatar, I am proud to be an American (native too) and I am getting tired of being kicked around by people who think they can run over us because we are busy trying to make a living.


What on earth is this $50 million you are talking about? I don't understand where you got that number or what you think it is going to be spent on.


19.6 million dollars for the renovations at the current site, when the fair grounds are eventually moved they will spend another 30.9 million dollars, they plan on selling the current site for 5 million dollars which is as cheap as you can get for this prime real estate. These costs do not include connecting Stephens to Fairview either.

Box T Ranch

50 million!!!???? I'm not hiding behind an avatar either - I race horses and I know for a FACT that the races help Missoula! Wake up!


You darn right horse racing helped Missoula, I am livid at what a few are trying to do in this town. I am sure if I spent a little more time searching, I would find out who owns what property where and who stands to gain the most. I am sure WGM Group will be up to their armpits in this, probably another payback for some of the local construction companies and realtors (you know who I am talking about). Now they want the proposed events center to compete directly against the schools for events and tournaments, this will take money directly from the schools for door admission, concessions and shirts, sweatshirts and other sales. So now tell me who really supports schools and their activities.


No doubt the fair has gone downhill, and it appears that some people would like to kill it. But geez - don't you know the difference between "lose" and "loss"? You wrote that you "feel no lose of identity" - does that sound correct to you?


You are correct. I did make a mistake. I will try harder in the future to be perfect just like you.

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