SOUTH DAKOTA HORSE
By Justin Ehrman, South Dakota Horse
You may have noticed that the horse racing tracks at Ft. Pierre and Aberdeen were quiet last year. The unfortunate wet weather created unfavorable training preparation and track conditions for racing meets in late spring 2019. Canceling races in South Dakota, which had been unheard of for the past seventy years, meant that they lost funding for the year and that money could not be carried over to the following year.
This difficult decision, necessary to protect the safety of the horses and riders, affected the industry and those involved in the breeding and training of these Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse athletes.
History has seen a once-flourishing racing industry shrivel to smaller meets with fewer horses. The 2019 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bill Mott, who had grown up around racing in South Dakota, found his place on the national stage thanks to his South Dakota roots. So what happened to the racing industry in South Dakota?
According to Ft. Pierre track manager Shane Kramme during an interview in Episode 2 of our South Dakota Horse podcast, the 1990s saw as many as 90 colts running in the Ft. Pierre racing meet, which lasted several days. Both the Ft. Pierre and Northeast Area Horse Racing (Aberdeen) meets were considered important stepping stones for horses heading to bigger races around the country. Now, in recent years, only a handful of horses make their way to the center of the state to compete.
The primary reason for the decline in racing in South Dakota is a major spiral in state funding and overall support for the thrilling sport, which led to a decline in competing horses. The lone simulcasting site supporting South Dakota racing is located in North Sioux City, South Dakota. According to Kramme, this funding source was put into effect in 1987 by Governor George Mickelson, the last state leader to truly value horse racing in South Dakota.
Both tracks are managed by nonprofits and cannot effectively run the race meets without plenty of hard-to-find volunteers, and funding from the state, as well as other sources like the South Dakota Horsemen’s Association fundraising efforts.
Like other sports, horse racing is dangerous. Insurance is a big expense. But it is not the only big expense. In order to have plenty of talented horses competing, there must be a large enough purse to entice entrants. Kramme says it costs roughly $225,000, or more, to run a successful meet.
In recent years, nearly $5.85 million has been moved from the state’s two live racing accounts by a previous administration to be used elsewhere. Meanwhile, as a result of successfully passing the 2019 Senate Bill 128, a designated $120,000 was moved from the general fund into the two live racing accounts. Those accounts are being threatened by continuously proposed legislation to fund other areas using that money; which would be a detriment to the possibility of successful racing in 2020. Read more about one of the efforts to move money in this letter by Shane Kramme, which is posted on horseracingsd.com.
South Dakota was once an important training stop for the national horse racing stage. Will we ever get back there again? If you’ve ever experienced the family fun and thrill of horse racing in South Dakota, share your experiences with us and speak up to your state legislators.