Horse Racing in Montana

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A Gallop Through History

People & Place

This is the story of the coming of the horse.
Out of a dream they came to the Crow,

Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho,
through the north plains and  mountains,

grazed around the wolf and buffalo.
Flowing herds of horses.

Rich flowing herds of horses.
Rivers of horses.

   "Rivers of Horses"~ Henry Real Bird, 

 An excerpt from Montana Moments, History on the Go  

 

Native Americans brought horses to Montana in the 1700s, and racing early on became a common sport. The tiny town of Racetrack near Deer Lodge takes its name from the long straightaway where, according to local tradition, Indians raced their ponies. Johnny Grant made the early miners’ racing circuits. 

In November 1864, Grant advertised in the Montana Post that his mare, Limber Belle, would race anywhere in the territory. Billy Bay, a Kentucky thoroughbred stallion, was the first thoroughbred to appear by name in Montana’s written record. Blackfeet brought the horse into the territory from north of the Great Salt Lake. Trader Malcom Clarke then acquired Billy Bay through his Blackfeet in-laws. Money, furs, and other valuables had been staked on Billy Bay in intertribal races. 

Horse racing was a popular sport among the miners, and races in the streets of the camps were common pastimes on their days off. Virginia Slade acquired the far-famed Billy Bay from Malcolm Clarke and was a frequent contender in the weekly Sunday races held in the streets of Virginia City. It was on Billy Bay that Virginia made her famous, futile ride to save the life of her husband, Jack, hanged by the vigilantes in March 1864. It was one race he didn’t win.