Horse Racing History in Montana

The men of Montana had an image problem. Many had arrived from the Eastern seaboard seeking fortune, whether earned through raising cattle or mining ore. But when the luckiest among them struck (or ranched) it rich, they still seemed to feel a sense of inferiority—too rough, too tumble—when compared to the businessmen back home. One way to counteract this feeling was to meet Eastern interests where they stood, which, in the late nineteenth century, was very often at the racetrack.

As historian Catharine Melin-Moser explains, in the 1880s and 1890s, “horseracing was the dominion of wealthy industrialists and financiers, who unstintingly supported the region’s tracks and owned the breeding farms.”

Western entrepreneurs like Noah Armstrong, who made his fortune managing silver, gold, copper, and lead mines, believed Eastern supremacy at the track could be undermined with tough Thoroughbreds “nourished by bunchgrass and toughened by high altitude.”

Montana-raised horses “would be endowed with superior lung capacity, strength of bone, and endurance. Pitting the horses against the East’s finest, and winning, would prove legitimacy of the breeding operations. The state itself would benefit. To Montana’s most prominent industries—agriculture, mining, and timber—would be added a fourth, horse breeding.”

Armstrong certainly put his money where his mouth was, sinking thousands of dollars into developing his Doncaster Ranch and filling it with notable bloodstock. His most significant investment was a Thoroughbred colt sired by Hyder Ali out of the mare Interpose. Though bred in Illinois, the colt was foaled in Armstrong’s barns, re-rooting its lineage in Montana Territory…

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Rich Nilsen is an 18-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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