Horse racing returns to Ft. Pierre October 3-4 |

Horse racing returns to Ft. Pierre October 3-4

Horses come around the curve at the 2018 Ft. Pierre horse race. This year’s race was moved from the spring to the fall, this coming weekend (Oct. 3-4), which is shaping up for a race with more finished horses, Shane Kramme said. Photo by Michelle Maupin Barrett

A long time South Dakota tradition returns to the Ft. Pierre race track Oct. 3-4.

South Dakota horse racing takes place both days, after a one-year hiatus and a long, storied history in the state.

The Stanley Co. Fairgrounds will host fifteen races with $125,000 in purse money and incentives stretched over two afternoons, beginning at 1 pm both days.

Ft. Pierre has been the home of horse racing for the past 70+ years, with a race held every spring, but last year, due to snow on the track and a shortage in funding, the race was canceled.

This year, Shane Kramme, track manager for the Ft. Pierre Horse Races and vice-president of the Verendrye Benevolent Association, a non-profit that hosts Ft. Pierre horse racing, moved the race to October.

It’s piquing interest among race horse owners and trainers across the nation, Kramme said. “I talked to a couple of people from Wyoming,” he said, “and Ft. Pierre is the belle of the ball right now. You have to understand that, since we went from first to the last event (of the season), we’re attracting different clientele. We’re getting finished horses.”

He’s fielded calls from race horse trainers and owners from California to Colorado and Texas, and estimates there will be 110 horses entered. The track has an eight-horse gate, making the possibility of 120 horses over fifteen races. For a couple of races, a minimum of five horses per race has been set, but he thinks owners and trainers will respond.

The races include three South Dakota Bred Quarter Horse Futurities for two-, three- and four-year-olds, each with a purse of $12,500.

Admission for fans is $5, and COVID-19 health protocols will be in place. The races are outdoors, Kramme points out, in large grandstands which will make social distancing easy. Masks are encouraged (but not required), and hand sanitizer liquid will be available. Some of the parimutuel windows will be unavailable, to allow for social distancing, and more time will be allowed between races, so fans can access the betting windows, if they choose.

Kramme has seen families bring their kids up to the fence to look at the horses, and he appreciates that. They’re there, “just to see the horses. They’re not worried about the parimutuel, they just want to see the horses, and by all means, I encourage it.”

Kramme has horse racing and Ft. Pierre in his blood. His grandfather, Everett Smalley, who lived in the Oklahoma Panhandle, came to Ft. Pierre in 1948 as a trainer. He went on to own stud horses and thoroughbreds, and in 1953, moved to South Dakota, to the place where Kramme lives now. Smalley raced in South Dakota his entire life, and Kramme was raised by him and his grandma, Kate Smalley. “I grew up riding race horses,” Kramme said. He began saddling horses at the race track, then worked the starting gates, spending fifteen years as the starter in Ft. Pierre and Aberdeen and working over 4,000 races.

In 1948, when the Ft. Pierre race began, it was the kickoff each spring for the year. The town hosted eight days of races, then horses went on to Aberdeen, S.D., for another eight days. They would race at Rapid City and Park Jefferson, before the horses and their entourage “would fan out over the nation,” Kramme said. “A lot of these horses competed everywhere. There were a lot of good riders and trainers that came out of Ft. Pierre.”

The South Dakota race horse industry began its slow decline in the late 1990s, when money in two designated horse racing funds started to be transferred out to pay for other things, with authorization from the state legislature. Funds were re-allocated to social services, education, and agriculture, including the state fair. Over a period of eight years, $5.85 million was siphoned out of the funds, leaving the tank nearly dry.

The mechanism that funded the two accounts was a simulcast system, with a 4.5 percent tax on every wager placed. The state has only one simulcast today, in North Sioux City, and with current technology, many racing fans download the Twin Spires app, to wager on horse races out of state. It’s legal, Kramme said, but no state tax is levied on it, “and they’re circumventing our simulcast sites. No money is coming in to support live racing in South Dakota.”

Two years ago, Kramme tried to work towards getting a bill passed to tax the Twin Spires app, but Twin Spires registered two lobbyists who “got to a few senators,” he said. “They didn’t want that tax” on their app, he said. “There’s money flowing out of South Dakota to the Twin Spires (in Kentucky.) They want horse racing exclusively in Kentucky.”

Kramme encourages people to contact their state and local legislators, to ask for continued and more funding for state horse racing.

“I think it can benefit all of South Dakota culturally and economically.”

But for the upcoming weekend, he invites people to Ft. Pierre for horse racing.

“Come to the event, watch the horses, eat a hot dog, just witness it.

“To me, it’s all about the horses and the camaraderie,” he said.

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