SD Horse racing in SD back on track, for now

Horse racing is happening in South Dakota on Oct. 2 and 3, 2021, after funding was approved by the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, as announced by the Verendrye Benevolent Association, the non-profit organization that has hosted Fort Pierre Horse Racing for over 70 years.

In the past, the Fort Pierre meet was always held in the spring, but after late storms left a snow covered race track in 2019, canceling the meet, a decision was made to switch the meet to the fall for the 2020 and now 2021 meets.

“Last year we offered some increased purses while we decreased our days to attract some different horses,” says Shane Kramme, Fort Pierre racetrack manager and Verendrye Benevolent Association board member. “Taking it from the spring to the fall, we were always the beginning training track for the year and had all of these two-year-old colts.”

In the past, the spring race meet was always the beginning training track for the year, meaning the two-year-old colts had never been in a race before. Not only did moving the meet to the fall make Kramme’s job easier as a starter, loading the now seasoned, well mannered race horses into the starting gate before each race, but the quality of horse races was better than Kramme had ever seen.

South Dakota now only has one active horse racing track – in Ft. Pierre.

“As I looked at the photo finishes after we concluded, out of the eight horses in the race, there might be eight horses in the picture,” he says. “There wasn’t this spread-out field of horses with one good one and some mediocre ones, they were all good horses so that made for a great spectator experience.”

Fort Pierre is the last standing meet in South Dakota after the North East Area Horse Racing, the Aberdeen meet’s horse racing organization, released a statement in 2019 stating that after 60 years of horse racing, Aberdeen would no longer hold races, adding that they were optimistic that that would be a new revenue source to support South Dakota horse racing in the future. According to Kramme, there is enough funding to support purses for Fort Pierre to run in 2022, but after that, the future is unknown.

“Years ago we would race eight days here and then go to Aberdeen for seven days,” Kramme says. “That’s when money was plentiful to support South Dakota horse racing. We’re in a situation now where the money has dwindled and we don’t have enough money to support two race meets anymore.”

Kramme explains that South Dakota horse racing is funded by a 4.5 percent tax on Simulcast wagering in the state, but there is only one location left where Simulcast wagering takes place. Simulcast wagering meaning spectators can watch live races being broadcast from various tracks, and place live bets from where ever they are viewing.

Ft. Pierre will host horse races Oct. 2-3, 2021. Photos courtesy Shane Kramme

“It’s kind of the old, brick and mortar way of doing business, where you actually have to walk into an establishment to do your business,” Kramme says. “So of those wagers, 4.5 percent of that refers back to these racing accounts that support South Dakota horse racing and that is where our purse money and operations cost is derived from.”

Today, its more common for spectators to download an app to their phone and place pari-mutuel bets, where all the bets are placed together in a pool, and no money goes back to South Dakota.

Kramme has worked to get something passed in the legislature to adapt the new mechanism for betting like surrounding states like North Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana have done, using a portion of casino revenues to support horse racing, but the best that he has managed was lobbying for and receiving 120 thousand dollars out of the general fund to fund South Dakota horse racing.

“Horse racing in South Dakota is a tradition,” he says. “You can bet that as soon as there were two horses in South Dakota, before it even was South Dakota, they had a horse race. I know that the industry has shrunk from what it used to be, so the economic impact has become less, but it is hard to measure culturally, socially the impact that racing has on the state. There have been a lot of great horse trainers that have come out of South Dakota, a lot of history, so to lose those traditions, that would be horrible.”

The two days of racing will hold approximately eight to nine races per day, with post time at 1 PM CST on both days.

Come to Ft. Pierre in early October and support the horse races.

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