Horse races a winner in Fort Pierre

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Farm Forum

The first of two weekends of horse racing in Fort Pierre drew good crowds of about 450 each day and a total “handle” of betting nearing $45,000 on 15 races split between Saturday and Sunday, said Bill Floyd, racing secretary.

A total of nine jockeys rode about 70 horses over the two days in a program including Quarter Horses running 250 yard sprints and Thoroughbreds running five furlongs, or five/eighths of a mile.

The races included trials that will send winners to races this coming weekend promising bigger purses May 7-8 at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre, said Floyd.

This first weekend, the purses mostly ranged from $1,777 to $2,227 split between the top three finishers; the winner getting 49 percent.

The feature race of the weekend with the biggest purse was the final and seventh race Sunday, a challenge stakes, a 250-yard sprint, Floyd said. The American Quarter Horse Association kicked in half the prize money to bring the purse to $5,007.

The winning horse collects 49 percent of the purse, with the remainder split with the second and third place winners.

Winning the feature was Fast Eddys Eyeyinyou, a seven-year-old gelding owned by Jill LaCroix of Rapid City. The gelding also had the fastest time of the weekend, at 13.443 seconds, Floyd said. No other horse this past weekend broke 14 seconds in the 250-yard races, he said, although it’s difficult to compare times on two different days even at the same track.

The cool, windy weather Saturday included fairly moist track from all the rain last week. Sunday was sunny and warmer and the track dried up some, Floyd said.

World-class Quarter Horse times are under 13 seconds.

Many of the horses were two-year-olds but several races included older steeds.

One notable veteran gelding has had a stellar career with more plaudits than any others here and back from Texas won a race in Fort Pierre on Saturday.

“The horse that won the last race on Saturday, Gentsfinishfirst, had won $244,451 lifetime, coming into this weekend,” Floyd said.

The 12-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, “Gentsfinishfirst,” is owned and trained by Tom Moody of Letcher, South Dakota, who bought him relatively recently after the horse had raced for years in several states, Floyd said. Clyde Henry Smith rode the gelding to the win in the race which paid a $2,277 purse.

The weekend’s races were the first horse races in the Dakotas – an informal circuit that includes tracks in Aberdeen and Belcourt, North Dakota and Fargo, Floyd said. That means the horses were fairly jumpy and there were a few hijinks.

On Saturday, in the second race, not far from the starting gate, rider Zack Ziegler was thrown off Flashy Bully Bullion, a two-year-old Quarter Horse gelding who finished the 250-yard sprint riderless, beating a couple of jockeyed horses across the finish line.

Ziegler took some long moments to get up and then limped slowly off the track. He turned down the ambulance crew’s offer of help initially, but later the call was heard for “medics to the jockey room.”

Ziegler was taken to the hospital where it was discovered he had fractured a rib.

“It wasn’t bad, it was a hairline fracture and he was back racing today,” Floyd said.

It’s a tough way to make a living, with jockeys riding for 10 percent of a horse’s winnings, or maybe less. So even a race winner means only $85 to $135 to the jockey on top in most of the races this weekend, not a lot for perching on top of a 1,000-pound animal running 40 mph, even if it’s for a few seconds.

Some of the jockeys are not as young as they used to be and sport graying beards.

Herman Fennell Jr. is one of the most seasoned jockeys in the nation, Floyd said.

“He was racing when I was in high school and I’m 65,” Floyd said. Fennell was on top of a horse in most of the 15 races this weekend and he won the fifth race Saturday, a 250-yard dash on First Prize Desirio, a colt close to 65 years younger than its rider.

Floyd is secretary of the Fort Pierre Races which are sponsored by the Verendrye Association, an arm of the local Chamber of Commerce, he said. The state gaming commission funds the races using the state’s take of simulcast betting. “It’s a year-to-year thing,” he said, of whether the state-wide betting on horse races provides enough revenue to bankroll races at Fort Pierre and Aberdeen.

Next Saturday and Sunday afternoons the races should be faster, purses a little bigger, he said. Some of the same horses will be running next weekend, the top finishers from races this past weekend.

The horses and riders will move on to Aberdeen later this month, then maybe Canterbury Park in the Twin Cities, or Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg or Chippewa Downs in Belcourt, North Dakota.