British Grand National Evokes Memories of Montana’s Thoroughbred Racing Past

During the first week of April each year and since 1839, the Grand National has been held at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England. This event has become so cherished in British popular culture over the years, even people who don’t follow thoroughbred racing have heard of this annual race. Considered to be “the ultimate test of horse and rider” in equestrian circles, this race holds a special place in the hearts and minds.

The most famous horse race in Britain

Such is the appeal of the Grand National, the headline race with a prize fund of £1 million GBP is beamed live and direct around the world, watched by over 500 million people in more than 140 countries. Likewise, the race over 4 miles and 514 yards attracts the most betting attention in Britain, leading to what has become one of the most lucrative days for international sportsbooks.

Every time the Grand National is run and especially now in the digital age, the best horse racing betting sites in the world compete for attention, aiming to pull in punters eager to bet on the big event. Thankfully, the experts at SBO have everything covered with detailed reviews for each site, highlighting all the different types of bets in horse racing, along with betting tips and form guides.

After becoming the first ever female jockey to win the Grand National last year, riding in the saddle of bay gelding Minella Times once again, Rachael Blackmore will be hoping to achieve a historic second consecutive victory. Along with a whole host of other achievements, 32-year-old Blackmore was also the first woman to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, riding A Plus Tard, another bay gelding foaled and trained in Ireland.

While she may hail from halfway around the world, having broken established records and set the course for new grounds in racing culture, the achievements of Blackmore could be considered evocative of the thoroughbred racing past once enjoyed in Montana. Indeed, there was once a time when the Big Sky state was a hotbed for talented jockeys, the most prized thoroughbred horses, along with some of the most historic racing events.

Memories of a bygone age in Montana

Back in the day, Missoula thoroughbred racing fans might make the trip along I90 and not without some irony, past the unincorporated community of Racetrack, Montana, before actually reaching the Yellowstone Downs equestrian facilities and horseracing track in Billings. Sadly, the last live race card at Yellowstone Downs was on September 18, 2011, attracting an on-track crowd of 5,318 according to the American Quarter Horse Association.

There are still some race events in Montana featuring thoroughbred horses, such as the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale Race Meet in May, along with the Great Falls Turf Club meetings in July and August, which are part of the Montana State Fair. However, to watch top-class thoroughbred racing events in person, we need to travel some distance to other states and venues. The only other alternative is watching the action unfold on TV or online.

Considering the rich and once prosperous history of horsemanship in Montana, it is perhaps quite surprising there aren’t more thoroughbred racing events throughout the state these days, although this wasn’t always the case. Lewis and Clark’s Nez Perce guides staged horse races at the Traveler’s Rest in 1806, while Helena hosted Madam Coady’s fashion course at the first territorial fair in 1868.

Such was the popularity of thoroughbred racing events, leading citizens established oval tracks with luxurious grandstands throughout the state. Then in 1890, a powerful horse called Bob Wade set a quarter mile racing record in Butte, one that would stand until 1958. The same year Montana was admitted to the Union, the state even produced a Kentucky Derby winner in 1889 named Spokane, a chestnut stallion foaled in 1886.

Hopes for the future

While it seems the passion for thoroughbred horse racing events has waned in Montana, much prestige and heritage remain within the equestrian industry in general. The most recent estimates in 2020 claims there are between 150,000 and 180,000 horses in Montana, including those who roam free in the Prior Mountains to the south of Billings. Hopefully, elite races will return to the state in the future, but for now, we must remain content watching from afar.