How Many Horse Race Tracks Are in Montana?

If you’re picturing Montana, you’re probably thinking of wide-open spaces and majestic mountains – not exactly the first place that comes to mind for horse racing, right? But hold your horses!

Montana might just surprise you. The state has a long history of horse racing and throughout the years many racetracks have been built and demolished.

Why? Well, it seems like the state doesn’t have that horse-racing forward culture, and tracks die quickly after the release. However, there were some who managed to stand tall and carry the sport for the locals.

Photo by Marie-Claude Vergne

Horse Racing Tracks in Montana

1. Montana ExpoPark

The Montana ExpoPark (previously the North Montana State Fairgrounds) is a fairground in Great Falls, Montana, USA. The 133-acre (54-hectare) grounds include 35 structures, a horse racing track, grandstands, and the Four Seasons Arena, a multi-purpose sports and exhibition venue.

Cascade County and Montana ExpoPark conducted a thorough study in 2010 that suggested considerable renovations to the fairgrounds. The condition became critical in 2018 when concrete began to fall from the underside of the grandstands. At that time, the county commissioners decided to rebuild the grandstands.

It is now operating, and hosting a variety of horse racing events.

2. Yellowstone Downs

Yellowstone Downs, located in Billings, Montana, is predominantly a quarter-horse racetrack. The track routinely conducts a number of futurity and derby races and the prize money is often significant enough to bring a number of racing greats to the circuit.

Yellowstone Downs, which dates back to the 1940s, is where parimutual racing originated. Back then, it was just known as Billings (Bil), and along with Great Falls, it held a week of racing. Around the 1970s, the name was changed to Metrapark (MeP), which is the name of the complex that houses the track and the Montana State Fair. Finally, it received a legitimate-sounding racing track moniker, Yellowstone Downs.

It is not unusual to see purses of $20,000 to $30,000 awarded as a reward. Each race is meticulously organized and rigorously classified to ensure that the races are as fair as possible. Race distances range from 300 yards to 5 ¼ furlongs, with limitations on weight, gender, age, and breed.

While some may find this kind of rigorous selection laborious and restricting, it is likely the greatest and fairest approach to organizing a race, resulting in some intensely contested racing.

While the Yellowstone Downs racetrack in Montana is mostly dedicated to quarterhorse racing, it does occasionally provide some variation. Thoroughbreds frequently find their way onto the track to demonstrate their speed and stamina, and the Paint Derby is famous among fans of these patchy-colored horses. Whatever type of racing you choose, get out to Yellowstone Downs to experience some of Montana’s greatest horse racing.

However, the track had a bad reputation. A few years ago, the State of Montana claimed that the grandstand at Yellowstone Downs was a dangerous building and needed to be removed.

This matter is still being debated, with some fans claiming that the state has not taken into account the track’s historical worth.

3. Montana State Fairgrounds Racetrack

The Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds Racetrack, often known as Helena Downs, is a historic horse racing track on the outskirts of Helena, Montana, United States.

The track was built in 1870 as part of the Montana State Fairgrounds, which are today known as the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. The racetrack was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 20, 2006. Between 2006 and 2008, portions of the track were removed to make way for future fairgrounds construction.

Races were held throughout the summer (not only during the fair season). They drew horses from as far afield as Salt Lake City, including some high-quality Kentucky thoroughbreds.

By 1884, horse racing tracks had been erected in Bozeman and Butte, and a “Montana Circuit” for horse racing was formed. Races at Montana Circuit circuits grew increasingly restricted, with candidate horses having to be vetted by a nominating committee before racing. The Montana Circuit later grew to 15 regulatory tracks.

The grandstands were dismantled in 2000. They had deteriorated to the point where preservationists demanded that they be saved. However, the expense was prohibitively expensive, and the state declined to take it.

New modern, metal bleachers were erected in their place, and in the infield just west of the first turn. The new grandstands meant to accommodate rodeo events in the infield, took up roughly one-eighth of the horse racing track surface. The second turn, home stretch, and backstretch were all destroyed to make way for rodeo events.

Betting in Big Sky Country: What’s the Deal?

Montana’s not just about watching horses run in circles. You can bet your bottom dollar (responsibly, of course) on these races.

Pari-Mutuel betting is legal, and there’s a variety of bets to choose from. Win, Place, Show, Daily Double – or exotic bets like Trifecta and Superfecta.​

If you don’t know much about exotic bets, click the link below to learn more:

And for those who can’t make it to the tracks, Montana has several simulcast wagering locations. It’s like Netflix for horse racing – sort of.

Final Words

Montana isn’t the first place to go when it comes to horse racing, but it is safe to say that there is some horse racing action left over. Throughout the years, the state has had a love-hate relationship with the sport and most of the racetracks were forced to close and reopen multiple times.

Let’s hope that the horse racing culture will stay in Montana for another hundreds of years.