MONTROSE — Men competing on muscular steeds are sure to draw a crowd this weekend, as horse racing makes its thunderous return to the Montrose County Fairgrounds, one of the oldest race tracks on the Western Slope.
At least half a dozen quarter horse races are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at noon for spectators; the first race is at 1 p.m.
Multiple 220-yard sprints are planned, in which horses can reach speeds of 35-40 mph within a matter of seconds. Other races will be three-eighths, five-eighths and seven-eighths of a mile long.
The earliest-known races in Montrose where held in 1881, seven years before the town was officially formed. Local Utes would race their horses along with American cowboys and Mexican charros on the same track used today.
The track is part of what is known as the Bush Track Circuit. Created over a hundred years ago, the Bush Track included Ridgway, Gunnison and Norwood, and drew horses and riders from across the western United States. It is one of the state's oldest racing circuits.
Organized racing in Montrose fell apart after 1998 as track conditions and infrastructure deteriorated. The Black Canyon Horse Racing Association successfully resurrected the sport a few years ago, proclaiming that horse racing was part of the area's heritage, and must be preserved.
"That's why we formed. We wanted to attract people to racing and keep horse racing here alive," said Mike Hudson of the Black Canyon Horse Racing Association.
The association has credited Montrose County with helping to improve track conditions, and with hosting the racing which draws jockeys and horses from around the region.
Like the farm leagues of baseball, Hudson said, smaller tracks such as Montrose allow horse owners to "tune up" their mounts before traveling to larger tracks and events to compete.
Races in June 2011 drew 1,200 to 1,500 spectators to the fairground over the weekend, according to race officials.
Hudson said children's’ stick-horse races will be held in between the “regular” races to help keep spectators occupied. Food vendors will also be on-site.
Dozens of horse-and-jockey teams will give patrons a number of Calcutta and small betting fields to participant in.
Cost of admission to the races is $3. Future races are scheduled at the fairgrounds for Saturday, July 20; Saturday, September 7; and Sunday, September 8.