BELCOURT Horseracing returns to Chippewa Downs this weekend with races today, Sunday and the each weekend through July 6.
A solid field of horses is assured. All 200 available stalls at Chippewa Downs are filled with fine thoroughbreds and quarter-horses.
"There's always nice horses in the field here, but this year is some of the nicest looking horses I've seen in a long time," said Doug DeMontigny, Dunseith, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Outdoor Recreation Development Association. "People like racing at Chippewa Downs is part of the reason. There's only so many racing venues in the northern tier of the U.S."
Shown outside the stables at Chippewa Downs earlier this week, from left to right, are, Doug DeMontigny, chairman, Outdoor Recreation Development Association; jockeys Sammy Awselmo Padilla, Arizona, and Clyde “The Glide” Smith, Oklahoma, and Les Thomas, vice-chairman, Turtle Mountain Tourism Association. Horseracing will be held at Chippewa Downs each Saturday and Sunday through July 6.
Chippewa Downs is located two miles west and one mile south of Belcourt. It features a half-mile oval with a 350-yard straight-away. Thoroughbreds will run races of four to eight furlongs, the latter a distance of one mile. Quarter-horse races are of shorter distance.
Horse racing has long been part of the tradition of the Turtle Mountains. Chippewa Downs not only keeps the tradition alive but displays it in front of grandstands filled with spectators.
"This goes all the way back to when they had tracks in the fields," said Les Thomas, vice-chairman of the Turtle Mountain Tourism Association. "They had events after church on Sundays and it developed into bigger and better things."
Racing at Chippewa Downs has become an annual event known throughout the United States and Canada. Horses in the field for upcoming races hail from multiple states and Canada.
"We've got jockeys from all over the U.S.," said DeMontigny. "We draw horses from almost all over the U.S. too."
Among the jockeys familiar to Chippewa Downs race enthusiasts are Sammy Padilla of Arizona and Clyde Smith of Oklahoma. Both men are veterans of the saddle who relish the opportunity to wear their colors atop energetic race horses.
"I've got a pretty good horse that I like," said Padilla. "It's High Jumping Jeannie, a four-year-old. I love the track, especially if it rains a lot. I'm sure all the riders like it the same way."
Like several other riders and trainers, Padilla has been at Chippewa Downs for several days preparing horses for the track. So, too, has Clyde "The Glide" Smith.
"I've been here before," said Smith. "It's all good. They've got a good deal going. I've been a few places through the years and kind of successful and had a lot of fun. I enjoy it a lot."
The veteran of the saddle has been racing horses for 41 years. As far as hoping for a wet track to race on, Smith says it really doesn't matter.
"It's a fair track," said Smith. "It doesn't matter if it's wet. It's part of the job. It doesn't matter to me."
Post-time is 1 p.m. today and Sunday. Additional races are scheduled for the same start times June 21-22, June 28-29 and July 5-6.
"It has become an annual event that people throughout the country come to. It's becoming so well known," said Thomas. "People fall in love with the Turtle Mountains when they visit here, the northern tier of North Dakota."
"We always have good turnouts," added DeMontigny. "There's a lot of interest from the surrounding area. We have pari-mutual betting. You can make a few dollars on a two-dollar bet, depending on the situation obviously."
Horses will be competing for purses of approximately $2,000. Some stakes races will have purses of up to $8,000. More information on Chippewa Downs racing and other Turtle Mountain events can be found at (tmbci.org) or by calling 278-1167.