Saddle Up: Horse racing begins Sunday at MC’s Eastern Montana Fairgrounds

It won’t resemble the Kentucky Derby, which was run May 6 in Lexington, but there will be considerable excitement during horse races on three days at the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds in Miles City.

An eight-race card of both thoroughbreds and quarter horses is scheduled Sunday starting at 1 p.m. 

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day, but that hasn’t kept 800-1,000 people from attending in years’ past,  according to Don Richard, the director of racing for the 67th annual Bucking Horse Sale (BHS).

“It’s getting bigger and better every year,” said Richard, who has  been involved in the racing program since 1985. “It’s a great way to spend Mother’s Day.”

Many of the women who attend will be dressed in fancy attire, including flamboyant hats, just like in Kentucky.

“It’s exciting, a lot of joy,” Richard said. “It’s a family affair.”

The other two days of racing are at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (May 20) and noon on Sunday (May 21) during the festivities of the final two days of the BHS. If you’re into the Triple Crown races, you can also wager on leg two, the Preakness in Baltimore, at the Fairgrounds on May 20.

“We’ve done that for 26 years,” Richard said of the Preakness wagering.

Meanwhile, there’s already a lot of activity at the 5 1/2-furlong (1,210 yards) track. Owner/trainers Burton Farley of Hardin and former jockey Leroy Coombs of Belfry, Montana, have been working horses at the track.

Farley, who said he has missed only three of the 67 BHS events, hopes to run five horses including his favorite Tuelopo Bunny. 

Coombs, who owns one horse named Purls Gold Buckle, may have 11 more coming to Miles City.

“It’s a disease and there’s no cure,” Farley said of his racing interest that has lasted many decades. (He prefers his age not be printed). “We still have a lot of fun doing it.”

Coombs, now 76, rode in his last race only six years ago. Now he’s content to be a trainer and, following his stay in Miles City will have his horses compete at Wyoming tracks in Evanston, Rock Springs, Casper and Gillette through Oct.1.

Asked about retiring as a jockey, Coombs laughed and said, “I tell people I got old, but really I just got more cautious.”

Coombs, who had just completed a ride on the track, started his career in rodeo.

“Bulls and saddle bronc riding,” he said. “I came up through the rodeo ranks and finished fourth in my first race. I was 28.”

Now, 48 years later, he’s still involved in the sport along with his wife Judy, who continues to compete in barrel racing.

No surprise, she’s only 74.

Coombs hopes his horse Purls Gold Buckle, a 5-year-old, will be successful here. But he isn’t guaranteeing a victory.

“He’s been competitive and has won races,” he said, then added, “Racing here is good for young horses, a good experience for them.”

Even on Mother’s Day.

(Contact Abe Winter at or 406-234-0450.)