Charlie Russell Downs, Great Falls, MT, June 28 & July 3

I think I musta ticked off the tornado gods when I teased them with that trip to Oklahoma over Memorial Day. After I got back to DC from Atlantic City, there was a big old tornado that ripped up part of Maryland just north of DC. Then a few days after getting home from Pimlico, I'm sitting in my living room on a stormy night when suddenly the Civil Defense sirens go off and there's water spouts dancing down the shoreline of Lake Michigan. And driving out to Montana in late June, I elect to spend the night in Mitchell, South Dakota (home of the Corn Palace), and there's tornado warnings in counties to the north and west! Hey! that's about enough of that stuff!

Anyhow not too much new happening at the old Montana State Fair Grounds race meet in Great Falls this year, except yet another new management trying to give it a go, the Great Falls Horse Racing Association, which replaced the outfit that was trying so hard last year when that outfit wanted to run a shorter meet and the Montana Board of Horse Racing decided that wasn't in the best interests of Montana racing. The new Association seems to have renamed the place Charlie Russell Downs.

They'd had a few days rained out just before I got there and the meet wasn't doing so good, at least I didn't think so as the daily handles published in the papers on a daily basis were quite a bit smaller than what I saw last year. And the horsemen around the paddock didn't sound real positive either, as the June 28 day the track was still a little muddy from the night before and the jocks held up the races before the 4th to vote on whether to continue racing, and the horsemen were saying its such a beautiful day and a big crowd and if you cancel it now the people aren't going to come back and where will those jocks go and blah de blah but the jocks decided to keep riding so we never found out and then after that a lot of horses appeared with mud stickers. And the fields were smaller than last year, and the purses littler.

But the Association remains hopeful that the final weeks of racing during the State Fair will boost the avg. daily handle up to at least the breakeven point. I keep hoping something will happen to keep Montana racing viable, but it just seems to keep shrinking a little every year. This year they've started year 'round simulcasting, instead of just over the winter as in previous years, so maybe they can build up some purses for the summer racing. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, visit while you can. And if you don't make it for the racing, hey - every business in town boasts a casino these days.

Oh, but there *was* some excitement right after the races. Friday, July 3, late afternoon card at Charlie Russell Downs, the sky starts getting mighty dark just west of town, and I scurry on back to the lodgings after the last race just as the wind and rain start to howl, and what do they have there on the Great Falls TV but a tornado warning for Cascade County! The tornado beats up a couple of buildings out in Vaughn, just west of town.

Then heading back to Chicago on the 5th, and the sky south of Billings down the Little Bighorn valley into Wyoming looks like the thunderstorm from hell, so I stay over in Billings, where I'm informed they just had two tornados north of Billings the night before. The next night I'm headed back to Chicago and stop for the night in some interstate town south of Pierre. There's a car in the lot that's just beat to hell by hail, windows all smashed out and the whole schmear, looks like it got beat up by an aluninum baseball bat, the owner of which tells me he got that from the combination thunderstorm/hail storm/tornado by Belle Fourche and Black Hills the night before, which is pretty much the very area I had avoided driving into by staying in Billings. Whew! And of course, he was telling me this as we were standing outside the motel watching the big thunderstorm in the next county west and heading our way, which had generated, you guessed it, a tornado warning. I'm sorry, tornado gods! I'm sorry I ever went to Oklahoma!