Shane Kramme stood in nearly knee-high rubber boots at the north end of Stanley County fairgrounds on Thursday afternoon. As some horses were brought out onto the track, he could name the exercise riders and the owner.

It was Zach Bacon and Clyde Smith who were putting some of Bob Johnson's horses through their paces.

Kramme recognizes the people and the horses because he is serving as the starter for this year's races as he has for several years. Horse racing in Fort Pierre is set for April 28-29 and May 5-6.

He needed the boots a few minutes later when owner Sam Witte wanted one of her horses to get some work out of the starting gate. The mud around the gate area was several inches deep. Further down the track a bit of standing water was visible.

The sloppy track conditions came from the wet snow that fell two days earlier, which followed on the heels of the blizzard a week ago, which dumped around eight inches of snow on Fort Pierre and the surrounding area.

Kramme said if things dried out enough between now and next Monday or so, the track maintenance man, Ken Olson, would probably run a grader over the track and level things out, filling in some low spots.

But Olson has already been working to keep the track in best possible shape, Kramme said. Before the blizzard hit, he packed down the dirt to "seal it." And after the snow melted, Olson was out feathering some of the water off the surface.

As muddy was the track was Thursday, Kramme said, it would have been fine to run races on.

It wasn't until late March that horse racing in Fort Pierre was definitely on the calendar. Members of the Verendrye Benevolent Association, which has organized the Fort Pierre races for the last 70 years, said back in November they couldn't do it again this year.

The funding from the state's Commission on Gaming wasn't enough, they said, and what funding was available came with some required changes in the group's bookkeeping. But an outpouring of private donations from members of the South Dakota Horsemen's Association spurred the VBA to reconsider its decision.

The VBA board voted in early March to make another go of it this year. But the group still needed the Commission on Gaming to sign off on the bookkeeping improvements and release the already allocated funding. The commission's decision in favor of the VBA came March 27.

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