LETHBRIDGE - The Indian Relay Race Invitational takes over the Rocky Mountain Turf Club this weekend for the first time.
General Manager Rose Rossi explains while they've held Indian Relay Races before, this is the first year for the invitational.
"Last year what was held was a sanctioned race where they had points, this one is an invitational. We're hosting it alongside the Blackfoot Canadian Cultural Society, and a lot of the members from the Canadian Indian Relay Racing Association are also joining us as well," Rossi said.
Indian relay is North America's oldest competitive sport, as it dates back over 400 years to when the horse was first reintroduced to the native culture.
Doors will open on both Saturday, June 16, and Sunday, June 17 at 11 a.m. Grand entry begins at 12 p.m. and then post time is set for 1 p.m.
Rossi says both groups are very excited to get going.
"It's great to see the group flourishing and sharing it in our community, it was amazing to see the crowd last year and it's going to be another amazing crowd this weekend."
An Indian Relay Race consists of a team that features three horses, one rider, one catcher, one exchange holder and one back holder.
At the start, the rider will have both feet on the ground while the catcher holders onto the horse. The rest of the teams will be in designated boxes located in front of the grandstand.
A team's rider makes three laps around the track, changing to a new horse at the beginning of each lap. Two teammates stand at the edge of the track holding and calming the waiting horses for the incoming rider.
The fourth teammate's job is to catch the arriving horse while the rider dismounts and leaps onto the next horse. The exchanges are the sport's signature action.
Rocky Mountain Turf Club CEO Max Gibb says the event is really one of a kind.
"I'm told it might be the first in the world where they've intermixed Indian Relay Racing, regular thoroughbred and quarter horse racing and a competitive powwow all going on simultaneously. We expect and know that we'll have some of the best dancers in the world competing in between the relay races and the regular races," Gibb stated.
Organizers are expecting in the neighbourhood of 100 to 150 dancers, and 10 to 12 Indian Relay Teams from Montana, Saskatchewan, Alberta and other parts of Western Canada and the U.S.
"People won't want to miss it, we think it's a life experience for anyone who attends," Gibb added.
The powwows will take place right between the grandstand and the race track, Gibb explained.
"They'll be coming out of rooms and down onto the grounds for six minutes of competition between races. There will be an exhibition Indian Relay Race and then there will be regular thoroughbred and quarter horse races," Gibb said, adding the sixth race of the day will be the first ever pari-mutuel bet race on Indian Relay Races in the world.
The invitational is also expected to generate a lot of revenue for the area.
"It will be significant. Our regular racing is a $40 million economic benefit to Lethbridge and Southern Alberta, and that doesn't include the special events that we become involved with."
Gibb says they're hoping to have two special events a year now and adds it's a significant economic indicator.
"If there are profits made they're going towards a movement to support the Blackfoot Nation because we're thrilled we're working with the Blackfoot Canadian Cultural Society and we want to make a lot of things happen," he continued. "Show the talent, the ability and the love of the horse by the Blackfoot Nation, that's our goal."
When asked what the event meant to Gibb, he struggled to put it into words.
"I'm not sure I can even…as I mentioned earlier my best friends in life were Blackfoot, Cree and not all of them are around anymore," Gibb said before beginning to choke up. "To have such a spectacular and classic event, I can't even explain I'm just thrilled."
Admission on the weekend is $10 a person, but youth ages 10 and under and seniors ages 65 and over get in for free.
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