Relay start

Riders, holders and horses struggle to start the race during the All Nations Indian Relay Championships at MetraPark in the 2016 event.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette Staff

Indian relay championships return to Billings this weekend, come rain or shine.

"The weather can be a factor, but we're taking steps to try to minimize the track conditions," said Calvin Ghost Bear, president of the Horse Nations Indian Relay Council. "These teams have run in these types of conditions for years. I don't see it as a problem."

Like in years past, the three-day Billings event is the final and most important race on the Indian relay circuit. 

What's new this year is the Horse Nations Indian Relay Council, which is hosting its first championship at MetraPark. It's dubbed the Championship of Champions.

The organization is made up of people who defected from the previous operator, the Professional Indian Horse Racing Association. That group closed up shop amid accusations that its president, Gary Fellers, failed to pay vendors, teams and other contractors.

The MetraPark and PIHRA dissolved an ongoing contract earlier this year. PIHRA's website says it's selling off web assets.

Ghost Bear was one of those PIHRA defectors. His new organization inked a one-year deal with MetraPark in June.

He said that the people overseeing this weekend's event are the same who worked previous years. It's the management that's changed.

“I think that it’s horse racing," Ghost Bear said. "There may be some different agenda items and pre-race activities, but for the most part we’ve got more teams and more nations involved this year.”

He said the Horse Nations Indian Relay Council has 48 member teams, and as many as 46 teams could show for the races.

Races on Friday and Saturday lead into the Sunday event, where $50,000 in prize money will be up for grabs.

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.