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Ryan Sherman has the body of a linebacker, but horse racing is definitely in his blood.

The 25-year-old Sherman, whose family has been a part of the horse racing scene in Billings dating back to the mid-1950s, is the new racing secretary at Yellowstone Downs.

“My dad’s uncle Frank has been training here forever and his son Skip was the director of racing in Great Falls, too,” observed Sherman. “I’ve got family that’s been in (racing) for as long as I can remember.”

Sherman, a native of Worden, is currently the Cascade County horse racing manager and director of racing at Charlie Russell Downs in Great Falls. The horse racing season will wrap up in the Electric City this weekend.

The race meet at the MetraPark facility in Billings will run for 10 days between Aug. 25 and Sept. 16.

While assisting at Yellowstone Downs, Sherman will divide his time between Great Falls and Billings. His main responsibility at Yellowstone Downs is to fill 10 to 12 races for each race day.

“I consider this my favorite place,” Sherman said of the Billings track. “I have special ties to Great Falls because I am the manager, but I’ve always loved to come down to Billings. I’m just glad to help out.”

Having the Sherman surname on his resume no doubt caught the attention of the Yellowstone Horse Racing Alliance.

“That surely didn’t hurt at all,” said Ben Carlson, director of racing at Yellowstone Downs. “He’s also a younger fellow with new blood, new ideas.”

Sherman’s father Pat has helped at the Great Falls track in the past, serving as custodian of the jockey’s room and clerk of scales. Ryan Sherman can recall working in the jockey’s room at age 12 before moving on to operating the starting gates in both Great Falls and Billings.

“He’s just got a lot of knowledge,” Bambi Dalke, the horsemen’s bookkeeper at Yellowstone Downs, said of Sherman. “He’s a been there, done that, kind of guy and that’s what we need.”

Sherman, who also worked at tracks in Idaho, Wyoming and Arizona in recent years, has gone through the race track industry program in Arizona. He landed a job at Arlington Park in Chicago, but felt the smaller-market tracks – like Great Falls and Billings – deserved his attention.

“That’s my home,” he said. “That’s the kind of racing I know.”

Sherman moved to Great Falls in 1986 – and his football physique isn’t misleading. He was a starting outside linebacker at Great Falls Russell during his junior and senior year and played one year of college football at Carroll College in Helena.

Horse racing, however, has been the real constant in his life.

“I can remember when I was four or five years old coming here to the horse races (in Billings) with my dad,” said Sherman. “I kind of view it as addicting. Whether you are an owner or a bettor, whatever, you come to the races once and it kind of gets into your blood. After that, you’re hooked.”

At Great Falls, Sherman spearheaded some aggressive recruiting of horses from Washington state and neighboring Canada. He said he counted 415 horses on the backside of the Great Falls track last week.

“We’ve had maybe three or four (races) where we’ve been less than seven head,” Sherman said. “That’s a major improvement from the past.”

The recent closing of Playfair in Spokane, Wash., might also mean potential larger fields of horses for Billings.

“It has really got us on an upbeat note down here,” Dalke said, referring to a possible backside bursting with horses. “We’ve contacted and are still contacting the Washington people to tell them we’ve got a place to run, the purses are good and to come over and have some fun.”

“That’s what we did in Great Falls,” said Sherman. “Basically we had nothing to lose … just stick all the cards out on the table. It’s worked out for us so far.”

Sherman is personable in his approach to racing.

“I like to interact with the public and the horsemen,” he said. “I liked to have (horse racing) viewed as a family affair. This is probably the cheapest, most exciting form of sports that’s out there.”

He also sees a future for the sport.

“I’ve been telling the media in Great Falls (horse racing) is kind of on an upswing,” said Sherman. “With the state doing away with the workman’s comp it’s more affordable for a horseman to come and run. I think that’s why we’re seeing an increase in the number of horses in Great Falls.”

The county and city jointly stepped in this year to keep horse racing going in Great Falls. The Yellowstone Horse Racing Alliance, a group of private citizens, has run Yellowstone Downs for the past four years.

Both tracks – much like the overall industry – have struggled through some tough times. Sherman, however, believes horse racing deserves a chance to survive and shouldn’t be written off.

“We’re bringing business into the community,” he said.

Great Falls (with 11 racing days) and Billings (10) have the largest race meets in the state. Cooperation between the two is key if both tracks are to keep racing, Sherman said.

“That’s what I’ve been pushing to the local people in Great Falls,” he said. “Billings people have supported us so well we need to come down and support them.”

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