Monday, August 6, 2012


Not all of Montana's great athletes have been human. As we continue our look at sports history, let's remember a four-legged champion...

Noah Armstrong made a fortune in the Glendale mines southwest of Butte. He had a ranch in Madison County where he built a beautiful three-story round barn. If you drive along the highway near Twin Bridges in Madison County, you can see it off the highway. Its board-and-batten walls are painted red, and its shape is like a wedding cake, with each story smaller than the one below it.

Photo by Tom Ferris in Hand Raised: The Barns of Montana.
This barn is famous as the birthplace of the only Montana horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Armstrong invested some of his wealth in raising and racing thoroughbreds. In 1887 the famous racehorse Spokane was born in Armstrong’s round barn. A quarter-mile track inside the barn was the colt’s first training ground. Armstrong sent him to Tennessee for further training. In 1889 when Spokane was three, Armstrong entered him in the fifteenth Kentucky Derby. Spokane had only run a few undistinguished races. Bookies overlooked him at six to one odds, favoring the famous Proctor Knott, a proven winner who already had brought his owner seventy thousand dollars. That day at Churchill Downs, thousands witnessed the little copper-colored horse from Montana make racing history. He passed Proctor Knott at the finish line. Spokane went on to win two more big races: the American Derby at Churchill Downs and the Clark Stakes in Chicago, beating the mighty Proctor Knott both times. No other three-year-old horse has ever won all three great races. Spokane lives on in the annals of racing history.

From Montana Moments: History on the Go

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