Growing up in upstate New York, my dad and I would go to the Saratoga Races every August. There’s nothing like watching your horse come around the final turn, battling for the lead. So events like this weekend’s Preakness Stakes always bring back some very cool memories.
But horses aren’t the only animals with a racing tradition. Here are ten examples.
1. Calaveras County Jumping Frogs
These high-jumping amphibians, made famous by Mark Twain, are actually battling it out right now. The Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee began on Thursday. If you hurry, you may still be able to get a bet in.
2. Ostrich Festival Races (Chandler, Arizona)
Did you know Ostriches can exceed speeds of 40 miles per hour? The good folks of Chandler, Arizona, do. I’d love to see this one, just to see what kind of wacky jockey decides to sit on an Ostrich. I’m thinking there may be alcohol involved.
3. Armadillo Races (Edgewood, Texas)
Imagine little round knights in not-so-shiny armor, racing around a dirt track. Sounds kinda cute. Although I’ve read they grow to 2 1/2 feet. That’s considerably less cute. Armadillo racing became popular in Texas in the 1970s, and the Armadillo World Headquarters is in Austin. (You heard me…the Armadillo World Headquarters.) Guess they’re mighty proud of their armored mammals down in Texas.
4. Camel Races (Virginia City, Nevada)
You wouldn’t think there would be camel races in the United States. Then again, we do have a big desert, so why not? The Virginia City Camel Races are a nostalgic reminder of the Comstock Lode, the first large discovery of silver ore in the U.S., when I suppose they used Camels to transport the silver. According to the official website, they also race ostriches and emus, because that’s how they roll in Nevada.
5. Cockroach Races
This is one of the slimier races I’ve come across. The annual cockroach races are held by the entomology club at Iowa State University. And if you’ve ever hung out with the members of the Iowa Stae Entomology Club, you know this is one rockin’ event. They also put on
something called the Insect Horror Film Festival, which features gourmet insect tastings. Who says there’s nothing to do in Iowa in October?
6. Lizard Races (Lovington, New Mexico)
How do you celebrate the 4th of July, with fireworks? How last season. The folks in Lovington, New Mexico, like a few lizard races with their barbeque. The Chaparral Park speedway is apparently the world’s premiere mini-reptile racetrack (Go USA!). And there’s a colorful history to the event, as well.
At the inaugural race in 1976, the lizards, frightened by the big crowds and flashbulbs, apparently started to eat each other (you can’t make this stuff up).
Modifications to the track and crowd placement have decreased the reptile carnage in recent years. But there’s always a chance one of the little guys will go all Godzilla on the competition.
7. Wiener Dog Races (Buda, Texas)
Who doesn’t love wiener dogs? Not only do they look great dressed up for Halloween, but you can also make a little extra cash with them at the track. Head down to Buda, Texas, in April, and you’ll enjoy the annual wiener dog race (and parade!), as well as the yearly chili cookoff.
8. Lobster Races (Aiken, South Carolina)
You would think an annual lobster race would be held in Maine, but the city of Aiken, South Carolina, has been racin’ crustaceans – that’s right, the Aiken racin’ crustaceans – since 1985 as a spoof of the Kentucky Derby. This year’s race, which just happened a couple weeks ago, drew close to 10,000 fans.
9. 4th of July Celebration & Porcupine Race (Council, Idaho)
Squeeze this one in between visits to the Potato Museum and Philo Farnsworth’s home. The race is held each year for charity, but I’m sure
a few dollars need to be taken out for bandaids, just in case any participants make their way into the crowd.
10. Great Alaskan Pig Races
And we end our collection of Great American Animal Races in the 49th state. Why race pigs in Alaska, you ask? If you had to pick something other than dog sled teams, you’d think moose, or elk. Something that represents the state, right? At least, I did. But Alaskans appear to prefer pigs. They’re quick little guys, too. And in these races, there are hurdles. I may need to find a Vegas sports book that takes pork action.
On most days of the year, Jason Pfafman is a mild-mannered computer engineer for Intel in Seattle.
But once a year, he and his family come to Virginia City to be camel jockeys and take on “feather backing,” as they call riding an ostrich. He leaned as far forward as he could, flattening his body to the camel to win one heat Friday.
“It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s certainly not the kind of thing people back at work would believe,” Pfafman said.
From far and wide, as a television sportscaster might say, a crowd of 5,000 or more is expected for the 50th year of International Camel Races at Virginia City.
The Aussies are here. Champion jockeys Shorty Smith, from Tasmania, and Ian Rowan, from Alice Springs, Australia, are here to compete for the International Cup on Sunday. The cup is traded between the winner at Virginia City and Alice Springs, which had its 38th annual race this year. There is no prize money. Just a cup.
Surrounding Alice Springs in the middle of the Australian desert are more than a million feral camels. Many more were born this year because of rainy weather, Rowan said.
In Alice Springs, wild camels are captured and trained to race when they’re young. They’re bigger and stronger than the domesticated animals raced at Virginia City, he said. And they also are used for safaris to the Outback.
In Virginia City, the stock comes from Joe Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas. In addition to camels and ostriches, he has brought emus and a zebra. Children take to the field to race with the emus.
You can’t exactly say it’s the 50th annual camel race in Virginia City. But it’s the 50th year since the first race.
And it was a hoax. Bob Richards, now deceased, a reporter from the Territorial Enterprise, made up a story about camel racing on the Comstock in 1959 that was picked up by the news wires. Soon, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Phoenix Sun challenged each other to a real race, and that’s how it began.
John Huston, in Reno to direct “The Misfits,” was an original camel jockey while Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe watched.
For a couple of years after that, no race occurred because of lack of interest, a lack of camels and a lack of funding, said Joe Curtis, who owns the Mark Twain Bookstore.
The camel jockeys come back year after year to race and volunteer in putting on the event, said Kristy Bond, 47, a fire captain from Mt. Shasta, Calif., who sported a hat with feathers. Many camp right next to the racetrack.
Bond considers racing the ultimate challenge of balance.
Karla Burrell, owner of Silver Sadie’s Old Time Photo in Virginia City, has been riding for eight years now.
“It’s an adrenaline rush like no other,” she said.
Linda Conroy of Carson City attended her first race Friday as a spectator.
“It was great,” she said, saying her favorite moment was watching an ostrich run in circles.
“I liked the little Australian dude,” said her husband Steve, in watching Shorty Smith.
When was the last time you witnessed a camel or ostrich race? If you haven’t yet experienced it, you must make it a point to attend this hilarious and unpredictable event. A Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival tradition for years, camel and ostrich races continue to captivate audiences with their crazy riders and unexpected animal behavior.
Did you know that the ostrich is the largest bird on earth today and the only two-toed bird on earth? African natives use ostrich eggs as canteens! Don’t believe the myth that ostriches stick their heads in the sand when frightened. One fact, however, that is true, is this birds’ ability to run at very high speeds in excess of 40 MPH. At that speed, it’s a good thing that ostriches have excellent eyesight, and it makes for more excitement at the races!
Camels are fun to watch too, but they have more important uses to Bedouin people, who say that the camel gives the local tribesman his mobility as well as his beast of burden. He can ride it to his date garden, to a distant market, a port – or for fun, such as in the traditional races.
Although JOMP is not a fan of any kind of animal racing events… these are always interesting races!!
Quite a crowd for the Prairie Camel and Ostrich Races in August 2009
Posted: Just One More Pet