Find horse racing a little too tame for you adrenaline junkie blood? Then maybe you need a wilder, bumpier ride, which can be found at the Virginia City International Camel Races, in Nevada. There are two more days left to catch the event, Sept. 8 and Sept. 9.
If camels aren't your thing, don't worry. Ostriches and emus will be hitting the racetrack too.
Joke to Reality
The history behind the Virginia City Camel Races goes back 53 years and had a silly start. What began as a fictitious newspaper story, written in 1959 by The Territorial Enterprise editor Bob Richards, of camel racing 100 years prior morphed in one year into an actual event.
Taking a shine to the idea behind his hoax, Richards decided to honor the 100th anniversary of the day the military brought the first camel to the American West. His first challenge was only answered by three western businesses who rented camels from the San Francisco Zoo. The victor was movie director John Huston -- of "The Maltese Falcon" and "The African Queen" fame -- competing as a jockey for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Now tens of thousands of visitors have come to the event and the 2011 race was won by an Australian. Ostrich races were added to the event in 1962.
These days Joe Hedrick, of Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm, supplies the exotic rides. Hedrick runs a bed and breakfast on his farm in Nickerson, Kan., but his animals spend a lot of time on the road. The petting zoo spent the past weekend in Pittsburgh, Pa., before heading to Virginia City.
In addition to camels and ostriches, Hedrick also has kangaroos, goats, giraffes and zebras.
What It Takes to Ride
Most of the jockeys come from the International Order of Camel Jockeys, which boasts a membership of 200. But you can still scratch camel and ostrich racing off your bucket lest while in Virginia City -- if you have the cash. The two most expensive sponsorship packages, priced at $500 and $250 each, include sponsoring a jockey in the camel race. The $500 package will also get you into the ostrich race.
Money doesn't trump safety though. No new riders hit the track before passing a class given by Hedrick an hour before the race starts. All jockeys, new and professional, must sign a waiver and release of liabilities. Makes sense, after watching video of the 2009 camel races and 2010 ostrich races.
The camel races will be held behind Silverland Inn & Suites on E Street. Gates open at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with the races starting at 1 p.m. Sunday gates open at 10 a.m., with events kicking off at noon.
Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for seniors, active military personnel and children ages five to 12. Family deals are available for $30, and include two adults and two children. VIP tickets are $40 per person and include shaded seating, a meal and a drink.
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