Published September 14, 2012
If you find horse racing a little dull, there's a place where you can see camels, ostriches and zebras hit the race course.
The 53rd annual International Camel Races in Virginia City, Nevada recently hosted its annual event, which has become a perennial favorite for locals and tourists, alike.
“I think it’s awesome! It’s the only thing like it in the world!” said Dawn Skiles first time visitor to the camel races.
Tens of thousands came out to watch people ride these exotic animals race around the track at this historic mining town located about 40 miles south of Reno.
“Expect the unexpected. That’s what happens in Virginia City at the Camel and Ostrich Races,”said Joe Hendrick the emcee at the event.
The event began in 1959 when the local paper decided to make up some news about fake camel racing results in the city.
“It was a big joke to start with and they kept going with it ever since,”said camel and ostrich jockey Kristy Bond.
Camels rush out of the gates and run around the U-shaped track until they get to the finish line. However, occasionally the camels decide not to follow the direction of the jockeys. Ostriches, zebra, emus and other animals have their own races too--all with unexpected results.
“Sometimes the camels come out and go half way down the track and turn around and go back to see where they’ve been and turn around and go back. The races are really unpredictable to see what they’re going to do,”said Hendrick.
Trainers say that the camels are very similar to horses who have a variety of personalities and are easy to train. The best way to ride is by keeping the body straight up and down and holding on tight to the hair on the hump.
“It’s the same principle to riding a horse, you just kind of sit up there and ride,”said camel trainer and jockey AJ Augosto.
Camel Racing is a popular sport in the Middle East and South Asia in countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt, but is still lesser known in the U.S.
If you're looking for a chance to race one of these animals, you may be out of luck. The camels can reach speeds up to 40 mph, and most of the jockeys are professional racers from the International Order of Camel Jockeys. Ostriches, too require training and exceptional balance, since their bodies rotate like a football. The birds can run about 25-30mph with a person on their back.
But visitors can still get up close the animals for a pet or two.
The camels and other animals come from Hendrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas, which has been doing the Camel and Ostrich races for over 25 years.
“We have an exotic animal petting zoos we have pig races and the camel and ostrich races and about 70 camels at home,” said Hendrick.
But not everyone finds the event a form of entertainment. Animal right groups, such PETA, have protested the event saying that animal racing is cruel. That hasn’t had an impact on the show, and camels will return next year to race.
“It’s definitely a fun event, and the people here are so nice. They treat you well and it’s a nice community and it’s definitely worth coming to,”said Brian Joyce participant in the Camel Races.