Virginia City International Camel Races
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Anybody who cannot imagine Australia, Saudi Arabia, India, Egypt, Mongolia and Virginia City sharing a common passion must not know much - if anything at all - about camel racing.

A camel race is not about speed.  While capable of short 40 mph dashes, camels are more comfortable traveling at 25 mph, which makes them better suited for residential areas than for the racetrack. Combine that with ADD, a reluctance to work under supervision from a jockey and being unpredictably excitable, and you have the perfect entertainment for people with a taste for the bizarre and an appreciation for the unexpected; regular humans, in other words.

 

Every September, regular humans from all corners of the earth gather in Virginia City for the International Camel Races, a tradition born out of another Virginia City tradition that dates back to Mark Twain's days as a reporter for the local Territorial Enterprise, which is, to create the news after it has been published.

 

A hoax by another Territorial Enterprise employee - editor Bob Richards' fictitious account of the city's camel races in 1959 - was answered by the residents of Virginia City with a real camel race a year later. It was won by movie director John Huston on a camel borrowed from the San Francisco Zoo.

Today the camels are supplied by Joe Hedrick's Exotic Animal Farm in Hutchinson, Kansas, where something as tall as a camel can be seen for hundreds of miles. Joe Hedrick himself emcees the pandemonium, a job that will make any lesser man age years within those three days it lasts. Particularly since the camel races are complemented with racing ostriches, emus, chicken and zebras that must have watched a lot of camels race to learn how to do it themselves and then add their own particular incompatibilities to a job they were never meant for. It's a riot!

Hedrick describes riding an ostrich to be as tough as it gets. It's like sitting on a giant football and balance becomes really important. The ostriches confirmed that statement during the races by separating from their jockeys faster than any other species present at this event. No wonder the ostrich pilots looked happier than anybody else when they made it across the finish line while still sitting on the bird.

Attaching a chariot to an ostrich does not completely solve the jockey separation issue. Clumsy bird steering - which is done with a broom - can lead to an unexpected change in

 
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