Anderson runs along side a racing ostrich.
The Camel and Ostrich races take place on
Sunday, July 22 with a 1 p.m. post time.
For more information, visit www.prairiemeadows.com.
Photo by Jack Coady
Horses take a back seat to unique racing experience
From April through October, Prairie Meadows
Racetrack and Casino provides central Iowans
with plenty of heart-pounding action as live
thoroughbred and quarter horse racing takes
over the track. But another race during the
season draws quite a bit of fanfare, and it
has nothing to do with horses — it’s all about
camels and ostriches.
“We’ve held the camel and ostrich races every
year since 2007,” said Mary Lou Coady, media
relations for Prairie Meadows Racetrack and
Casino. “People really enjoyed it the first
couple years, so we keep bringing it back. It’s
turned into one of our biggest events of the
On Sunday, July 22, during two exhibition races,
fans can watch riders as they race two unlikely
species — camels and ostriches.
“Each race is a much shorter distance, only
like 40 or 50 yards,” Coady said. “At the end
of the ostrich race, there is a big net at the
end so they slow down. But one year, an ostrich
got past the net and just kept running. It ran
all away around the track, and as it came around
the corner to the finish, the bugler started
playing the theme to ‘Rocky’ and the crowd loved
it. It usually makes for a pretty comical event.”
Out of the two animals, Coady believes the ostriches
are the toughest to ride.
“The riders on the ostriches have a tough time
because their backs are not flat. They put a
little saddle on them, but they are teetering
back and forth, making it difficult to hang
on,” Coady said. “And they like to dump their
“The camel riders have it a little easier because
they have a better seat, but it’s still not
like riding a horse,” Coady said. “If I had
to choose one to ride, it would be the camel.”
Tom Anderson, one of the riders in years past,
has taken on the challenge of riding both animals.
“It’s kind of hard to explain, but riding a
camel feels like riding a wave,” said Anderson,
an exercise rider (a person who rides the horses
to keep them in shape between races), at Prairie
Meadows. “They have a weird motion, but they
are pretty calm.”
Anderson says riding an ostrich is a different
“The ostriches run on their own regardless if
you’re trying to control them or not,” Anderson
said. “I came close to finishing the race on
an ostrich a few years ago, but I slid off the
side. I tried to swing back up on it but couldn’t
make it. So I ran beside it to the finish line.
The crowd loved it, and it was definitely a
The event is free, but anyone under 21 is required
to have an adult present. Get there early because
the stands fill up quickly.
“We have a lot of traffic for these races, and
people get here early because they want a good
spot,” Coady said. “These races are so popular
we usually have people calling in January or
February wanting to know when were going to
Although racing takes place weekly at Prairie
Meadows, Coady believes you won’t find a more
unique racing experience any other time of the
“The event is a lot of fun for the entire family,
and it’s a great way to get outside and enjoy
the beautiful weather,” she said. “Every year
it’s a crowd pleaser, and the fans love it.
Plus, how often do you get to see ostriches
and camels racing?” CV