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July 19, 2012
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Ostrich and camel races

By Jared Curtis

Tom 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 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 year.”

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 riders.

“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 story.

“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 cool experience.”

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 hold them.”

Although racing takes place weekly at Prairie Meadows, Coady believes you won’t find a more unique racing experience any other time of the year.

“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

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