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Fur, feathers, humps and stripes


There is no wagering on these exhibition races. The whole family — all ages — is welcome to enjoy these entertaining and unpredictable festivities.

There is no wagering on these exhibition races. The whole family — all ages — is welcome to enjoy these entertaining and unpredictable festivities.

A day at the races means fun in the sun, checking out the equestrian athletes showing off their speed. As the horses get near the finish line, you can also feel the reverberation of the air and the ground in your chest.

Now imagine substituting a striped ass, hunchback and a modern day velociraptor for the horses. Add in some family time. Remove the gambling. And make it a 40-yard dash. Now you’ve got yourself one hell of a shake-up.

“All ages love this event, and we get requests all through the year asking when we’re going to have these exotic animals back at Prairie Meadows,” said Mary Lou Coady, media relations specialist at Prairie Meadows.

Flowing ostrich plums once decked the helmets of gallant knights and the hats of cavaliers. At the turn of the century, women wore their feathers for fashion apparel. Now they are spotted here and there usurping the track, and, according to many observers, the race is far more exciting and fascinating to watch.

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Check out Sahara Jessica Parker, a leggy female ostrich hailing from New Jersey, who will be prepping for her third race at Prairie Meadows.

The head-in-the-ground bird is controlled by means of reins and a small bit that fits in the mouth. Special saddles fit tightly around the ostrich’s body to keep riders aboard — sort of.

“It’s a wild ride, even though the races are fairly short,” said Coady. “It’s more difficult to ride the ostriches, because they are outfitted with very small saddles. There isn’t much to hang on to, so it’s common to see at least one or two ‘ostrich jockeys’ fall off the big birds.”

On the slower side, you’ll find the zebras.

“When I was a young child, my mother articulated that zebras were just horses wearing pajamas,” Coady said.

A quick search on the Internet will find numerous videos that back this up.

“This year’s zebra to beat is ‘Big Al’ Catraz, whose distinguishing marks are his ‘stripes,’ ” Coady said. “ ‘Big Al’ busted loose to steal victory in the Sing Sing Stakes against heavy favorite Stan Quentin in upstate New York over the Memorial Weekend.”

Lastly there’s the spit-on-your-neck and stubborn character of the camel, which it turns out is mostly myth. Sure these animals grunt and wine when loading or standing up, but what living thing doesn’t? Trainers say camels are very similar to horses — they have a variety of personalities and are easy to train.

That being said, there is always the possibility for some unpredictability.

Sheik Yerbooty is a male camel weighing in at 950 pounds. The Sheik’s recent triumph in the Turban Trot was a far cry from his last place showing at the Burqa Desert Classic, said Coady. CV     

David Rowley is an Iowa native with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Iowa and a master’s in film journalism from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Zebra, Camel & Ostrich Races
Sunday, July 20
Live racing post time 1 p.m.


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