Yes, you read correctly, camel racing….and it all supposedly started with a slow week of news in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1957.
history legend tells it, the then editor of Nevada’s first newspaper, the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, Bob Richards, invented a story about camel races that were supposed to take place on Labor Day of that year, as a way to escape the boredom of a slow news week. Apparently, there were follow up stories and then, just days befor the event was to take place, it was cancelled for some reason. He apparently enjoyed his prank on the people, as he reportedly ran similar stories in 1958, and again in 1959, always finding some reason to cancel the races at the last minute.
In early August 1960, the now annual story ran again, this time with an entry deadline of late August. Shortly before the deadline, the paper enthusiastically reported that this year there really were camels coming with entries from the Phoenix Gazette, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Indio J.C’s.
In that part of the country to film “The Misfits”, with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, movie producer John Houston rode the Gazette’s entry to an easy victory, one of which was ridden by legendary jockey, Billy Pearson. According to the offical program guide for this years race, the reason for the convincing win was one of the camels never left the starting gate and the other decided to take a tour through Piper’s Opera House on B Street. Supposedly 8000 people came out to watch that first race and it has been happening ever since.
I’d never heard of camel racing before, so seeing as I was in Reno for the Great Reno Balloon Race anyways, and Virginia City is only 30 miles from Reno, it was a great event to check out after the hot air balloon launch in the morning. Admission wasn’t terrible, $12 for adults/$8 for seniors, military, and kids ages 5-12 – definitely worth it for a couple of hours of watching people race exotic animals as it’s definitely unpredictable – if you don’t believe me, just ask the kid on the ostrich that decided halfway through the race to go into a tight spin until the rider came off and then kept spinning.
In addition to camel racing, there is ostrich racing (riders can weigh no more than 150 lbs though the birds are capable of carrying a much heavier rider), emu racing, ostrich chariot racing, and for the first time, zebra racing made an appearance at this year’s event.
For more information on Virginia City’s Camel Races, please visit http://www.visitvirginiacitynv.com/events/major-special-events.html