Camels come racing back to Virginia City |

Camels come racing back to Virginia City

Team Nevada Appeal's Taylor Pettaway takes a practice lap Wednesday with the help of President of the International Order of Camel Jockeys Mike Jennings at the camel race arena in Virginia City. Gates open at 10am and racing starts at high noon Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Brad Coman | Nevada Appeal

Virginia City has created a new events venue and fairground, just in time for the 56th International Camel and Ostrich Races this weekend.

The new complex, located off of F Street just south of the train depot, is bigger and better than the old space used. Members of the County Commissioners, the Virginia City Director of Tourism and other members of the community gathered at the new venue Wednesday to officially christen it.

“This is the 56th year of races and this has been all over town from C Street to the temporary location arena and it has just grown so it is time for a new, long-term home,” said Director of Tourism Deny Dotson. “This is a historic day for Virginia City.”

Virginia’s famous figure Outlaw Dave raised the flags at the arena and Marshall McBride, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, broke a champagne bottle on the fence around the arena to christen the spot.

“I tried to convince them that we should just fill the bottle with water and save the champagne,” McBride joked.

McBride said this new venue will bring a lot of new tourism to Virginia City because it can now add new events at the new fairgrounds such as concerts and motorcycle races, in addition to the famous Camel and Ostrich Races.

“It opens a new chapter to have larger events here,” McBride said. “(It) can bring in new and different events.”

The old events ground, located on E Street behind the Silver Land Hotel, held the Camel and Ostrich Races for 25 years, but McBride said it was a difficult area because it was only accessible by a large staircase, so it wasn’t accessible for older or handicapped people, and it made getting vendors in and out of the arena difficult. Officials hope with this new fairground, it would be easier because it’s on flat land, there’s a large area for parking and there’s room to expand and grow.

The Camel and Ostrich races originally started as a joke, 56 years ago, when the editor of the Territorial Enterprise wrote a spoof article telling people to bring their fastest camel to C Street to race. The story got picked up by the Associated Press, said Dotson, and a San Francisco paper ran it and the story goes there were some fast camels in the San Francisco Zoo that could race.

This year, the races will be Friday through Sunday at the new fairgrounds and will feature races, raffles and local vendors. The races will be each day starting at noon, followed by a camel hump walk through C Street.

“This is unique, there is no race in the country that comes close to these ones,” Monty McClurg said. “I have a lot of fun here, and I am working it and still have fun.”

The camels, ostriches, emus and zebras will be raced by jockeys and sponsors during the races.

Mike Jennings is one of the jockeys in the races this weekend, and he knows what he’s doing. He has been riding camels since he was seven years old and has come from a long line of generations of camel jockeys. His advice for camel riding: hang on.

Tickets for the races start at $15 for Friday and Sunday and $18 for Saturday for general admission with in-arena and VIP seating available. To purchase tickets online visit Parking at the event is $5 but parking throughout town is free and there’s going to be a shuttle service available.