In camel race, reporter loses to the barefoot bandit |

In camel race, reporter loses to the barefoot bandit

Teri Vance
Brade Emmans of Carson City rides an ostrich in Virginia City during the annual International Camel and Ostrich Races.
Shannon Litz/ | Nevada Appeal File Photo

Not only did I lose, I lost to a first-timer wearing shorts and no shoes.

Josh Ashby of Getaway Reno Tahoe said he thought that was the secret to his success.

“It had to be my barefootness,” said Ashby, who had worn flip-flops to the event, not planning to race.

Ashby was one of several newcomers to the Media Grudge Match of the International Camel and Ostrich Races in Virginia City on Friday.

Before the races, Joe Hedrick, owner of Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm in Kansas, warned riders of the potential hazards of climbing atop the beasts of burden that weigh anywhere between 900 to 1,700 pounds. Hedrick supplies the camels, ostriches, emus and zebras for the races.

“I have some of the best camels in the country, but they’re still animals,” he explained. “The camels will have more control than you will, and they have an attitude of their own. We don’t need any wusses here.”

The warning made Scott Oxarart, outdoors editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal, a little apprehensive. But he felt brave enough to conquer it.

“I used to be afraid of riding horses, but I got over that a few months ago,” he said. “I’m more excited. I watched the camel races when I was a kid, but I never thought I’d get the opportunity to ride one.”

The first camel races were devised in 1866 by sportsmen and miners, who used the dromedaries to transport salt to the Comstock mills.

How many other races were run is not documented, but they did not extend past 1875, when the Legislature outlawed camels because they scared horses. The idea was reborn in 1959, when Territorial Enterprise Editor Bob Richards wrote a spoof of the races.

He published the results of a fictional camel race and, while locals took it tongue-in-cheek, the wire services picked it up, and the story went nationwide.

The following year, Richards was challenged by the San Francisco Chronicle, which had taken his article seriously. As legend has it, they leased camels from the San Francisco Zoo, then raced down C Street. The event gained immediate fame because Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, who were nearby filming “The Misfits,” joined director John Huston for a day at the races.

Since then, it has become an annual event, with the international championships being held every other year, alternating with Alice Springs, Australia.

This marks the 10th year I’ve raced in the Media Grudge Match. Sometimes I have a lot of competitors, like Friday. Other years, I’m the only one who shows up. But I always say, since I’m the one writing the story, I can make it seem like I won — Mark Twain style.

This year, that’s going to be hard to do. Unless I just say I came in first … first loser.