Ostriches, camels race for glory at Fair Grounds


Catharine Fennell | Contributing Photographer

A professional jockey races an ostrich across the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots, located in Mid-City, has been working tirelessly to attract more families and attendees to join in the fun of racing. Last Friday night’s program was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Instead of putting its head in the sand, Fair Grounds introduced Exotic Racing, an event in which camels and ostriches race with professional jockeys.

Taking place from 5-10 p.m., Exotic Racing featured two ostrich races and a camel race along with a night of regularly scheduled horse races. Betting was not available for the non-regularly programmed events, as these new events were merely intended to introduce audience members to the fun of racing.

“The goal was to create some fun, novel events to expose new-to-racing and younger folks to the sport,” Fair Grounds Marketing Director Mark Conner said.

With a ruffle of feathers and a screaming crowd of enthused viewers, the ostriches broke out of the gate, surprising many with the speed of their gaits. The flightless birds can reach up to 40 mile per hour speeds on foot.

The camels were less speedy but equally flightless. The humped creatures took their time, trotting along the raceway, seemingly unaware that they were participating in a competition.

Joe Hedrick, who owns an exotic animal farm, supplied the animals for the event. Fair Grounds uses professional jockeys on top of the animals, and competition is for fun.

According to Hedrick’s website, the animals are licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture and are fully insured:

“The animals of Hedrick’s Promotions, Inc. are part of the family. They are hand-raised on Hedrick Exotic Animal Farm and Bed and Breakfast in Nickerson, Kansas. People are invited to come to the farm for a tour or stay the night in one of the animal themed and beautifully decorated suites.”

Despite the light-hearted intentions of the event, some consider animal racing inhumane. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals takes issue with this type of novelty program, calling it unethical.

“Ostrich and camel races are archaic and cruel, and they pose dangers to human participants and animals alike,” Delcianna Winders, PETA Foundation vice president and deputy general counsel, said. “A person jumping onto an ostrich must seem like a pouncing predator to these sensitive birds, who are scared and make a frantic attempt to flee what they probably think is certain death … These events make a spectacle of animal suffering and have no place in 2017.”

Several of the jockeys fell off of the ostriches during the race and at one point an ostrich tumbled to the ground, as can be seen below:

This is not the first time Fair Grounds has held Exotic Racing in addition to a number of other novelty programs such as weiner dog and zebra racing. The space is also used for weddings, concerts, festivals and movie productions and is the location for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

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