Fair grounds goes wild with camels, zebras and ostriches


Jockey Tavis Smith competes in the camel race atop MikeMikeMikeWhatDayIsIt. The race at the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots was one of three exotic animal races alongside 9 thoroughbred races.

Andrew Lang

The Fair Grounds were filled with thousands of fans hotly anticipating a race of the world’s largest birds. Capable of speeds up to 40 mph in the wild, the ostriches were the climax of the exotic animals. Five birds darted down the track that was usually occupied by horses. Crashes took out two of the five competitors. As Flock Star Racer quickly separated from the pack and held his lead by several lengths, jockey Jorge Monserate took his second win of the day, the first having been atop the camel Wins-day.Rather than exclusively trotting out the horses, the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots went wild and featured some abnormal offerings with three exotic animal races alongside nine thoroughbred races Saturday, Jan. 26. The unusual race offerings featured camels, zebras and ostriches.

People came in droves to see the races. Between 12,000 to 15,000 people attended, according to Senior Director of Marketing Mark Connor’s estimate.

While the usual bettors and spectators came out, this event was targeted at bringing in families and other people who weren’t usual attendees of the horse races, according to Conner. In an effort to do just that, the event also featured three inflatable bounce houses.

There was no betting on the exotic animal races with the Fair Grounds, however the Fair Grounds did encourage “side bets.” It worked for psychology junior Lowell Smith, who won $5 in a bet with a friend.

The zebra race ended up being the most chaotic with three of the four racers crashing, which Smith thoroughly enjoyed.

“The zebras made me concerned for their species in the wild,” Smith said.

Former Loyola mass communication major Caleb Beck said the zebra race was his favorite of the three because of the chaos.

“As much as I enjoyed (the ostrich race), the zebras was a s— show that was dysfunctional from the moment it started,” Beck said.

Some families, however, left early in part due to the chilly weather after the sun went down. It was close to 50 degrees, but felt colder with wind chill by 6:30 p.m. and the ostriches had yet to race. Brad Hayes, who came with his wife and two children, lamented they didn’t start the event at 12 p.m. like they start some races, but rather 3 p.m.

“Now here we are at 6:30, 7 and we are all freezing our butts off. And it was a beautiful day, you know, and they could have run a little earlier,” Hayes said.

Hayes also struggled with getting his kids a good view due to the crowds.

“With this last one, the zebras, we literally could not even see it, because the crowd was so huge and everyone was standing on the tables and standing on the rails,” Hayes said. “And, of course, they are like 3 feet tall and we were trying to lift them up and stuff and we literally could not see a thing.”

Fans came up with the names of the racers through a Facebook competition. Every single race featured an animal with a joke about the missed call in the NFC championship between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. RefereeCatcher represented the camels, ImNotAnNFLRef represented the camels and OstracizedNFLRefs represented the ostriches.

Only one racer, Jermal Landry, went for the trifecta and rode on one of each animal. Landry ended up taking the victory riding ImNotAnNFLRef in the zebra race after being the only competitor not to wipe out. He said his winning strategy was to “hold on.”