You may have cheered for brave little guys and girls mutton-busting at the rodeo, or watched dog racing at Mile High Greyhound Park, but chances are pretty good that you're never seen ostriches saddled up and racing around a ring.
That sporty void can be filled when the Rocky Mountain Ostrich Festival returns to the Douglas County Fairgrounds this June 21 through 23.
"It's a pretty specialized thing, but it's definitely entertaining," says Craig Kimmel, owner of CK Event Enterprise, the event-management company producing the Castle Rock festival. A smaller-scale version of the event, put on by local ostrich ranchers, ended in 1999.
With three or four ostrich races each day, spectators can see everything from bareback ostrich riding to chariot-style ostrich racing. "It's like the old Ben Hur days, except with ostriches," says Randy Fleming, owner of the Sand Creek Ostrich Ranch in Elizabeth, which has about forty ostriches. One thing to be alert for: This member of the ratite bird family doesn't exactly follow a straight course. "The birds are not trained; they are wild animals," Fleming says. "So you never know what they're going to do." Fleming, however, who makes the special ostrich saddles and chariots by hand, is betting that this enterprise will catch on.
Certainly the animal participants have marquee value. The 350-to-400-pound birds -- with names like Godzilla, Fast Freddy and Ruthie -- can scoot their seven-foot-tall frames at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. "My goodness, they just take off," says Fleming, laughing. And they don't exactly go easy on the jockeys. "The only way to stop an ostrich race is to jump off," Fleming explains. "The jockeys get pretty banged up, but we've never had any broken bones or anything."
The festival is definitely kid-oriented, with a petting zoo, pony rides, clowns, a climbing wall and a full-sized amusement park. "We're expecting to have a fun-filled family weekend," says Kimmel, who also organizes the Chandler Ostrich Festival, which draws 298,000 people every year, making it the largest street fair in the state of Arizona.
Starting at 7 p.m. each night, the two stages that are set up for musical entertainment will be rocking. The lineup includes The Georgia Satellites and the Marshall Tucker Band on Friday night, Nazareth on Saturday night, and Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas, on Sunday night.
Fleming guarantees that no matter what, the races will have you on your feet. "It really is a crazy show," he says. "You're going to see a lot of things that you don't normally see."
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