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Not Just Horses Racing At The Big Fresno Fair, But Little Pigs, Pooches and Turkeys

The Big Fresno Fair is known for live horse racing. Every year thousands flock to watch jockeys and their steeds compete at the fair. But as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports horses aren’t the only animals tearing up soil for the chance of a grand prize at the fair this year.

If you want to bet on a horse race at the big Fresno Fair, it’s an easy thing to do. Tickets are two bucks and races are short. 

"You got to get down close to the animals. All of racing's the same, horse racing, car racing when you're close to it you feel the enthusiasm." - Larry Swartzlander

That’s why thousands of people fill the stands at the fairgrounds for beer and the age old practice of horse racing. Steve Trusner is one of this year’s spectators.

“I pick a good looking horse, the favorite and the one in orange and box them in on a $2 bet, cost me $12 a race and every now and then you get lucky.”

“They’re an exciting animal. They run 32 mile an hour, they’re fast, 1,000 pounds," says Larry Swartzland with the California Authority of Racing Fairs. "You got to get down close to the animals. All of racing's the same, horse racing, car racing when you’re close to it you feel the enthusiasm.”

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Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
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Valley Public Radio
Horse racing at the Big Fresno Fair attracts thousands.

But horse racing isn’t the only race that has fans oohing and ahhing at the fair this year. Think pigs, pooches, sheep and even turkeys. But unlike horse races, people don’t officially gamble on the outcome. 

"Part of the allure is you don't know the outcome and we like to be surprised." - Nancy Riegler

Nancy and Gil Riegler from San Diego are racing the birds most know for thanksgiving dinners - turkeys.

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Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
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Valley Public Radio
The Turkey Stampede takes place three times a day at the Big Fresno Fair.

ROMERO: “So racing turkeys is a thing?”
RIEGLER: “No. I’m totally kidding. We just do it because it’s so funny and turkeys are unexpectedly exuberant. They’re competitive.”

They got the Turkey Stampede idea after California Fair organizers asked them to integrate turkeys into their routine. The couple thought why not have the giant birds compete, since fairgoers seem to love any type of racing.

“Part of the allure is you don’t know the outcome and we like to be surprised. And even though we know yeah, yeah, they’re going to race. Ooh, I didn’t know that was going to happen. Oh what an upset, I didn’t know blue was gonna win this time cause something happened on the track.

But how do they get turkeys to race? The Rieglers fill the bed of a remote control truck with turkey food. And then they’re off.

“Here we go. Go get them boys (fake truck voice sound). Cheer on your team. It looks like it’s between the red and the blue team. Hey white team!" says Riegler as a turkey from the white team jumped the middle divider and caught the remote control truck. “How about the red team! We give it to them,” Riegler says. 

The turkeys race three times a day in a small stadium near the carnival rides at the fair. On the other side of the fairgrounds little pigs leap over hurdles to the finish line.

"On your marks, get set and gooooooooo! And they’re off!" says the All Alaskin Racing Pigs announcer. 

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Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
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Valley Public Radio
The pig races take place at the Big Fresno Fair several times a day.

These miniature porkers are part of a traveling pig squad run by the Noll family from Eugene, Oregon. The All Alaskan Racing Pigs began over 25 years ago. Four pigs – mostly Yorkshire and Hampshire varieties – race at a time with four different heats in each show.

"They were super cute. They were a lot faster than I thought they were going to be and I didn't expect them to jump." - Amber Nelson

“That was a close race, but it looks likes Sloppy Joe took the win out here,” added the announcer.

Amber Nelson and her student Nevea Ruiz watched the little pig’s race to the finish line to collect their prize: sweet molasses rich feed.

“I thought it was fun," Nelson says. "They were super cute. They were a lot faster than I thought they were going to be and I didn’t expect them to jump.”

These cute little pig runners and gobbling racers at the Big Fresno Fair will be joined by friendly pooches Saturday Oct. 17. Locals can sign up online and race their backyard canines for the annual Derby Dog Dash.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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