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Virginia City’s Camel Races

Sept. 6 to 8, Comstock Arena, Virginia City
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Info: $12/standing, $15/bleachers, $40/VIP (includes BBQ buffet, shaded seating, and a drink ticket), gates open at 10 a.m., racing starts at noon. For a full schedule and tickets, visit

The International Camel Races return to Virginia City on September 6. I did a double take when I read the press release. Camel races? Really?

Leave it to Virginia City, the seat of colorful Storey County, to come up with something as unusual as camel racing to draw a crowd of thousands.

The event is one of the most popular of the year, second only in attendance to Street Vibes, the annual motorcycle run that fills Reno and Virginia City with Harleys every September.

Deny Dotson, director of tourism for Virginia City, expects 10,000 people to turn out for this year’s races. To accommodate the crowds, shuttles will be offered at various locations throughout downtown Reno.

A production company in Kansas imports the livestock for the event, some of which will be ridden by individuals, and some by professional jockeys sponsored by companies. Others will be mounted by novice riders like Dotson, who took the prize last year aboard a camel he named Secretariat in honor of the Kentucky Derby Triple Crown Champion.

“They gallop pretty good like a horse,” said Dotson.    

But camels do not get along well with horses, and as a result their workdays were numbered during Virginia City’s mining days, Dotson said.

The camel races began more than 50 years ago, when The Territorial Enterprise — a late 19th century Nevada newspaper that counted Mark Twain among its contributors — ran a spoof article announcing the arrival of camel racing to Virginia City.

“Someone in San Francisco heard about it, and brought up a couple of camels and started racing,” Dotson said. It has been an annual tradition ever since.

Folks like Dotson interested in riding their own camels need to go through an orientation session. For those who’d like to watch from the sidelines there are many seats in the bleachers, including private cabanas with catered food and drinks for up to 25 guests ($2,000 to $2,500).

And if the idea of a jockey racing a camel around a track doesn’t seem quite far-fetched enough for your fancy, the event also features ostrich races with men and women clinging to the necks of these huge birds while trying to navigate them around a corral.

“They don’t bite, but they’re not the smartest animal in the world,” said Dotson. “It’s probably just one of the most comical things to watch.”

Employing some version of the carrot and the stick, the ostrich rider steers the bird by holding out a broom in the direction she doesn’t want the bird to run. The ostrich will run away from the broom, and it takes a skilled handler to keep the bird from running in circles and perhaps throwing off its rider in the process.

Spectators will witness this entertaining jockey-and-bird combination firsthand.

Add live music and refreshments, and what you have is three days of hilarious fun in the sunny hills of Virginia City.

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May 10, 2018