Equine excitement in the Valley

 

Keith McLendon

The teams Horse Creek Express run by John Williams and Double Ott guided by James Olguin burst out of the gates in Sunday's third race at the 36th Annual Donald E. Erickson Memorial chariot races.

For 36 years now, early March has brought equine excitement to the North Platte Valley. People flock from far and wide to attend the annual Donald E. Erickson Memorial Race, and Saratoga reaps the rewards.

According to Ed Glode, who was in charge of the Calcutta for the races, the Saratoga Lions Club took in $41,000 in bets over the weekend with ten percent of all betting proceeds, or $4,100, going to the club's coffers. They will use the money to fund the club's annual scholarship, as well as to defray expenses associated with organizing the chariot races and running other events such as Junior Golf and Kids' Fishing Day.

The boys and girls in the local 4H Club, the Cub Scouts of Pack #153, and the 8th graders going to the Teton Science Camp also cashed in. The concession stand run by these youngsters (with some adult grill supervision) raised around $2,000 to be split among the groups.

Downtown, the Wolf Hotel, made its annual exception to their closed-on-Sunday policy to accommodate hungry and thirsty race attendees. Many could be found warming up there in the hours following the action at Buck Springs.

Along with the smell of hotdogs and hamburgers, though, a whiff of anxiety has wafted among some chariot devotees lately. As many charioteers (both human and equine) are aging, and little new blood is entering the competitions, there are murmurs in some quarters that this may be the last year of the race.


Those fears weren't apparent from the throngs of people gathered east of town on Saturday or Sunday. With an estimated crowd of 800 over the two days, numbers were down slightly from last year's record-setting gathering, but impressive nonetheless.

With visitors arriving from across the West, the Chariots are clearly one of Saratoga's premiere late-winter draws. Let's hope the "neigh-sayers" are wrong, and the ponies keep running for many years to come.

 

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