It was like stepping into the world of “The Wizard of Oz” when arriving at the Virginia City Fairgrounds for the annual International Camel and Ostrich Races. 

Seeing the wide range of exotic creatures including camels, zebras, ostriches and emus was a fantastic experience as it is, but watching people race them was even more enjoyable.

Getting behind the scene privileges to see the animals up close and watch the handlers carefully prepare them for the wild races was the best part. Seeing a camel and an ostrich up close was the equivalent of walking into a whole new world.

A picture of an ostrich face up close in the gates of Virginia City's course.

Isaac Hoops/Nevada Sagebrush
An ostrich up close in its pen before the start of the event.

Hedrick’s Promotions, Incorporated is the group which brought the animals to the event, all the way from Kansas.

Joe Hedrick and his wife, Sandra, run a unique animal farm in Kansas. It was truly refreshing to see how kindly the Hendrick’s organization treats their animals. They constantly worried about their safety, contrasting with other company’s treatment of their show animals who experience severe animal cruelty. 

Watching Hedrick’s crew saddle up the camels calmly, even when the animals were getting annoyed and kicking at them, was quite impressive. They truly are a brave group of people to be dealing so closely and steadily with them.

Man pets camel through gate at camel race event.

Isaac Hoops/Nevada Sagebrush
All media representatives and handlers were friendly with the animals during race preparation.

When the time came to begin the races, Joe Hedrick gathered all the media members who had the opportunity to ride and laid out the rules and regulations for safety and protocols for all of us. 

“It can be a dangerous sport. It can be fun, but you can fall off and get hurt. You’ve got to be a little tough,” Hedrick said. “We won’t open them gates until you’re ready … if you get on that camel, ostrich or zebra and you change your mind, you won’t be a wuss … you’ll be a smart person.”

After the crew told us to have a good time and enjoy the entertainment, the riders practiced on the camels walking around the arena, which was also available for outsiders and kids to purchase a short ride on.

Little girl rides with her guardian on practice route before the camel races start.

Isaac Hoops/Nevada Sagebrush
Before the races began, children were able to pay for a short camel ride around the practice course of the arena.

The races began soon after, and the whole show was an odd concept. Watching exotic animals race may not seem like it’s much, but the intensity of the races and games were electrifying for the crowd. To keep the audience entertained in between races, there was even an official clown of the show— he had his face painted and came out doing funny things to keep them engaged, changing into goofy outfits ranging from a Santa suit to a red, white and blue tutu.

The weather was a bit dreary and windy, but meant it wasn’t hot for those in the non-shade areas.

There were little activities in between the races to keep the crowd involved as well, like the beer dig, the chicken race for the kids and the beer goggle competition. 

Even a cheering competition ensued between each of the seating sections (general admission, premium, and VIP) to see who had the most participation and spirit throughout the event. The organizers played some popular country and pop songs on the loudspeakers and got the crowds singing, always engaging and interacting with the people around them.

Man wears cowboy hat, rainbow feather boa, holding skeleton, with red white and blue outfit and painted clown face in dirt arena.

Isaac Hoops/Nevada Sagebrush
The animal racing event had its very own clown to keep the audience entertained in between activities.

The highlight of the events was obviously the races. Watching people race through those starting gates on all different creatures was thrilling. Most made it to the finish line and held on to the animals, but there were a few falls. In those instances, the riders always got right back up.

The event was exciting, interactive, and more entertaining than you can imagine. Virginia City always has super fun events to participate in, but the annual animal races are an iconic one that was fortunately revived this year after being cancelled last year due to COVID-19. 

The event continued through the weekend on Sept. 11 in the morning and afternoon, as well as Sept. 12 in the afternoon. 

These exotic animal races are an iconic Virginia City tradition that were truly the highlight of many people’s September weekend.

Jaedyn Young can be reached at or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.