Baby pig races draw feverish crowds to the annual Colorado BBQ Challenge in Frisco
Special to the Daily
Colorado BBQ Challenge
What: The 22nd annual barbecue challenge in Frisco, featuring smoked meat, live music and baby pig racing
Where: Main Street in Frisco
When: Saturday, June 20 beginning at 10 a.m.
Cost: Free to attend, with food ranging from $1-$25 for the “pigout”
For more details about activities, including events that require registration, see www.friscobbq.com
The long wait is over!
This weekend Frisco is hosting its 22nd annual Colorado BBQ challenge. Dozens of vendors turn Main Street into a carnival replete with inflatable obstacle courses, a human-beach-ball kiddy pool, and more pork-centric culinary oddities than you can shake a stick at, if not more oddities than you can skewer a stick through.
In the last 21 years, this gala has raised more than $820,000 for local charities. Over 30,000 guests are expected to participate, lured in no small part by the chance to strike it rich in betting on pig races.
Allow me to break it down for those unfamiliar with the national circuit of baby pig racing: four piglets around 15 weeks of age mount the starting block. The fans count down to start each race; then the pigs speed around a track fueled by the enthusiasm of the fans and the promise of treats at the finish line.
Each athlete is hand-picked for its speed, adorability and racerly acumen, so it’s no easy task discerning the winner based on looks alone. I advise all newbies to start with smaller bets, and stay away from parlays and trifectas until they get the hang of it.
Friday was a perfect day in Frisco for all but Sloppy Joe, the fastest 14-week-old race pig on this side of the Front Range. The aptly named Sloppy Joe is a phenom mudder who’s been bred from a long line of them. While lesser swine roll in the mud uncompetitively, Sloppy’s the one piglet with a snout for the finish line.
But Friday afternoon was 75 degrees and cloudless, with a slight southerly wind of no consequence on a 125-foot pig track. Ham Solo had outgrown the circuit, and no one would know who was running until the trumpet sounded the call to post.
My phone’s reception had been bad ever since I’d hocked it, so I couldn’t check the Internet for the latest point spread. Not helping matters was that the race proctors often put the pigs in different numbers — no doubt to throw off gamblers trying to swing the line from overseas. Picking winners was going to take a little help and a lot of luck, so I turned to the crowd to get a read on who they were liking.
Fans of all ages had traveled far and wide to attend what was undoubtedly the pinnacle of Summit swine racing. A fellow enthusiast, Silas Williams, had come all the way from Aurora to celebrate his birthday among the swine. That’s over 80 miles away — no small walk for a 9-year-old.
Sammy Jinsky (even younger than Silas at 6 years old) and his sister, Allison, had come from Novi, Michigan. Both had been unaware of the grandeur that is piglet racing before this afternoon, yet Allison took to it immediately and ended up being my meal ticket. While most of the ladies I polled were pulling for Strawberry, or, as they said, “the pig in pink,” Allison went with the dark horse/pig in orange, Soapy Smith.
The first heat
Donald Knoll was emceeing the event, working the crowd like the professional that he is. Donald was born into the business and sounds the part. His father, Bart, founded the All-Alaskan Racing Pig 28 years ago, so it’s no wonder Donald is among the world’s foremost pig-race announcers. The piglets took their positions, the bell sounded, and there was seven-and-a-half seconds of nail-biting intensity before Donald announced that Soapy Smith had “won by the hair on his chinny chin chin.”
Nine-year-old-prodigy-cum-new-best-friend Allison did it again in the second round when her pick, Mackleboar, proved himself to be 15 pounds of curly-tailed lightening.
We were in the money.
Ever the loyal sister, she followed her brother’s lead in the heat, when Soapy and Mackleboar went head-to-head. Though Allison’s underdog/pig, Yukon, was in pole position coming around the final turn, he seemed to have lost the script at the second hurdle. Conventional wisdom says I should have hedged my bet, but I was confident in my Michigan-born savant.
Screaming for the pigs was thirsty work. Fortunately, libations were in no short supply. Coors Light is a major sponsor, and Backcountry Brewery had an arsenal of local offerings from which to choose. While Allison moved on to smoothies and designer lemonades, I went with a lineup of frosty fermentedness.
To my surprise, the festival offered more than just speedy baby pigs. A gastronomist with a penchant for fried offerings would not know where to begin. While browsing the booths I found fried bacon, alligator, shark, Oreos, Snickers, Twinkies, and corn-breaded, hot-dog-stuffed pickles. Other culinary creations included grilled, crab-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jalapenos, and pulled pork was being added to gyros, French fries, nachos, hot dogs and potato chips (among others).
The second half of the second heat
Between these delicacies, a trip to the free sunscreen hut, two obstacle courses and a brief stint floating in an 8-foot beach ball, I was late to the second heat. The betting window had already closed. It was a rookie mistake, and I had to look to myself when assigning the blame, whereupon myself told me that the blame landed squarely on the inflatable “Adrenaline Rush” fun-castle. The first races must have been miraculous, because nobody could agree as to who won the first two races. It was clear that their minds had been collectively blown by the phenomenality of the spectacle.
For those who missed the action — fear not! Saturday promises to deliver more of the same, with pig races throughout the day on the even hours: 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. For human racers, there’s a 6K Bacon Burner foot race, after which those of legal drinking age will receive a beer voucher for their efforts. Then at 11 a.m., Summit County’s three firehouses will be compete in a barbecue cook-off to raise more money for charities. There’s also live music throughout the day, culminating with the Samples at 4 p.m.
Perhaps London Macries of Jacksonville, Florida, best encapsulated the highs and lows of piglet racing. Seeing me for the big player I am, her brother, Gray, retreated into his stroller when pressed to share his picks. But 4-year-old London picked the runners-up in each of the first two races. Seeing that her gift needed time to blossom, her parents astutely decided it in the family’s best interest to relocate to Colorado.
Bettors of the world should be on the lookout for her in years to come.
To book your own thoroughbred piglet race, visit pigrace.com, or search for videos through the AARPig channel. Yes, it’s a thing.
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