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Chariots of fire race In Glendo, Wyoming

Anyone driving around Glendo, Wyo., at just the right spot on just the right day this coming January, might think they’ve time-travelled. “Hey, is that Ben Hur?” Chariot teams will thunder out of a starting gate and down a 1/4-mile track beside the small town’s grass airstrip.

But wait, Ben Hur didn’t have a starting gate. Nor pickup trucks or horse trailers parked all around the colorful activity’s perimeter. Hmm.

This certainly is not a movie scene; and definitely not a thousands-year-old battle far afield of the good old USA. This is (or will be) the 2022 Horseshoe Valley Chariot Races. And it promises to be a blast.



Up until one recent night, it looked as if 2021 might have been the event’s last hurrah. Interest was waning, not from spectators but from participants. Many factors came into play, including that some aging drivers have retired due to age or died, with younger horse owners declining to learn the sport; gas and other travel costs have skyrocketed this year, discouraging out-of-state drivers; COVID-19 is still among us; prohibitive prices for the all-aluminum chariots, harness, and other miscellany; training time and team compatibility involved.

Chariot racing starting gates are similar to those used in flat, under-saddle events but are a little more than double the width. Photo courtesy Gene and Elaine Daly

Back in the day — ours, not Ben Hur’s — folks could simply enjoy the excitement and merriment that the unique sport entailed. The Glendo races began in 2003, said Gene Daly, committee chairman. But since prizes consist solely of merchandise and no money, chasing around our Western states with horses and equipment in-tow is becoming too dear for many pocketbooks.



In 2009-2010, for example, 24 teams entered. Now it’s lucky to see 12.

Daly noted he’ll be sending out more invitations for the 2022 races to draw competitors from other states, particularly Idaho, where chariot racing interest remains high.

Happily, when the Glendo area Town Council met this past Nov. 10, discussion proved Ben Hur’s favorite combat activity (at least the Glendo non-bloody kind) was still viable. So, the dates are set: On Jan. 29 and 30, 2022, one-half mile north of the Glendo Airport, the fun will again be open to the public.

Members of the Horseshoe Valley Chariot Association (HVCA) are pursuing a plethora of tasks to assure all goes smoothly. Even snow won’t stop them, as they blade the track or pack it down as much as possible if needed.

“Mud is way worse than snow,” Daly said.

But with all proceeds from the races designated for youth organizations, including 4-H, FFA and the local Circle G Cowboy Church Youth Group, it’s all a labor of love.

Elaine Daly, Gene’s wife, handles diverse tasks centered around everything online. She does all the advertising, invitations, and anything else that requires computers.

Among other HVCA committee members especially busy with many facets of the race event are Tim and Lisa Millikin. Their good work includes coordinating the ambulance service, outriders (needed to catch runaways or slow down exuberant teams beyond the finish line), and much more.

Two teams head to the starting gate for the 2018 funny hats race. Most horses are retired racing Quarter Horses or those that run under-saddle in the summer and keep in shape by off-season chariot racing. Photo courtesy Gene and Elaine Daly

Many businesses eagerly jump in also. Special thanks are in order to Horseshoe Valley Ranch; Harnish Veterinary Service; Glendo Volunteer Ambulance; 1st State Bank of Wheatland; Bob Ruwart Motors for their sponsorships and/or community spirit.

FOOD, FINANCIALS, FESTIVITIES AND FUN

Calcutta bidding is on the chariot teams; not to buy them, although so goes the lingo, but to support them and maybe make a little spending money.

As each team ‘sells’ to the highest bidder, HVCA receives 15 percent off the top and the rest is donated to the nonprofits. Whoever buys the yet-to-be-determined fastest team of the two-day races gets the remainder of the money.

Teams can bid on themselves — especially if they feel they’re successfully channeling Ben Hur-like speed. Also, the auctioneer can sell teams seven, eight or more times, until no one wants to continue bidding. Winning pots are kept separate for each auction round.

Happy Hour and Calcutta Friday night for Saturday’s races will begin at Angler’s Bar at 6 p.m.

Saturday night’s banquet meal and Calcutta will begin at 6:00 p.m. at Micke’s Restaurant. Dinner tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids 12 and younger, and free for youngsters under age 3. Elaine Daly assures that the food is fabulous and contestants all eat for free.

Gene Daly stands tall in the chariot for an exhibition race. Outriders, as the one on the sorrel, are plentiful at events to catch runaways or slow down any overly exuberant teams after the finish line. Bert Crane was the outrider and James Olguin was giving Gene a lesson going to the gates. Photo courtesy Gene and Elaine Daly

Additional Calcutta auctions will go on during the races.

General gate admission is $5 daily, per person 12 and over, for the Jan. 29-30, 2022 chariot races.

AND THEY’RE OFF

As with most Quarter Horse flat races, chariots run one-fourth mile lengths. Contestants are divided each day based on the number of teams and vie on Sunday based on Saturday’s speeds.

Horses of all ages are eligible to run, as young as long yearlings up to seniors, with no separations by age or gender. They just need to be fit and healthy. A veterinarian is present at each race but Daly is happy to advise that they’ve never had a problem. He’s proud of chariot racers because owners always scratch their Sunday entry if an animal is lame from sore muscles from Saturday, or some similarly benign ailment.

Again, with no prize money involved, there’s no temptation to run horses that might break down or suffer other catastrophic injury. Prizes in 2020 included engraved knives. At state finals, plasma-cut plaques made by FFA members were among the valued merch. And Bear Creek Originals in Glendo has remained a longtime donor over the years.

Chariot racing isn’t for money. All is for fun, fun, fun!

MISCELLANY

Cheyenne Frontier Days tried chariot racing at their 2019 event. From the ones Gene talked to, the drivers really enjoyed the venue and expressed eagerness to participate in future races. Then came COVID-19. It’s not as yet decided if 2022’s Frontier Days will include chariots.

HVCA is in the process of building a new track directly beside the Glendo Airport’s grass runway. This poses no safety issues, however, because the runway isn’t used in winter months (when the races run). The new track will be used for the January 2022 races.

Directly following the Sunday chariot races, outriders will conduct a race of their own (under saddle). Usually between six to eight riders participate in this informal fun run.

Chariot racing’s state finals will be held the first weekend in March 2022, also at the Glendo Airport. Other groups can participate, as do some from Guernsey and Afton, Wyo. Nationals are in Utah, with competitors usually coming from Utah, Wyoming and Idaho.

Chariots are constructed of sturdy but lightweight materials. This team, driven by Gene Daly, demonstrates necessary skills in an exhibition race. Photo courtesy Gene and Elaine Daly

BACK IN THE DAY…

The Dalys said that drivers love wearing silly hats for some races; like when a tire becomes a beanie. Other headgear turns horse owners into such whimsical creatures as leprechauns. Special. Gee, in the Kentucky Derby only fashionable women get to wear special hats.

Most drivers are males but a few years ago one girl drove beginning at age 14. Now, about 25 percent of drivers are female.

Fun became funny became oopsie one year when one of driver Bobby Bergerson’s horses threw a shoe just 50 yards shy of the finish line. Elaine Daly said that the steel footwear didn’t just boringly peel off, though, no siree. It became an exciting projectile, flew through the air with flare, and soundly smacked Bergerson in the forehead. Tough guy! He finished the race but didn’t win. Claimed he was distracted. (Did horses in Ben Hur even wear shoes?)

Always creative, chariot race drivers enjoy showing off fanciful tack and attire. Stretch Austin, of Thayne, Wyo., boldly displays his patriotic colors in this heat. Photo courtesy Gene and Elaine Daly

Gene Daly recalled another farcical fiasco. The shorter version of the long story goes like this:

A runaway team ran into a brand new Ford 1-ton dually pickup with its dealer tags still attached. Of course, the new ride’s owner had parked his shiny bright way out, far from all other vehicles, to absolutely assure its safety. (Don’t they always?)

As the wild-eyed team struck the truck’s front end, the flabbergasted driver could be heard yelling, “Whoa! Whoa!,” apparently assuming this too-little/too-late training method would stop them the next time!

Both horses were completely fine, as was the chariot’s driver. The poor pickup, however, sustained bad damage.

Did the egg-on-his-face chariot driver reveal his name to media representatives? Someone might have heard someone else mention Ben Hur. Maybe.

For additional information about entering or visiting the 2022 Horseshoe Valley Chariot Races, call Gene Daly at (307) 331-1049. Or, visit the association’s page on Facebook @Horseshoe Valley Chariot Races.

There are two hotels right in Glendo, as well as a few B&Bs. Other accommodations can be had in Douglas, Wheatland and Guernsey. Find these online but be sure to contact the lodging of your choice a minimum of a couple weeks ahead of the event.

Between regular races, 7-year-old Clay Daly, son of Gene and Elaine Daly, entertains delighted observers with his burgeoning talent for chariot racing. His “team,” however, is limited to one rather uncertain goat. Photo courtesy Gene and Elaine Daly

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