Wiener dog racing takes over horse track

Published: Jul. 16, 2012 at 11:32 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 30, 2012 at 11:37 AM CDT
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HENDERSON CO., KY (WFIE) - When you think about Ellis Park, you usually think about their live and simulcasted thoroughbred horse races.

But on Sunday, the participants were a little shorter. In fact, they were no more than a foot high.

In the past several years, wiener dog races at Ellis Park have gone from one Sunday afternoon race to a whole weekend of trial races to a championship race to finally naming the top dog.

For some, picking a dog is a simple decision.

"What's the strategy? The names!," a race attendee said.

For others who came to watch the dogs pre-race, age, skill, and loyalty were also key factors in guessing the winner.

"Hemmy is very fast and loyal. He goes right to his mom. He's a little bit slow, but he's fast and straight. Itsy is really fast but not so straight," said dog trainer Rhonda Deskin.

The most important thing to watch for?

"Hopefully the dog runs straight. If you can train your dog to run straight, you got a good chance. But you never know," said John Harty.

Vice President of Marketing John Harty says Sunday was on target to be their biggest day since the track opened up this season's live racing on the Fourth of July. He says much of that is thanks to the Wiener Dog Races, and now both spectators and dog trainers have started to come in from all over the midwest.

"We have people here from St. Louis. We have had people from as far away as Michigan. It's all for pride. I mean, we have a few little prizes and a trophy, but it's all for pride and they just love to do them," Harty said.

Deskin brought Hemmy and Itsy for their first race ever on Sunday. She says, their training has been pretty minimal. It's more about enjoying the experience.

"They're our granddogs, and she just has seen this for the last few years and just decided to do it this year," Deskin said.

She says it was a bit strange having people put money on her dogs but says since the proceeds from betting went to charitable groups, like the Evansville Arc, it's all in good fun.

The final championship race is next Saturday, July 21.

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