Frozen wieners kick off Mardi Gras festivities with invigorating race
The Wiener Dog Derby in a blizzard of excitement, and we were thrilled to attend the annual Mardi Gras event of racing dachshunds, produced alongside a pet parade in Soulard Sunday. Dogs of all shapes and sizes come every year to strut their stuff, dress to kill and run to victory—if they’re small enough to fit in the starting box.
There are four classes in the derby, separated by age and by breed. From youngest to oldest the derby features: Cocktail Wieners (up to 4-year-olds), Hot Dogs ( 4 to 8-year-olds) and Ball Park Franks (8-year-olds and up). The last class is the Wiener Wannabes, made up of non-dachshund dogs small enough to fit in the starting box. The course is set to house six doggos and gives them a patch of about 10 feet to run across, until they reach the green felt pasture of the finish line. Each fluffer is placed in a starting box, with mesh that they can see out of. Then, they’re off to the races, hopefully headed toward their owners anxiously waiting on the other side.
In stark contrast to the prior year’s race—held on a day with temperatures in the 70s—this year’s race was held in frosty 20-degree weather. The toll this was taking on the participants was clear to us (warm beverages were a hot commodity). From children crying and begging to just go home, and little dogs being placed in tote bags and sweaters in the hopes of warmth conserved, it was a cold one in Soulard.
Despite the freezing weather, dozens of dogs braved the temperatures for their shot at the gold, while many others watched intently from the sidelines. The derby started earlier than expected, possibly due to the steadily decreasing temperature, so we only caught the tail end of the “Hot Dog” races. Luckily, though, we managed to score an interview with the winning wiener, an elegant hound named Jovi (as in “Bon Jovi”).
“I love to win,” barked the pup.
Jovi was actually the reigning champion of the Wiener Dog Derby—this year marked her second consecutive victory—and apparently, she has a “room full of trophies” to prove it.
The derby—which was incredibly well-organized, especially considering that it hinged on many small and excitable dogs running a predefined course—continued on to the “Cocktail Wieners” category, in which the youngest pups participated. Once the starting gate opened, chaos ensued: Some competitors started off strong but quickly lost steam, while others trotted aimlessly around the track, greeted their fellow dogs and jumped up to clamor for pats from the (human) sideline spectators. Only a few mini-weenies in each heat actually headed straight for the finish line, eyes on the prize.
One such pupper, lovingly buttoned up into his dad’s overcoat, embodied the heart of this competition. Sunny, a first-year competitor who made it all the way to the semifinals (we’ve got a celebrity here), was overjoyed with his performance. His strategy was to just run. Sunny is a pretty shy guy who’s had a rough start, but his social anxiety gave him all the more reason to race to his father. This is his third home in just a year—but we’re pretty sure that this one is sticking. The attachment was clear from the way Sunny huddled up to get closer to his daddy, and in dad’s final words: “He’s a good dog no matter what.”
The strategies were just as big a part of these races as the dogs themselves. We saw squeaky toys, favorite stuffed animals, Beggin’ dog treats (the event’s sponsor), balls thrown in the direction of the finish line and people shamelessly crooning their babies’ names. One thing we didn’t know about wiener dogs before this event was that they can be huge jumpers. Multiple dogs made their getaway, hopping the barrier to get to their smiling parents even sooner. Instead of escaping, some dogs chose to show their disdain simply by not running at all, which honestly made sense (we’re pretty sure the starting block was warmer than the bare elements).
Brody was one of the more inventive dogs. In his interview, he admitted this was his first year competing but claimed to enjoy the box more than the race. A larger fella among some of the itsy bitsy cocktail wieners, he was just happy to be there.
“I just like seeing so many fluffers that look like me!” he quipped happily with a little shiver.
Stress was one factor of the race that colored the event. These dogs were SO very cold—and there were so many other dogs! Many times, dogs would stop in the middle of the track to do the smelling dance, or they would make it right at the edge of the finish line, then turn tail and run back, away from the screaming fans. Beatrice, a pretty little lady, was feeling that anxiety, too, but she was still happy to see her mom holding a frosty banana—a worthy reward for such a great dog.
Cooper, another handsome pup, and his human described their preparation before the race to get to his prime competition state. Cooper went to bed early the night before and ate a good breakfast in the morning to prepare for his wiener-racing debut. Although he didn’t end up in the finals, Cooper and his mom were proud that they put in the work for a fulfilling competition.
In addition to keep the derby moving briskly through each heat of canine competitors, the event’s announcers provided colorful commentary with a soundtrack to match. The Baha Men classic “Who Let the Dogs Out” was one of several more pointed musical choices. Although the wind-whipped snow was an unfortunate distraction, the announcers kept the crowds focused on the prime event of this special (Super Bowl) Sunday.
“We want to thank you all for coming out today to the biggest sporting event in America today,” the loudspeakers declared. “Really, the only sport that matters today.”