The Great Turkey Race

turkey turkeys
The holidays are near and it's time to talk turkey, especially in Cuero, Texas.

The town holds a big turkey fest every year and proclaims itself the turkey capital of the world, something that has worked just fine for 60 years.

For as long as anyone can remember the town has always advertised itself as the "Turkey Capital of the World," explains C.L. Duckett.

Then in 1972, townspeople discovered that Worthington, Minn., also advertised itself as "Turkey Capital of the World," So, the two towns agreed to hold an annual turkey race to decide which town could claim the title for the following year.

Minnesota's thoroughbred racing turkey is named Paycheck because nothing goes faster than a paycheck. His wings are clipped and he's ready to go, but as his team captain, Mick, notes, you can never be sure where he goes.

"You don't want him flying up on a building," says Mick. "That happened in our town. One got up on the courthouse. That adds about, what, an hour, two hours? Two days?"

Last year, the turkey ran about eight feet before making a turn towards the liquor store.

Cuero bird's name is Ruby Begonia. Texas' coach, Erwin, explains that the town picks the fastest turkey by holding preliminaries. "It's usually the last bird we catch that's the fastest of the bunch."

As on the turkey itself, there are two legs to a turkey race. Paycheck won the first leg in Worthington by 36 seconds. Not to make excuses, but Ruby was on the visiting team.

"She was in a cage for a while, not getting her place to sleep at night, eating from places on the side of the road ... fast food, out of her regimen," says on emember of Cuero's coaching team. "We've had to take on a more stringent training program since we got back but she's ready."

"Weather looks good this year, we should have a good clean dry track ... we made a few adjustments," says Erwin. "Thirty-six seconds in turkey racing terms is nothing to make up."

This is turkey racing with all the trimmings. It is a whole weekend of activities. From cow patty bingo, to a waiting game sponsored by the Cuero cultural and heritage foundation, to all manner of turkey related activities, such as egg tossing, turkey flinging and turkey bowling.

It's also something of a cultural exchange program. The Minnesotans got to go to the rodeo and even rode a bull — a very old and very tired bull.

The festival started years ago when farmers brought their birds to market

"This is where all the ranchers would bring their turkeys in and go to market and they'd march 'em down the street to go to market, so somebody decided, 'Why don't we make a celebration out of this?' So in 1912, they started this on Main Street," explains Duckett about the history of Cuero's annual market celebration.

In 1972, Cuero stopped the turkey drive and started racing.

On race day, spectators arrive early. They come from all over the nation to participate in the festivities and see the big parade, filled with royalty and pageantry.

But, what fans came really come to see is the big turkey race. It's Cuero's 30th Running of the Great Gobbler Gallop.

The home turkey's crowd chanted, "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby," as some fans make predictions that the Texas turkey will win.

The athletes make their grand entrance, but in the wrong cages. The teams offer final words of encouragement.

The race finally begins. Paycheck spreads his wings and gallops out to a commanding lead – a big improvement over last year's stop at the liquor store. But hold on, he's flapped off course and into the crowd. Ruby struts ahead, eating up pavement. Ruby Begonia won! Ruby won the Great Gobbler Gallop. But, did she make up the 36-second deficit from the Minnesota leg? No. But wait, there are penalties because the birds can not be touched during the race.

The judges calculated that Ruby had one penalty and Paycheck had 10 penalties. The decision was made that Cuero won by 30 seconds.

So, Cuero, Texas, has the right to call itself the World's Turkey capital next year.

Although, there aren't really that many turkeys left around there -or in Worthington, Minn., for that matter - nobody wants to let the facts get in the way of all the fun.