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Teams Compete in World Championship Chariot Races

Apr 07, 2016 03:33PM ● Published by Kelly Cannon

By Kelly Cannon | kelly@mycityjournals.com

Ogden - Like a scene out of “Ben Hur,” two pairs of horses, each attached to a chariot, raced down the track at the World Championship Chariot Races held at the Golden Spike Event Center. Over the course of five days, held over two weekends, the teams race against each other to be named the champion charioteer. 

Ryan Christensen, the ROM steward and the identifier at the races, explained the tradition of chariot racing came out of Wyoming where dairy farmers would take their milk to the dairy to be unloaded. 

“The first ones there would be unloaded first so they started racing,” Christensen said. “It just evolved from there.”

Organized chariot racing began in the early 1950s, but the championships have been hosted at the Golden Spike Event Center since 1993. 

“This is good facility,” Christensen said. “It’s one of the best equine facilities.”

The races work by having teams race against each other over a 440-yard straightaway. The 63 teams are divided into divisions depending on their past wins and losses. The brackets are set up also based on wins and losses. If a team loses, they have to keep competing and winning to stay in the running. If a team wins, they can take a runoff and rest up before their next race. 

Christensen said it’s usually the team that gets out of the gate first and clean that typically wins the race. These horses can reach speeds up to 40 mph. He explained it’s not only important to have the two horses be fast but also work together to stride alike.

“You don’t want them fighting each other,” Christensen said. “You try to hit that sweet spot.”

Competitors can be a young as 16 years old to start racing, with parental permission. Some racers continue driving teams up into their 90s. 

The teams are typically run by families who have been competing for generations. 

“They love this sport, and they love their horses. That’s why they do it,” Christensen said. “It’s not for the money. It’s mostly for bragging rights.” 

Wes Smith from Preston, Idaho, rides for the Doug Keller Family in the fifth division and VRW in the fourth division. He is a third- generation driver.

“My grandpa started in 1954. My dad raced. Now I am,” said the 42-year-old Smith. “I’ve been doing it since I was 16 years old, so you do the math.”

Brandon Stokes, from West Jordan, has been racing for the past 13 years and currently drives for the Golden Spike Association. His dad started racing in 1968, and Stokes became a racer because of him. Stokes said his favorite part of racing is the adrenaline rush and being with the horses.

“I love being able to train the horses and see them get better each week,” Stokes said.

That training is also the most difficult part of racing.

“You have to keep them conditioned and faithfully train them all year. You have to stay motivated,” Stokes said. “But this [racing] is the fun part.”

Chris Bair, from Provo, races with his family’s team, Bair’s Quarter Horses. While he’s been racing for the past 16 years, his family has been watching the races since he was a kid.

“A friend talked us into buying some horses, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Bair said. “It’s a fun family sport and a great way to spend time together.”

According to Bair, keeping the two horses in control and keeping them racing together is the most difficult part of racing. But once that’s accomplished, it’s his favorite part. 

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