3x Victory Crowns New Burro Team Champs
It was a double-header victory for the official Summer Heritage Sport of Colorado championships this season as a Triple Crown win was secured in both the men and women’s divisions for 2019. Leadville’s Marvin Sandoval and his mini-burro Buttercup took the top prize in the men’s division last Sunday when he clinched a win at the Gold Rush Days Burro Race in Buena Vista. The burro racing team’s BV victory secured the men’s Triple Crown title capping off what has been a historic season in donkey competition. Sandoval’s racing companion Buttercup is the first mini-burro in the sports competition to wear the victor’s flower garland.
“I hope things go well on Sunday,” Sandoval told Leadville Today on Friday at the Leadville Trail 100 (LT100) expo where the ultra-endurance athlete was also preparing to race in the 100-mile mountain bike race on Saturday (finish time 8:33) as well as the 10k run (finish time 55:25) in Leadville on Sunday BEFORE heading to Buena Vista to claim the Triple Crown. “But she (Buttercup-the-Burro) can get stubborn sometimes,” he added, describing his racing companion, known as a mini-burro, which means that she measures less than 30 inches in height. This particular breed of donkey is known to be easy to train and good around kids, a nice compliment to the active family Sandoval is raising with his wife Lisa in Leadville.
Fortunately, Buttercup’s good temperament and Sandoval’s ultra-endurance training both showed up to last Sunday’s Western Pack Burro Championship race on August 11 and the team clinched the men’s division victory with a 1:55:17.2 finish time from the 13-mile course. The Triple Crown competition started out for the team on July 27 in Fairplay, Colo. at the World Championship Pack Burro Race. Buttercup made history as the first mini-burro to capture the top prize, securing their first-leg of victory for the Triple Crown title. Then came the August 4 competition at the Leadville Boom Days Pack Burro Race when racing before his hometown crowd during Leadville Boom Days Sandoval and Buttercup locked in the next step clocking in a winning time of 3:45:38. It was a big lead with a nearly five minutes spread from second-place finisher Hal Walter and his burro Full Tit Boogie with a 3:49:57 finish time. Rounding out the Leadville podium was Louise Kuehster from Boulder and her burro Pandora at 03:53:48.
But the final leg of the Triple Crown last week in BV saw Kuehster and Pandora turn the tables and take top billing with a 1:55:16.47, just seconds ahead of Sandoval and Buttercup who came in third, behind second-place finishers Tracy Loughlin and Burro Mary Margaret (the 2018 Triple Crown Champion) crossing in at 1:55:16.89. It was a true “pack” burro finish! And for Kuehster and Pandora, the BV victory would secure the women’s division Triple Crown title – Congratulations!
Next up for Sandoval is this weekend’s Leadville Trail 100-mile Run. Marvin is crushing it on the racecourse this season as he heads into the last race for the iconic Leadman competition, where he is currently ranked 6th out of 90 athletes who signed up for the grueling contest which includes a marathon, a 50-mile bike and/or run, a 100-mile MTB Race, a 10k run and the 100-mile LT100 “Race Across the Sky” Run. He’s got a tough Leadman record to beat, it’s one held by another Sandoval, his brother Wesley! Happy Trail Marvin; great job representing for the home team – Leadville!
Celebrating the Burro in Leadville
The Donkey. The Mule. The Jackass. The Burro.
Regardless of the name – and yes, there is a difference – there’s always been a strong, steadfast connection between these rugged beasts of burden and the folks who call Leadville home. The early pioneers found the little burros useful in lugging supplies into the mountainous mining camps which dotted Leadville’s steep east side. Pictures of the old mule trains tell their own tales of the dangerous and dirty conditions these jacks and jennies were willing to endure in order to get the job done.
Army soldiers found that same dedication to be true as dozens of donkeys joined the rank and file of daily life during the glorious Camp Hale days. In fact, when snow trails were blazed to reach the high-alpine military training grounds above present-day Ski Cooper, it was the width of an ass that was taken into consideration when shoveling out pathways. After all, it would be these sturdy, sure-footed animals that packed in supplies to the troops.
As the 21st century came into focus, burros could still be seen on the trails as pack-animals for backcountry adventurers, and certainly for hunters in the retrieval of big harvests. However, another burro-and-being love affair was blossoming as well. And on May 29, 2012, the beast and “the burden” made history when Pack Burro Racing became Colorado’s official summer heritage sport, thanks to Rep Millie Hamner.
But these seeds of affection between (wo)man and mule were planted long before the legislative designation made it official. Colorado’s love affair with the sport began decades before that, and of course, it has a Leadville Connection. This racing form finds its roots in the 19th century when miners used burros to haul their tools and supplies across the Rocky Mountains. And here’s where the Leadville Connection comes in – legend has it that two miners panning up in California Gulch, found gold in the same location and raced each other back to town in order to be the first to stake the claim at the Assayer’s Office, thus giving them the legal rights to the find. Their faithful jackasses followed along in the chaos and by the time the racers reached Harrison Avenue the stories would make a legend out of the first place claim. Now that was a podium finish that could possibly have a cash purse in the millions!
While pack burros have been a common workhorse for more than 100 years, burro racing came on the local scene in 1949, when the first race between Leadville and Fairplay was held. Melville Sutton won the $500 purse, and all other finishers received a case of beer.
In the beginning, the two mountain towns switched starting points each year, but eventually went their separate ways, creating two races instead of one. Fairplay changed course in the early ’70s, and the World Championship Pack Burro Race was born. Today, coupled with the Buena Vista Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race and the Leadville Boom Days Pack Burro Race, the three races now make up the Triple Crown of Pack Burro Racing in Colorado.
As Pack Burro Racing continued to grow in popularity and notoriety, so did the field of competitors. Women started entering the races around 1951, and more races started to include separate categories for men and women. However in 2017, as a nod to times, the burro race transitioned to “long” and “short” course races, rather than be separated and constrained by gender.
Since then the sport continues to grow each year in popularity, with a record number of burros on historic Harrison Avenue in 2018, topping out at over 70 competitors. Along the way, a locally inspired Burro Rescue facility located in Lake County, known as The Ass Ranch was created in 1999, and private burro ownership continues to flourish in the region. No doubt that as long as there are high mountain passes, there will be a need for the asses to help get folks over them, for work or for sport! So cheers to these mighty beasts of burden who continue to get the job done – yesterday – and in Leadville Today!