The 45th annual pack burro race in Buena Vista saw two new runners and their donkeys crowned winners of America’s other Triple Crown race series.
Louise Kuehster came in first in the 13.1-mile race through Buena Vista’s Midland Hill system of trails, earning her the Women’s Triple Crown title with a time of 1 hour, 55 minutes and 16 seconds.
“It was definitely awesome to win the race and beat the guys, and it was especially awesome to to win the Triple Crown, especially since I’ve never done the long ones before,” Kuehster said.
Kuehster was trailed by Tracy Loughlin of Salida running with the previous Triple Crown winning burro Mary Margaret, who finished with a time one second slower than Kuehster.
Leadville’s Marvin Sandoval came in third overall, trailing Loughlin by less than a second.
Sandoval and his burro, a mini named Buttercup, won in both Fairplay and Leadville over the two previous weekends, and, as the first male runner across the finish line on Main Street, took the men’s Triple Crown title.
Buttercup is the first mini in the sport’s 71-year history to win the Triple Crown. Sandoval is new to the sport, having recently adopted Buttercup and raced with her for the first time in Creede this year.
An accomplished ultra-runner, Sandoval was also scheduled to compete in the Leadville 10K at noon. The Buena Vista race began at 10 a.m., and the first three finishers trotted across the finish line a little after 11:30. After sharing some smiles, hugs and congratulations on his and Buttercup’s feat, the runner quickly disappeared on his way to compete in the Trail 100 10K, which he completed in under an hour.
Kuehster, 23, a second-generation burro racer from Castle Rock, is no stranger to the sport, having competed in her first short race at the age of 10. However, this season was the first time she tackled the huge hikes up Mosquito Pass in Fairplay and Leadville.
The light rain that fell as the race took off Sunday morning quickly cleared up, but a persistent wind remained, keeping the course cooler than in past years.
The full field of 70 racers and their donkeys included runners like previous Triple Crown winner Kirt Courkamp, who finished fourth with Ricky Bobby, and legends in the sport like Bob Sweeney, racing with Yukon to finish fifth, Hal Walter, who finished 6th with burro Full Tilt Boogie and George Zack, who finished 7th with a burro named Jack.
For race director, Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation media relations specialist and “peddler of history” Brad Wann, such a close finish that produced two new Triple Crown winners was a sight to behold.
“This is amazing to be on the ground first-hand and see,” he said.
That Kuehster and Loughlin were able to pull ahead of Sandoval, a man Wann desribed as “one of the fastest men in the state of Colorado,” underscored the fundamental unpredicability of burro racing.
“It’s not a person race, it’s a burro race,” he said. “They left it all on the course, those women.”
Compared to the Leadville and Fairplay races, Buena Vista’s course is an all-out sprint – shorter and with less elevation gain, taking place largely on mountain bike single track trails that offer little opportunity to pass.
“My game plan was mostly not to fall too far behind, because it’s harder to catch up than to keep up,” Kuehster said. “Once we got to the end (across Barbara Whipple Bridge over the Arkansas River) we were able to pass them and run to the finish.”
Kuehster said that she and her donkey, Pandora “were pretty consistent throughout. There was one part where we fell behind in the single track before you get to the railroad grade.”
“Pandora did a good job of catching up,” she said.
After the racers took off from Main Street, family fun commenced with a “poop drop” fundraiser for Chaffee County Search & Rescue-North.
With the street sectioned off into a grid, players bought squares and whichever one was laden with the most equine excrement after the starting gun fired off and the dust had settled stood to win a cash prize.
In addition to being the beneficiary of the entire race’s proceeds, all the unclaimed squares went to Search & Rescue, and, wouldn’t you know it, the entire field of racing donkeys produced one pile on one square of the grid, an SAR-claimed square adjacent to two squares reserved by actual spectators betting on burro bowel movements.
SAR won $500 from that game, which was sponsored by Black Burro bicycles, Wann said that race raised “somewhere around the $700-$800 range.”