Extreme Racing Day
Bluegrass Mallory won on Remington Park's 2016 Extreme Racing Sunday. She circled the winner's circle in front of thousands of onlookers. (William W. Savage III)

What a zoo!

The camels, zebras, ostriches and “dinky” donkeys scattered Sunday about Remington Park were not escapees from the actual zoo next door. Instead, they and other animals — including throngs of humans — were all on hand for the seventh installment of Extreme Racing Day, a philanthropic fundraiser that packs spectators and families alongside the usual racetrack crowd of gamblers and equestrians.

Zebra race

With about 23,000 people in attendance, Sharon Lair, vice president of marketing for Remington Park, said attendance for Extreme Racing Day exceeds that of the Kentucky Derby’s racing day festivities at the racetrack.

Although exotic animal racing had been offered at other tracks, Lair said Remington officials initially turned down the idea of hosting their such an event. Then, after the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association offered to fund an exotic event in OKC, Extreme Racing Day took off, she said.

“We were totally amazed at the attendance,” Lair said. “We think people are looking for an outside event, out in the weather, where they can bring their families, bring their kids, and not spend a lot of money.”

The event featured free entry and parking.

Miniature donkey race

But beyond offering a family-friendly Sunday outing, the wacky competition boasts a charitable aspect, allowing an opportunity for Remington to give back to more than a dozen nonprofits in the community. In each exotic race, Remington Park contributes $1,000 to the charity that sponsored the winning animal, officials said. The racetrack also partners with the various charities to provide T-shirts that each organization can sell, and the food trucks present at the event donate 15 percent of their take to Remington’s charity fund.

“So all that money just goes into this big fund for [the charities], including a golf tournament that we do later on in the year,” said Lair. “At the end of the year, it’s all divided up amongst all these charities.”

Half skill, half luck

Aside from friendly wagers among the crowd, there’s no betting on exotic animals during Extreme Racing Day. Even if onlookers could formally wager some bucks on their favorite camel, it would take more than a little luck to come out on top.

That advice comes from a man who knows.

Ohio native Dale Day calls the races from a glass-lined booth perched high above the track. An avid fan of horseracing since childhood, the former sports-radio color man began announcing Remington Park contests full-time in 2004. As one might imagine, the real challenge of calling horse races lies in memorizing all the names for one race, then forgetting them, and repeating the process for the very next race.

“You only have about five minutes to memorize the ‘players’,” Day said, as opposed to football or baseball games that last several hours. “People will go, ‘Oh, do you remember that race?’ And I’m like, ‘No, not really,’ because if I remembered every one of ’em I’d never get any of the names right.”

Despite this race-related amnesia, Day understands the ins and outs of selecting winning horses, adding the caveat that any given race contains several variables that can confound even the most well-researched strategy. Because horse racing mixes the unpredictability of an animal with the fallibility of a human, developing a sure-fire technique for picking winners remains elusive.

“No matter how much you know — or how much you think you know — there’s still half of it (that) you better have some racing luck on your side, too,” Day said, just before calling the race captured above in video.

‘I love the ostriches’

Aryn Hedrick
Exotic animal trainer Aryn Hedrick poses next to the holding pen for his ostriches, camels and zebras Sunday during Extreme Racing at Remington Park in OKC. (Josh McBee)

Remington Park’s exotic racers come from Hedrick’s Exotic Animal Farm outside of Hutchinson, Kan. Trainer Aryn Hedrick was “born and raised” around exotic animals thanks to his grandparents’ involvement with a circus and his father’s days as a rodeo clown.

While Hedrick said there’s not much difference between feeding and caring for a zebra versus a horse, the former retains a wilder nature.

“You just have to be real careful,” he said. “Little things spook ’em.”

Meanwhile, the unpredictable and potentially dangerous ostriches are his favorite. He noted that they have claws in odd places under their wings and that they remind people of dinosaurs.

“I love the ostriches,” he said. “They’re dumb as a rock.”

Scenes from Extreme Racing Day 2016

(Correction: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Sharon Lair’s name and make accurate reference to the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association.)