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Bob Sweeney and Yukon Jack race for the win against Brian Rawlings and Tito at the Buena Vista Pack Burro Race. Photo by Carly Winchell

The second day of the Buena Vista Gold Rush Days was greeted by a clearer sky and the sound of burros as racers prepared for the 13.1 mile course. Crowds lined the streets eagerly anticipating the starting shot for the famous annual Buena Vista Pack Burro Race.

After some fun and games, Bob Sweeney and Burro Yukon Jack finished first, nearly tied by Brian Rawlings and Burro Tito. Tracy Loughlin was the third overall finisher, a short time after the two leaders, securing her second Triple Crown win with burro Mary Margaret.

The Buena Vista Pack Burro Race (PBR), which is the third leg of the PBR Triple Crown 2023 and a staple of Buena Vista’s Gold Rush Days, took off with a bang at 10:00 a.m. Sunday, August 13. Competitors ran 13.1 miles with their burros, equipped with a packsaddle packed with the prospecting paraphernalia (including a pick, gold pan, and shovel), up into Four Mile and back to town.

A team uses a pitchfork to gather donkey droppings during the poop drop race pickup at Gold Rush Days. Photo by Carly Winchell

After the racers charged down East Main Street, there was about a two-hour gap before anyone was expected to be arriving again.

To fill that time, and get some free labor to clean up the donkey droppings left behind by the athletes, a poop drop race pickup contest was held with volunteers from the spectators. Teams of two lined up with large black trash bags as volunteers appeared from the crowd, intrigued by the $50 prize for the winning pair.

Different implements for scooping the poop were set up down the street with the closest tools being the least useful and the farthest being the most efficient poop scoopers.

One member of each team sprinted to grab their poop-scooping tool of choice before rejoining their partner for a ten-minute race to see who could clean up the largest amount of droppings.

While the bags were meant to be weighed via scale, technical difficulties necessitated volunteer judges from the crowd. Two stepped up to lift each team’s bag and gauge which weighed the most.

Eventually, a third judge was called in as the tie-breaker to determine who would win the $50 prize. Brent, the young man who helmed the winning team, ultimately donated his prize to Chaffee County Search and Rescue.

Kids get a taste of burro racing during the Mini Burro Race at Gold Rush Days. Photo by Carly Winchell

Once the poop drop race concluded, two mini burros were brought in for short, one-block races. Anyone in the crowd could sign up to participate with a $10 entry fee.

People of all ages stepped up to lead the two burros down the street, around a box, and back to the finish line, which would later serve as the final stretch for the official pack burro race as well.

Two stepped up to lead burros Alice and Nester (as quickly as the independently-minded donkeys would allow) in head-to-head races. The fastest time clocked in at fifty-five seconds. “I just wanted to beat my husband,” said the breathless victor Annie after finishing her run with the fastest time.

Finally, the call came out to clear the streets and the mini race came to a close as news of the lead racers fast approaching reached the finish line.

Bob Sweeney (age 56) with Yukon and Brian Rawlings (age 47) with Tito were the first to appear. Maneuvering around the stage, which obstructed part of the final stretch of the race, the pair rushed into view. The stage’s live music caused a few issues for racers as burros became hesitant to pass it even with the finish line in sight. This was no issue for Yukon and Tito as their teams sprinted for the last leg of the race and a near photo-finish.

“It went great. It was a great day,” said Sweeney in a post-race interview. “Yukon does what Yukon does. Kept his nose down all day. It was fun.”

Competitor Tracy Loughlin and Burro Mary Margaret celebrate their second Triple Crown win with a kiss at the Buena Vista Pack Burro Race. Photo by Carly Winchell

About ten minutes later came Tracy Loughlin (age 45) and Mary Margaret. Mary Margaret experienced some reluctance when passing the stage, but luckily there were no other competitors nearby and the pair was able to make a more leisurely pace across the finish line to claim their second triple crown win.

“I slowed her down,” said Loughlin after giving Mary Margaret a hug and a kiss and drinking some well-deserved water. “The heat got to me.” Loughlin beat a previous time by about twenty minutes.

Shortly after their arrival, the fourth and fifth-place runners came charging down the street vying for position.

Aidan Malherbe (age 15) with burro Big Ben just managed to edge out Jesse Lauder (age 42) and burro Josie for the fourth overall position and the third male competitor.

“He didn’t like the uphill,” said Malherbe of his partner Big Ben, “but he also doesn’t like to be passed.” That dislike proved the difference in the final moments.

Racers continued to come in as the afternoon progressed and the festival continued with plenty more live music and fun.

Gold Rush Days is a popular annual event that draws significant crowds of locals and tourists alike. This year was no exception. Even with the change in venue, plenty came to enjoy the vendors, food, dunk tank, music, and other activities that livened up Buena Vista’s East Main Street.

Full, currently unofficial, results for the Buena Vista Pack Burro Race are posted online here.