EAST PIKELAND — A three-legged goat won the annual Sly Fox Bock Fest goat race championship Sunday, but it’s not the three-legged goat you’re probably thinking of.
Simon, a protégé of sorts to back-to-back, three-legged champion Peggy, won his first championship, beating out a field of approximately 60 goats to have this year’s Maibock named after him.
“Simon was amazing,” said Sly Fox brewmaster Brian O’Reilly, who served as the event’s emcee. “He was fast and definitely a great goat.”
Simon won each of his three races on the course in the parking lot of the Maple Lawn Shopping Center. Simon’s races included a preliminary heat, a semi-final and a final.
Goats raced, ideally, by following their handlers’ example and running across the finish line. Most were tethered to their owners by rope or a dog leash.
Some, however, refused to race and had to be pushed, pulled or even carried to the line.
Thang Trieu, the handler, or “jockey,” as he put it, for Mini-Curl knew that was a possibility heading into the race.
“Goats are very stubborn,” he said. “They do what they want... You have to promote good actions.”
Mini-Curl, racing for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to raise awareness, did well in the first heat, running straight through to the line. But in the semi-finals, the stubbornness Trieu described took hold as Mini-Curl, clad in an orange Cystic Fibrosis Foundation T-shirt, first stalled on the start, then tried to stop at a gate on the side of the course near its middle before being pulled forward.
Simon never had such a problem, charging to the finish line every time behind his handler wearing a maroon shirt which read, across its back, “There’s a new three-legged goat in town.”
Despite what may seem like a rivalry, Simon and Peggy actually live together, keep each other company, and race for the same cause.
“We’re here to support the Humane Society of Berks County and to support a good family time,” said Christina Vittoria, who looks after Peggy and Simon with her boyfriend Colin Presby, Peggy’s handler for the races.
Vittoria, a veterinarian, said Peggy lost a back leg to an infection from a dog bite years ago and Simon lost one of his front legs when another goat kicked him in the “elbow.”
“A lot of people are afraid to amputate their animal’s legs, they’d rather put them down,” Vittoria said. “We’re here showing people that not only can your animal live a normal life, they can race.”
“On the one hand, we’re sad Peggy didn’t win,” said Presby. “On the other, Simon is a really fast goat. We’re excited for him.”
By winning, Simon, an all-black medium-sized goat about thigh-high, may have staved off a retirement by Peggy.
“We were thinking about retiring her if she won this race, go out on the three-peat,” Presby said. “Now, I think she’s going to be coming back next year.”
Peggy definitely remains a crowd-favorite, being stopped for pictures every few steps. Green “Team Peggy” shirts could be seen everywhere.
Thousands of every age crowded the shopping center parking lot and the small, wooded hill overlooking the goat racing straightaway. The event clearly grew from last year, when 5,000 were estimated to have shown up, according to Sly Fox manager Raija Madsen.
By 3:30 p.m., weissewurst and beerwurst sandwiches and pretzels were sold out.
Mike Newbert Jr. said he couldn’t get a T-shirt for the event as early as 1 p.m.
Although he was disappointed not to get a shirt, Newbert clearly had fun.
“Everybody’s here to have a great time,” he said.
Meg O’Meara was celebrating her brother’s birthday at the beer fest. She’d seen the goat races last year.
“It’s his birthday, there’s beer and goats. It doesn’t get much better,” she said. “It’s different. There’s so many different people that show up.”
At the opposite end of the parking lot from the goat races, separated by some large tents and long lines for beer, Emil Schanta made another appearance with his Oompah band, playing crowd-favorites and German beer hall music.
“I’m half loaded already,” Schanta declared from behind his accordion at one point in the afternoon to laughs.
Children danced with their parents and several older couples twirled near the stage.
An addition this year was a large video screen in which the races were shown, live, for those who couldn’t see past the crowds near the goats, which were six or seven deep at points.
“I tell you one thing, this is getting better every year,” Schanta said.
O’Reilly said he was happy with the event this year, but there’s not much time to enjoy the afterglow.
“Planning for next year begins tomorrow,” he said.
Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.