EAST PIKELAND — Although the day began gray and a little wet, the sun shone through just in time for the annual Sly Fox Bockfest Goat Races Sunday afternoon.
“We're glad people still came out to support us,” said Brian O'Reilly, the race's emcee and Sly Fox's head brewmaster. “I think this is bigger than last year.”
Thousands turned out to down Sly Fox's brews, listen to Emil Schanta's polka band, or just stand, talk and enjoy what turned out to be a sunny, spring day in the parking lot of the Maple Lawn Shopping Center.
A large tan and white goat named Spartacus eventually beat a strong field of competitors which included several former champions to become the 2014 champion. This year's Maibock beer is now named after him for his accomplishment.
“This is the Spartacus-bock!” one man within Sly Fox's restaurant yelled to a friend, handing over a mug. “Here's to Spartacus!”
Owned by Bill Lucchessi, of Frank A. Smith's Beverages in Pottstown, Spartacus ran well with his “goat coach” Buzz Hartsig Sunday, who listed some traits of what he thought made Spartacus such a great competitor.
“We didn't know what to expect, but when we got in there, he ran,” Hartsig said, wearing the champion's medal around his neck. “He's got size and he's ornery. He's got a lot of spunk.”
With her face painted like a goat, Lucchesi's daughter, Mia, also helped run Spartacus to victory.
A “wet track,” as O'Reilly described it to the crowd, may have played a role in the final results Sunday.
Last year's champion, a three-legged goat named Simon, slipped and then stopped when his owner got tripped up as well in his opening heat, according to Christina Vittoria, of Team Simon/Peggy.
Hartsig said he leapt over Simon in that heat as he ran with Spartacus.
Peggy, Simon's three-legged compatriot who won the races in 2011 and 2012, had a good showing Sunday, making it to the finals, but couldn't become the first-ever three-time champion.
“I think it all went well,” O'Reilly said. “There were some great races. We expected more from Peggy and Simon but we certainly respect them as racers and there were some great races this year.”
Vittoria said Peggy, whose handlers had hinted at retirement last year, is getting older and is “like a guy who has a whole bunch of Super Bowl rings: she's like, ‘Yeah, I've been there.'”
She said Peggy didn't seem to be in a real running mood Sunday, only really sprinting in her semi-final race.
Retirement is almost a certainty now, Vittoria said.
As for Simon, slipping and then seeing his handler also fall took the race out of him. He's expected back next year, though.
The pair of tripods, or as some called them, “undergoats,” remain a crowd favorite and many of their shirts were worn by attendees Sunday.
Merchandise sold for Team Simon and Team Peggy raises money for the Humane Society of Berks County, for which $6,500 has been raised over the last three years, according to Vittoria.
Peggy and Simon weren't the only ones raising money for a good cause Sunday. Proceeds from the entire event were slated for the Chester County SPCA.
“It's fun,” said Laura Murphy, who was with her husband and some friends, filling the all-important role as designated driver. “We were here [at Sly Fox] back in January. They said there were goat races, so we looked it up.”
Belinda Brinton and Ron Sweed, both of Lancaster, were at their second Bockfest/goat race.
They scoped out their favorites before getting to the festival, as they had last year.
Brinton liked Baxter.
“He's so little and cute,” she said.
Sweed's goat was Heinz.
“He likes beer and he likes to stand on cars,” Sweed said with a smile.
“So he's like you,” Brinton laughed.
Lothar Knuttel ran with Daisy and made it to the semifinals.
“It went well,” he said. “She actually ran. But she's a little fat. So when she got with the faster goats, she got her [butt] smoked.”
Hartsig perhaps described the goat racing experience best.
“It was extremely exhilarating,” he said, his glass freshly empty of the maibock bearing his goat's name.
Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.