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Bird Banter: Paycheck, Ruby Begonia ready to face off in 46th running of the Great Gobbler Gallop

Worthington's King Turkey Day race team for 2018 includes (front, from left) Mike Phillips, handler, Jaime Salinas, coach, (back, from left) Wade Roesner, captain, and Chad Nixon, handler. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)1 / 2
Ruby Begonia of Cuero, Texas will be guided this year by (from left) James Rath, Laura Patek, Kristie Tieken and Kenneth Schley. (Special to The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — In the southwest corner of Minnesota stands Paycheck, a 2-year-old bird sporting wingtips, long legs and a head of bumpy blemishes.

From the southeast side of Texas struts Ruby Begonia, who only wishes she could float like a butterfly and run like a deer.

These two turkeys will clash in the first heat of the Great Gobbler Gallop at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and only the fittest, finest bird will get to deliver bragging rights for their community once the second heat is run in Cuero, Texas, next month.

Will Worthington’s Paycheck four-peat and keep the Traveling Turkey Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph on the home turf, forcing Ruby Begonia to once again settle for the Circulating Consolation Cup of Consummate Commiseration?

Well, the results are for the birds to decide.

Meanwhile, the racing coaches for Paycheck and Ruby Begonia are pulling out all of the tricks to ensure a victory and clinch the title of “Turkey Capital of the World” in this, the 46th running of the Great Gobbler Gallop.

Team Paycheck had a rough start with the first batch of turkeys, and the new batch of birds is still pretty young, so the team chose a veteran bird for this year’s race. The 2-year-old Paycheck is still a lean, mean running machine.

“He was ready to run anytime anybody got close to him,” assured Jaime Salinas, racing coach for Team Paycheck. “He hasn’t had a lot of contact with people, which is good. I want that turkey to run away from me, not to me.”

Salinas and his teammates — captain Wade Roesner and handlers Mike Phillips and Chad Nixon — have been working out with Paycheck for nearly a month running sprints and doing calisthenics. Essentially, they want to run with grace and not pant to the finish line.

Still, they’re keeping human contact to a minimum. Salinas said the last thing they want is a social bird who tries to greet everyone in the crowd on race day.

Paycheck’s diet has consisted of “anything and everything formulated to make Paycheck go fast,” Salinas shared, adding that he doesn’t want to disclose too many trade secrets.

“Things are looking pretty good and (Paycheck’s) looking pretty fast,” he said. “Of course, we’re always going to say Paycheck will come out on top. We want as big a lead going into Cuero.”

Cuero’s TurkeyFest will be the site of the second and final heat of the 2018 racing season for the birds. Of course, Cuero’s native daughter, Ruby Begonia, has her eyes on the prize to win first in Worthington, and then claim overall victory in front of her home crowd.

Ruby’s Racing Coach James Rath said their turkey hails from the world famous Thame Turkey Ranch just outside of Cuero. Their racing bird bested two other turkeys to earn the treasured name of Ruby Begonia, and as Rath claims, she’s “fast as crud.”

“So fast we could barely see it,” he added with emphasis.

Ruby Begonia has had a strict workout schedule, running for a mile to a mile and a half each day. She cools off from the hot Texas sun afterwards with a 45-minute blissful rest in a cooling chamber. Rath said that is so she can get her lungs acclimated to the cooler temperatures she’ll endure during her Minnesota visit.

To boost her energy, Rath has her on a high protein, low-fat diet with absolutely no supplements allowed.

“We’re strictly by the book,” he assured.

The problem with all of the exercise and the health food diet, however, is that Rath and his teammates — captain Laura Patek and handlers Kenneth Schley and Kristie Tieken — are having a hard time keeping up with her.

“We’re getting to the point where we’re going to have to follow her with an ATV because we just can’t run that fast,” Rath admitted.

Neither the Paycheck nor Ruby Begonia race team are concerned about their bird taking flight during Saturday’s race, but Rath did caution that “at the end of the day, it is a turkey.”

Rath’s parting words: “Go, Ruby, Go.”

From Team Paycheck: “Run, Paycheck, Run.”

May the best bird win gracefully, and the runner-up take it all in stride.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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