Prepping for a fowl feudWORTHINGTON — Ruby Begonia arrived in town Thursday a few hours before her human team members. The Texas turkey took the long route, riding in her specially outfitted cage on the tow hitch of a vehicle headed north. Meanwhile, the Turkey Race Team from Cuero, Texas, took an airplane into Sioux Falls, S.D.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Ruby Begonia arrived in town Thursday a few hours before her human team members. The Texas turkey took the long route, riding in her specially outfitted cage on the tow hitch of a vehicle headed north. Meanwhile, the Turkey Race Team from Cuero, Texas, took an airplane into Sioux Falls, S.D.
But Cuero Coach Cory Thamm is sure the bird’s mode of travel won’t affect her performance in the Great Gobbler Gallop on Saturday. He’s confident in his bird’s ability to bounce back from any truck lag.
“I raised that turkey. We’ve got a special breeding program, and this is the first one out of that breed,” he boasted. “This bird is nothing but legs. It’s aerodynamic; it’s built for sprinting.”
The breeding program, Thamm detailed, combined the best traits from past racing birds.
“We’ve gathered a group of winning Rubys from the last so many years, and through some special techniques that I’m not allowed to divulge, we meshed the DNA into a super racing turkey,” he said, adding, “We didn’t just catch some wild turkeys and started breeding them.”
Thamm is joined on the team by Jason Rogers, captain; and handlers Bobby Phillips and Dawn Draper. Rogers is the only veteran on the team.
“This will be Jason’s third year racing. He’s never lost a race — lost a heat last year but not a race,” Thamm noted. “One of our race team members, Dawn, is an undertaker, so we’ve got Paycheck covered. She’s also a sprinter, as is Bobby. I myself have been training right alongside Ruby so I would be physically fit and ready for the ultimate athletic event.”
In fact, Thamm’s training regimen has resulted in a weight loss of more than 100 pounds.
“I’m back to my fighting weight,” he said. “I now weigh what I did in high school.”
As coach, however, Thamm’s role in the race is to serve as more of an advisor, and he’s not allowed to touch the bird on the race course.
While the Texans are focused on advanced breeding technology, the Worthington team is going with the tried and true.
“We chose not to get rid of our world-class bird from last year that set records,” said Coach Chris Heinrichs.
Last year’s Worthington heat of the Great Gobbler Gallop was indeed a record setter, with both birds finishing the course in less than 30 seconds.
“But we thought our bird could do even better, so we sent him to racing camp,” continued Heinrichs. “He just got back, and we immediately walked him through the downtown area and got his approval of the course. He pointed out a couple of hazards that need to be fixed. He’s not happy that he lost last year, so we don’t foresee that happening again.”
During the second leg of the race, at Cuero’s Turkeyfest last October, both birds once again sprinted for the finish, Heinrichs recalled, but something — or someone — got in the way of Paycheck taking home the trophy.
“Last year, people were anxious to see the race down in Cuero and ran out in front of our bird,” he said. “Paycheck ran into them, got touched when we tried to get him away from the crowd, and it gave us the five-second penalty that cost us the race.”
The other members of the Worthington Turkey Race Team are Captain Tammy Anderson, a veteran the 2009 contest; and newcomer handlers Jesse Teerink and Diane Schettler.
“Jesse’s going to be our crowd control,” Heinrichs detailed. “He’s going to run down the street with his paddle toward the crowd so we don’t have a repeat of last year. We’re going to keep the crowd out of it.”
Heinrichs was reluctant to give out any further details of the team’s strategy, only saying, “We have a game plan.
“We intend to completely humiliate the Texas team this year. It will not be a four-second victory.”