BREWSTER — The Paycheck racing team was in the midst of some important preparations Sunday night for this weekend’s Great Gobbler Gallop.
The quartet of Jamie Salinas (captain), Terri Odell (coach) and Chad Nixon and Kelly Eggers (handlers) were still deciding on just which one of Mike Thiner’s turkeys would represent Worthington and take on Ruby Begonia, the pride of Cuero, Texas. The 47th edition of the Gallop begins at 1:30 p.m. Saturday with the Worthington King Turkey Day heat; it concludes Oct. 12 in Cuero.
Paycheck is looking to extend a four-year winning streak and again keep the Traveling Trophy of Tumultuous Triumph in southwest Minnesota. Given both the recent track record and what the Worthington team says is the high quality of birds raised by “Turkey Whisperer” Mike Thiner, there appears to be every reason to be confident in a Saturday win for the home team.
“We’re looking for a bird that runs straight and quick,” Odell said Sunday, as Thiner prepared to lead two turkeys — one of them the son of last year’s Paycheck — on to a dead-end street for final auditions.
“We’ve got one that’s pretty big, fast, crazy and wild,” Salinas explained. “We’ve also got a smaller bird that’s quick and not so crazy.”
All bets are off, of course, when the turkeys are turned loose along Worthington’s 10th Street and Cuero’s Esplanade Avenue. Last year, Paycheck dominated in Worthington and didn’t fare as well in Texas, but still was strong enough to easily emerge as the overall winner.
“Last year, Paycheck here in Worthington was a good 20 yards ahead of us before we even knew what was going on,” Salinas remembered, explaining that the bird was far faster and fitter than its handling crew. “But in Cuero, we put Paycheck down, and he took a hard left and bolted toward the crowd. He basically hugged the crowd for the first three-quarters of the race … and then he ended up going down the middle.”
“He was just giving a little Minnesota nice,” added Odell of Paycheck’s display love for the Lone Star State faithful.
There’s a lot of love for both their hometown and Cuero in the hearts of Paycheck’s race team. Odell will making her third trip to Cuero’s Turkeyfest next month, as will Salinas. Nixon will also be a return visitor — while for Eggers, it’s his first time.
“I’m very confident we’ll win with my handling ability,” Eggers said, laughing, “I just want to have lots of fun.”
“We’re going to see a chupacabra,” Odell joked.
“A what?” Eggers dead-panned.
All of the Paycheck race team members have enjoyed long-time involvement with Worthington’s King Turkey Day, which is marking its 80th year of existence.
“We’ve all done six years each on the board,” Eggers said. “You just want to do you what you can to keep the festival going.”
“Prior to being on the board, we all volunteered for years, too,” Odell said. “It’s about your love for your hometown, and Turkey Day is Worthington’s celebration.”
Of course, Turkey Day is a bit more fun for all involved when Paycheck delivers a victory. Since the annual showdown with Ruby Begonia began in 1973, Paycheck has built a 27-19 advantage. While Salinas, Eggers and Nixon will each have the “shaker paddles” frequently used to attract their turkey’s attention, coach Odell has a different mission.
“The coach really tries to make them go this way or tries to make them go that way — with the emphasis on tries,” Salinas said.
There are factors other than the turkeys’ unpredictability that can come into play, too. Cuero’s Esplanade Avenue is much wider than 10th Street (“I would say it’s Oxford Street, minus the boulevard,” Odell said), and weather can get downright hot in Texas even though that heat is in mid-October.
“We’ve got our bird on a special low-fat, high-protein diet,” offered Nixon, speaking of the lengths the team will go through to win.
“We’ve got him on a keto diet,” Odell corrected. “That’s the rage, so we went with that. We’ll also bring him to the local sauna to prepare for the heat, and run him on the treadmill to get him ready.”
Whether or not that exact level of training is taking place, the Paycheck team still believes their bird will be more prepared than Ruby Begonia.
“Ruby is probably sitting around eating snacks at the Pecan House with Annette Rath and shopping at the Ful-O-Pep,” Salinas speculated.