It took a lifetime of preparation to refine one of the ’s most popular attractions.
But the drop of an Oreo cookie in a small pan is all it takes to get four little piglets to run around a miniature Kentucky Derby-themed track with all their might.
And off they go, kicking their heels as they dig around the track in yet another voyage of the “Ham Bone Express.”
“Swinemaster” Charlie Boger, who brings a slice of Americana to the tech-centric Peninsula’s annual fair, runs the traveling pig circus with his wife, Carol.
Together with 19 pigs including “Wilbur,” a non-racing 1,100-pound behemoth, the Bogers cover thousands of miles each year performing at over a 100 fairs from Florida and New York to California and Texas in their custom 53-foot trailer that also serves as a backdrop for the race.
A lifelong rodeo and circus man, Boger estimates he’s done well over a 15,000 pig races. And by now, the lines roll easily off his tongue in his native Arkansas drawl.
"The winner gets a cookie and the losers get the crumbs, and I've been in both places," Boger told an overflow crowd topping 500 at the start of a Thursday afternoon race.
"It's really cute," said Angela Duerden, a San Bruno resident who said she's attended several pig races at the fair over the years.
"You have the feeling you're on the farm and they're actually racing on the track, it’s exciting."
First-time pig race spectator Shue Huo of San Mateo was intrigued by the idea of seeing something different.
“We always see the dogs and horses but we've never seen the pigs race,” she said.
Boger splits his crowds into four sections that cheer for numbered horses in each of the four-horse races. Each groups gets a cheerleader who wins a “pig nose” if theirs’ is the “fastest swine off the line.”
Arnold "Schwarzenpigger," Claude "VanHam," Monica “Lewpigsky” and Britney "Spare Ribs,” are among the nicknamed pigs competing in Nashville, Hollywood, political and heavyweight themed races.
Political correctness, however, is not the goal.
“Some people have complained, but I just tell them, ‘come on, it’s a pig race!”
Nevertheless, they do say they take the welfare of their animals seriously.
The pigs are watched throughout the day, are thoroughly inspected by a veterinarian every 30 days, and are kept in conditions that meet or exceed USDA Animal Welfare Act standards and state and local regulations, the Bogers say.
The Bogers are on the road 10 months out of the year, spending most of their lives in a town that are usually thousands of miles from their Fayetteville, Ark., home.
Boger admits that sometimes the energy wanes. He says it’s on those days that his wife reminds him of why they’re in the business they’re in.
“If someone in that crowd has financial trouble or there kid's sick, if you can make them laugh for 20 minutes and help them get that stuff off their mind then we did our job,” he said.
“That's what they're paying us for.”
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