History of Mule Racing
From Plow to Racing
On southern plantations after the work was done mules were used for racing. What began as a lark on the farm, soon developed into a highly competitive pastime. Soon plantation owners were fiercely competing with each other, with slaves as jockeys, and of course a good wager involved. As competition continued, some owners kept mules that were only used for racing. Racing moved from the plantation to county fairs and at horse racing tracts mule racing was often included. In 1895 mule racing was held at the Johnson County Fair in Kansas.
By the twentieth century mule racing was a major sport held on racetracks throughout the country, but mainly in the Deep South. Karen Wogan Glynn writes in her article, “Running Mules: Mule Racing in the Mississippi Delta,” that mule racing complete with pari-mutuel betting took place in several towns. Betting on horse racing was illegal in Mississippi, but they got around the law since it didn’t “say anything about mules.”
Mule racing was also enjoyed “up north.” Long Island, New York held mule races on New Market track, America’s first racecourse, circa 1668. The Huckleberry Frolic was held annually at New Market and included mule races on its program along with many other festivities.
In the fall of 1921 it was reported in the New York Times that Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and Mrs. J. Griswold Webb would participate in a mule race at the Duchess County Fair. Whether the ladies were to actually ride the mules themselves or if they were merely the mule owners the article did not say.
Two Mississippi locations where mule racing was popular were Rosedale and Greenwood. Karen Wogan Glenn writes that mule races were held at Walter Sillers Memorial Park in conjunction with the first Plantation Festival there in 1938. The Rosedale races continued annually until World War II and resumed in 1946.
In Greenwood the Junior Women’s Auxiliary organized their mule race to raise money for their charity projects. Those races continued right through the war years until 1948. After that the Jaycees sponsored the races through the fifties and sixties.
Kentucky’s Ellis Park Racetrack held an event called the Plug Horse Derby. It was a family day with all sorts of contest and in 1951 out of ten “plug horse” races several of them were mule races.
Mule racing continues today to be a popular sport under the jurisdiction of the American Mule Racing Association.
Mule Race in California
Racing Mules and Cloning
Mules made scientific history in 2003 when the first cloned mule was born on May 4th at the University of Idaho. Idaho Gem was also the first hybrids to be cloned. Later two more cloned mules were born. Researchers used a cell from a mule fetus and an egg from a horse to clone the mule, Idaho Gem. Later that year Idaho Star was born.
Since mules cannot reproduce, cloning gives hope of preserving the genes of outstanding mule athletes. This is especially interesting to those in the mule racing industry, which hopes cloning will make it possible to preserve the genes of outstanding racers. Cloning mammals also offers the possibility of advances in cancer research.
Idaho Gem and his brother, Idaho Star were trained for racing. They won their first race, which was held at the Winnemucca Mule Races in June 2006. The pair placed first and second in a 350-yard sprint, with Idaho Star clocking .027 seconds faster than his brother, both beating the field of six non-cloned mules. Another cloned mule was born at the University of Idaho. It was kept at the university for research while the other two raced.