We’re here at Heinold Downs for the pig-hurdles event and the porkers are at the gate. There’s the starting bell—and they’re off! It’s Stormin’ Norman out in front, followed by Pigsqueak on the inside, Chop Sticks, Mia Farrow and Gloria Vandergilt. As they take the first 13-inch hurdle it’s Pigsqueak picking up the pace with Gloria right on his heels. And they’re up and over—but here comes Mia Farrow! They’re neck and neck at the big 16-inch hurdle, and now it’s Mia out in front. It’s Mia at the third, 10-inch hurdle and into the homestretch. Mia Farrow takes it by a snout!
“This is no run for the roses,” says Roy Holding, a realistic man, as the winner receives her prize of one chocolate cookie. “This is a run for the cookies.” Holding, 58, dreamed up the pig races in 1977 as a promotional gimmick for Heinold Hog Markets, the largest independent hog buyer in the world, based in Kouts, Ind. Since then the former journalist’s traveling attraction, named Heinold Downs, has become a popular event on the state-fair and ag-show circuit. His 29 rigorously trained sprinters and hurdlers have a special high-protein, low-fat diet and travel to their half-dozen yearly engagements in a 38-foot trailer, equipped with running water and fan-cooled stalls, which Holding calls “a rolling pig palace.” The pigs collectively run 22 races a day for three to 10 days, drawing crowds of up to 2,500 per race.
“Basically,” says Holding, “we’d like to correct the misconception that pigs are dumb, dirty and slow.” He trained his porcine pacesetters by placing a gate two-thirds of the way down a pen with a feed pan at the end. He chased the pigs to the gate, rang a bell, then opened the gate and let them bolt for the feed. “I did this 20 to 25 times, three times a day,” he says. “After four days the pigs had figured out the game, and I’d lost five pounds.”
Hurdle training, which is similar, followed. “The pig is a natural jumper,” Holding says. His swine are so eager at the starting gate that they actually rear up on their hind legs, place their hooves against the door and spring it open as soon as the release bar drops down. Belly Bust, a legendary black-and-white gilt (virgin pig), holds the record for rounding a 70-foot U-shaped track—3.51 seconds. (The track recently was made 85 feet long and oval.) “That,” says Holding, “is the equivalent of the four-minute mile. Of course, no pig can run a mile at that speed—probably can’t even run a mile.”
Sooner or later even Belly Bust and Mia Farrow (“farrow” means to give birth to piglets) must run their last race and be retired to Hog Heaven, after fattening up. As with all Heinold’s pigs, that’s fate. The company’s chuck wagon is parked close by Heinold Downs, and from it wafts the odors of bacon, pork sausage and baked ham, proving that for some the race is indeed to the Swift, or perhaps to Oscar Mayer.