Sometimes, there’s just no substitute for creative burro management on the fly.

Seemingly indifferent to the need for more speed and a greater sense of urgency during the final 200 yards of Sunday’s 71st Annual World Championship Long Course Pack Burro Race in Fairplay, Marvin Sandoval’s burro, Buttercup, lumbered lazily toward the finish line despite being frantically pressed by Bob Sweeney and his capable burro, Yukon.

Burros and runners alike embarked on the home stretch nose-to-nose, shoulder-to-shoulder, as solid waves of spectators lining both sides of Front Street roared with thunderous approval.

Sandoval, understanding the need for immediate action, took up slack in the lead rope, positioned himself directly behind Buttercup and gently spanked the miniature burro while verbally encouraging her to pick up her pace.

Buttercup undoubtedly got the message, steadily gained momentum and obediently maintained focus long enough to establish a narrow lead that held through the finish.

Sandoval and his burro completed the 25-mile trek in 4:58.07, followed by Sweeney and Yukon at 4:58.12.

The race traditionally covers 29 miles, but lingering snow cover over high elevation portions of the course prompted organizers to shave the distance by four miles due to safety concerns.

Sandoval and Buttercup, who earned $1,000 for Sunday’s victory, now have the opportunity to compete for the Triple Crown of World Championship Pack Burro Racing by winning both the Boom Day Pack Burro Race in Leadville, Aug. 4, and the Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race in Buena Vista, Aug. 11.

Sandoval is a lifelong resident of Leadville, and seemingly has all the ideal skills and experiences to compete in endurance events – especially at high altitude venues. Being a past winner of the grueling Leadman competition held annually in Leadville, competing as a high school sprinter and recently participating in numerous marathons are all convincing pieces of Sandoval’s ever-growing resume.

The annual Leadman competition consists of a progressive series of trail run and mountain bike events ranging from 26.2 to 100 miles for a total of 282.4 miles. Racers must complete each event within an allotted cutoff time in order to move on and be eligible for the next.

Sunday’s event marked only the second time Sandoval and Buttercup have raced competitively together. The exhausted duo, standing just a few feet beyond the finish line seconds after the conclusion of the race, were swarmed by curious onlookers, a sea of cameras and a considerable number of inquisitive reporters.

Still struggling to catch his breath, Sandoval politely stated and spelled both his and

his burro’s names for reporters, then suddenly stopped.

“Something to drink would be nice,” Sandoval said.

After taking a moment to recover, Sandoval stated that he was elated to have outlasted the field and praised Buttercup for maintaining her competitive edge during the long, hot haul through constant elevation changes, wet, marshy terrain, boulder fields where runners and burros were slowed to a crawl, and other severely-taxing obstacles along the way.

“We stayed within the lead pack from start to finish, and she [Buttercup] was just great the whole way,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval seemed unaffected by Buttercup’s reluctance down the stretch, as burros are pack animals and are generally hesitant to establish too much distance between themselves and the rest of the field.

“This was only our second race together, and this was our first time to be here in Fairplay,” Sandoval said. “So I’m really happy.”

Second place by seconds – not too shabby

The second-place tandem of Sweeney and Yukon were competing together for the fourth time, and their hard work together is beginning to yield results. Last year, the pair took fourth place in the event.

“I’ll take it,” Sweeney said of the second-place finish. “This is our first time to the podium.”

Sweeney, 43, splits his time between Louisville and Leadville. He grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and has been a Colorado resident since 1994. According to Sweeney, he and Yukon are beginning to hit their stride together.

“Almost every week, she and I have been working together, and that has helped,” Sweeney said. “She is a great burro, and she has a great temperament. She is between twelve and fifteen years old, so she is still young.”

Sweeney continued, “When we got into the crowd of people, like most of the burros, she sort of freezes a little. The crowd is loud, and they are all pointing cameras and cell phones at them, and it usually affects them some. Yukon is also fine with being in the lead, but is hesitant to separate from the pack.”

When asked if he would lose sleep over coming so close but falling short of winning by such a small margin, Sweeney chuckled.

“Heck no, I won’t. After all, it’s just a burro race.”

Did you know?

Sunday’s race, along with those set to occur in Leadville and Buena Vista in the coming weeks, are sanctioned by the Western Pack Burro Association.

Just a few of the common rules for each of the races are as follows:

Each burro will be required to be equipped with a regulation pack saddle, packed with prospector’s paraphernalia, and must include a pick, shovel, and gold pan. The combined weight of the pack saddle and paraphernalia shall be a minimum of 33 pounds. The burro will be led by a halter to which is attached a rope not to exceed 15 feet in length.

The following is the definition of a burro, and is to be used in selecting a burro for competition. The word “burro” comes from the Spanish word meaning donkey. A donkey is defined as being an ass.

They have chestnuts on the forelegs only, while other animals of the same species, such as mules or horses, have them on hind and forelegs. The tail has no hair, except on its lower part, which has a brush.

A registered veterinarian shall have the authority to disqualify any contestant and animal that does not match the above description, or whose animal is sick, doped, injured or mistreated. A veterinarian will check animals before and after the race.

Winning burros can be held in a designated area by the race committee for 30 minutes while being examined by a veterinarian.

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