All smiles

Danny Pedretti, 16, stormed through the Short Course Burro Race to win with a time of 2:11.19 (Photo by Kelly Kirkpatrick/The Flume)

At 16 years old, Danny Pedretti’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is still very much in question.

But results from Sunday’s 71st Annual World Championship Short Course Pack Burro Race in Fairplay leave no question as to his ability to operate a burro.

Pedretti and his burro, Call, both negotiated the 15-mile journey like seasoned veterans and held off a furious late challenge by Brian Rawlings of Colorado Springs and his burro, Cheeto, to win by a mere two seconds at the wire.

The lead changed hands multiple times during the race, thrilling spectators at the end in what was virtually a photo finish.

Pedretti officially crossed the finish line with a time of 2:11.19, with Rawlings just behind at 2:11.21.

“We got out pretty quick and we were pretty much alone for the first five miles of the race,” Pedretti said. “Then we got passed, and the lead went back and forth a number of times. With about a mile to go we took the lead again and barely held on. Between the altitude, and the burro, I’m pretty exhausted.”

Pedretti was participating in just his second pack burro race, but he did show promise last year with a fifth-place showing in the Fairplay event.

Last year, Danny and twin brother Brian, both distance runners for their high school in Annandale, N.J., tied for fifth place on the Short Course. This year, Brian suffered an injury and was unable to finish alongside Danny.

The Pedretti family has a storied history in the event, as Danny’s uncle, Rob Pedretti, won the race in 1999. Tragically, Rob later took his own life, so Danny and Brian continue to participate in the event as a means of remembering and honoring their uncle.

Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction, and the real story is more remarkable than any that could be written in a Hollywood script. Danny’s uncle, Rob, won the race 19 years ago with a time of two hours, 11 minutes, and change. Danny’s time Sunday: 2:11.19.

Both Danny and Brian are already posting exceptional times for high school runners, as each covers one mile in about four minutes and 30 seconds.

“I feel bad for Brian, and I was not sure how Danny would respond when his brother was unable to finish,” said Mr. Pedretti after the race. “But to say I am proud would be an understatement. I am extremely proud of both boys, and it’s obviously a special day for our family.”

Interestingly, because Danny is still participating as an amateur athlete, he cannot accept prize money, or he would technically lose his amateur status.

“I have no idea what will happen to that prize money, but I guarantee you it won’t go to me,” Danny said.

Impressive credentials

Making Pedretti’s victory all the more satisfying is that second-place finisher Rawlings has had an illustrious career as a long distance runner.

Rawlings, 43, who grew up in Arkansas and was a standout runner for the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, going on to run in professional distance events after college.

Rawlings and Pedretti developed a mutual respect for one another over the course of the race.

“The kid who won is a really nice kid, and he and his burro did a great job,” Rawlings said. “We passed the lead back and forth a couple of times … that’s the way these races usually go.”

Rawlings said his burro performed exceptionally well and elaborated on the importance of the runner-burro relationship.

“Having a good donkey is just so essential,” Rawlings said. “You always want a peaceful, cooperative relationship with your donkey. You want a donkey that doesn’t resist, and it’s all about relationship management with your animal.”

Rawlings added that even for seasoned runners, the altitude can be a factor.

“The course here is not overly difficult, and I was okay for most of the race,” Rawlings said. “But coming up the big hill, I absolutely felt the altitude.”

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