Wild Nights Are Back at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course with Return of Ostrich and Camel Races

Posted By Katie Kohler on July 7, 2021 - Last Updated on July 8, 2021

The most popular races in Pennsylvania don’t involve thoroughbreds, politicians, or mascots. Instead, they feature ostriches and camels.

Live horse racing resumed at some Pennsylvania casinos. However, perhaps the most anticipated race will be run this Friday. ostrich and camel races resume on July 9 at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.

“The crowds are huge. Our biggest race day is Penn Mile Day. The novelty of the ostrich and camel race outdraws that,” said Eric Johnston, Director of Racing Operations Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course.

It’s only “hump day” but we are so excited our feathers are in a bunch about the triumphant return of ostrich and camel races.

Details Ostrich and Camel Races at Hollywood Casino

  • When: Friday, July 9 at 5 p.m.
  • Where: At the racing apron at Penn National Race Course at Hollywood Casino
  • Cost: Free
  • Who can attend: All ages
  • Event details: Ostrich and camel races. The event is sponsored by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. In addition to racing, there will be food trucks, entertainment and giveaways.
  • Video of 2019 event.
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How ostriches and camels came to PA

A native of Grantville where Hollywood Casino is located, Johnston started his racing career there in 1983. When he was in Texas working at the Sam Houston Race Park as the Director of Racing and Racing Secretary he saw the immense popularity of the ostrich and camel races. Johnston said that at its peak, the event drew over 20,000 people.

When Johnston returned to Penn National in PA in 2014 as the Director of Racing Operations at Hollywood Casino, ostrich and camel races soon followed and have been run four times. Johnston pointed out that many spectators are repeat ostrich and camel racegoers.

“It’s a great promotional event. The people love it and have a lot of fun and it’s a great show.”

A company from Kansas provides the camels and ostriches for the races. They are contracted by racetracks and county fair to operate the promotional races.

“They are great caretakers of the animals,” commented Johnston.

FAQs about ostrich and camel racing

The intriguing event draws a crowd and piques curiosity. PlayPennsylvania answers some of the most pressing questions about ostrich and camel racing.

How fast can an ostrich run?

An ostrich can reach a max speed of 43 mph.

Why are ostriches so fast?

Ostriches have “a spring in their step.” According to Researchers at the University of Western Australia, ostriches generate over twice as much power from recoil of elastic energy stored in tendons than humans. They need less muscle power to run much faster.

How fast can a camel run?

About 25 mph.

How fast does a horse run?

The fastest race speed actually occurred at Penn National Race Course in Grantville on May 14, 2008. Winning Brew, a 2-year-old filly clocked an average speed of 43.97 mph while covering 2 furlongs.

Thoroughbred racehorses regularly reach speeds in excess of 40 mph.

Which is more difficult to ride – an ostrich or a camel?

“The ostrich by far. There is not much to sit on,” said Johnston. “The camel is rigged up with a saddle and a brace the jockey can hold onto. The ostrich has a small saddle but it’s more like a saddle you would see used at rodeos. Camels run a straight line. They are fine. Ostriches are a little forgetful. They go where they want to.”

Can you bet on ostrich and camel racing?

No. Hollywood Casino does not offer wagering for ostrich and camel races. It is a novelty event.

Who rides the ostriches and camels?

Horse jockeys.

Can I pet the ostriches and camels? Are they nice? Can I get pictures?

Prior to the races, the ostriches and camels will be on display on the racing apron.

“The camels are not the spitting type,” Johnston. “The ostriches do have a tendency to peck. We tend to keep people back, but you can get some great photos with them.”

All photos c/o Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course. 

Katie Kohler Avatar
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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She is the Managing Editor at PlayPennsylvania and covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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