To be a champion of Chandler’s annual Cinco de Mayo Festival and Chihuahua Races, it takes long hours, lots of planning, and a competitive mind-set.
“It was just last minute, I just thought I’d just do it because it sounded like fun,” says Pam Yamada, whose Chihuahua, Levi, took home third in last year’s races.
OK ... maybe not.
Though speed and agility can make a champion Chihuahua, those skills don’t guarantee a win.
“I think it’s just the mentality of the dog,” says Ted Becerra, whose pup, Chico, took the gold in 2011.
“He’s not a scared Chihuahua. You see the kind that’s shaky — those aren’t going to run; they’re just going to stay there and shake. Ours is an ankle biter that goes after things,” says Becerra.
Both Chico’s and Levi’s owners plan on entering their teeny racers in 2012’s races, which are part of a bigger Cinco de Mayo celebration. During the day-long festival, a king and queen Chihuahua will be chosen, with a $75 grand prize and cape going to the winners. A Centennial Chihuahua will also be chosen this year and will receive a $100 prize, a cape and a trophy to commemorate the achievement.
Saturday’s celebration also features a lowrider car show, a children’s health fair, Chihuahuas available for adoption, and food, music and other entertainment.
Levi is therapy-dog certified, something that may not seem key to sprinting down the chutes faster than the competition. But Yamada thinks his training helps.
“At the races last year, some of the dogs were so scared and skittish,” she says. She recalled some pooches that wouldn’t leave the gates, or would run halfway down the track and then run back to their owners. She felt that the noise of the cheering and the general commotion of the race scared the pups.
“He wasn’t phased by any of it. He’s been around a lot of people and noise and everything since he was a puppy,” she says.
A little physical fitness for the half-pint pups doesn’t hurt, either.
“I take him hiking,” says Yamada. “He does Camelback with me. The longest he’s done is a 9-mile hike.”
For Chico, Becerra’s daughters were there to keep him in shape.
“They go to the park, and they just have him run back and forth to each other to get him into a little bit of shape, I guess,” he says.
As with all physical competitions, injuries can hinder success.
Chico competed in 2009, but was on the DL for 2010’s race.
“He hurt his leg, so he didn’t race,” says Becerra. “He got hit by a car, he couldn’t do it at all. His leg was in a cast.”
For his comeback win in 2011, Chico got the grand prize of $500 — well, at least his owners did.
“We’ve got five people in our family, so we all just split it,” says Becerra.
Chico, reportedly, did not get anything special.
“I didn’t even know what the prizes were, and I was so shocked when he got this huge trophy,” Yamada says of the third-place spoils Levi received. “I just thought it was funny.”
How does Becerra feel about Chico’s chances this year?
“Pretty good. My daughters are already out there (with the dog) at the park everyday,” he says.
Yamada is not as hopeful. She’s been busy with work, and that’s taken a toll on Levi’s chances of a repeat this year.
“He’s gained a couple of pounds,” she says.
If you go
What: Chandler’s Cinco de Mayo Festival and Chihuahua Races
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Races are at 2 p.m. Coronation, where the King, Queen and Chandler Centennial Chihuahua will be chosen, is at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Downtown Chandler Public Library Courtyard, 22 S. Delaware St.
Cost: Festival admission is free. $20 to register a Chihuahua to race, $10 King and Queen Coronation fees, $25 to register for both
Information: (480) 782-2735 or www.chandleraz.gov
• Preston, a junior studying journalism at Arizona State University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org