It's one of the cutest happenings at the Ohio State Fair. Here's how the annual pig races came to be.
With the sound of a horn, tiny piglets shoot out of the gate and race around a sawdust track. It’s adorable and fun, and the feature has been a fixture of the Ohio State Fair since the 1980s thanks to Jay Phillips and his family.
Phillips’ Missouri-based Show-Me Safari began when his grandfather bought a few quarter horses in the late 1970s. Soon, the family was operating an animal-show outfit that today includes pig races, camel and pony rides and an exotic-animal petting zoo.
“He bought his first llama at a sale,” Phillips says of his grandfather, “and it went from there. It went from llamas to giraffes to lizards to just about everything.”
Phillips added the pig races to the Ohio State Fair a few years after first bringing the Show-Me Safari Petting Zoo to Columbus. His grandfather and brother had seen the attraction at an Iowa machinery show and decided to make it part of the family’s animal-show business.
Phillips’ domestic pigs race at 3 months of age, while his Vietnamese potbelly pigs race once they’re adults.
“Pigs are very intelligent … you can pretty much train them to do whatever you want them to do,” Phillips says, adding that it only takes a few weeks to train them to run the track. “They’re not like a horse that needs a jockey on their back to run around the track. [Pigs] run for essentially an oatmeal cookie.”
During each show, four or five racing pigs are given a number, and Phillips picks a handful of volunteers from the crowd to choose the swine they think will win — be it Squealy Nelson, Christina Hoguilera or Hammah Montana. Whoever guesses correctly takes home a ribbon and a stuffed animal. Between 12 and 15 pigs appear at each event, but Phillips keeps and raises around 40 at his home.
“We’re animal people, we’re animal lovers,” Phillips says. “I treat them like they’re my family.”
For more information about the pig races and the Ohio State Fair, visit ohiostatefair.com.