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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Bred for competition

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Headline: Bred for competition

By Michael Gehlken

Zephyr the Destroyer and the UC Davis Division I athlete have much in common.

Both train for months on end. Both have a strong supporting cast to push them to their limits. Both know what it’s like to have thousands of screaming fans cheer them on.

There is just one thing separating the two: Zephyr the Destroyer is a wiener dog.

On Saturday at Picnic Day, he was one of 96 Dachshunds to compete in the 35th Annual Doxie Derby at the Pavilion.

For some spectators, the 100-foot race may appear to be all fun and games. It may appear to be just a bunch of little dogs chasing a rabbit pelt on a string.

For Zephyr the Destroyer’s owner Bryan Wurth, however, it is serious business.

Wearing a blue shirt that reads in white lettering “Ask me about my wiener,” Wurth came to Picnic Day to win. His 15-month-old miniature Dachshund has been packing muscle onto its 8-inch, Isabella tan-coated frame since finishing third place in a heat at last year’s state fair. The pooch now tips the scale at 14 pounds, making it one of the heaviest dogs in the Mini Division.

“That’s one of his issues,” Wurth said concernedly. “He’s a little bit over his fighting weight. We just bulked him up too much – high protein and possibly too much weight training.”

Wurth has little doubt that the young Zephyr the Destroyer will someday emerge as a racing champion. Picnic Day 2008, however, would not be that day.

In the first trial of his heat, the brawny pooch failed to leave the starting box, consequently disqualifying himself from advancement in the tournament.

“This is his first enclosed box race,” Wurth said. “At the state fair last year, their race boxes were designed a little bit different. I think we were a little more comfortable in the other boxes.”

In the second and final trial of the heat, Zephyr the Destroyer appeared to be on pace to win the race, but he veered into the crowd when he was about 15 feet short of the finish line.

“Maybe next year we can prohibit any food items in the first three rows,” Wurth said.

While Zephyr the Destroyer’s day ended early, two dogs went the distance in Saturday’s competition.

Stubbie won the Standard League (15 pounds and up), and Downtown Beans took the Mini League (14 pounds and below). With the grand prize of two free nights in a luxury suite at Wag Hotels on the line, the two dogs faced each other in the championship race.

To get to the championship, the two dogs took two different paths.

The 5-year-old Stubbie has been racing for four years, and his owner Heidi Senitte has a clear-cut program set for him leading up to the day of competition.

“He hasn’t gone on a walk for two weeks,” Senitte said. “Other than that he usually walks 3 miles a day.”

Downtown Beans, on the other hand, has a much more simple approach. During the race, owner Jamie Madsen tosses around a pink racquet ball from the opposite site of the 100-foot course.

The 10-pound dog sees it from afar, and it runs like hell to it.

“Obsessive. Borderline psychotic,” Madsen said of the dog’s love for the ball. “She lives for it. A ball and kibble is all she needs for survival and happiness.… It really is quite an annoyance. We have to take the ball out of sight so she pays attention to us.”

Added Wurth, whose Zephyr the Destroyer practices with Downtown Beans: “We think the dog has autistic values.”

In the championship, it was the obsessed Downtown Beans who established itself as top dog, winning both trials by such a large margin that Stubbie’s owner was skeptical of the dog’s purity.

“There’s nothing we could do,” Senitte said. “We don’t believe in steroids.”

Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the Doxie Derby does not test its participants for steroids, though it does require vaccinations for rabies, canine distemper and canine parvovirus.

Madsen had no response to the steroid allegations, and speculation looms to this day.

MICHAEL GEHLKEN expects a bounce-back showing from Zephyr the Destroyer in 2009. His camp is devoted to building more lean muscle onto his frame and feeding him a larger pre-race breakfast. If you have any training tips, e-mail them to sports@californiaaggie.com.

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