Chariot racegoers bet on good time

Friendly wagers, bidding part of event's tradition

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— There was trash talking along the snow banks at Sunday's chariot races.

Twenty-something P.J. Bren stood among a group of eight friends and wagered against Cheryl Perlitz, who was visiting her home in Steamboat Springs for the weekend.

In the Calcutta-style betting, where bets are placed through an auctioneer and the highest bidder for each team is matched up, the two chariot racing novices were sure they found the winning formula.

"It is hysterical," Perlitz said as she waved her betting card in the air.

It was the final chariot race at the 2003 Colorado State Championships. The Western version of chariot racing has a snow-covered track and matches two teams of two horses driven by a rider in a chariot, barreling down a quarter-mile straightaway at about 45 mph.

Bren told Perlitz he could not go wrong with Cinda Garcia's team of Hesa Special Tip Too and Johnny Blanco.

His secret was picking the team with the coolest name.

"I would never bet like this in Massachusetts," said Bren, who now lives in Denver and was visiting friends in Steamboat.

Perlitz did not start betting until she saw the horses and drivers on their way to the starting line. She told Bren the uneven sizes between Garcia's two horses could not be a good sign. She picked the Valley Transfer team of Nordic Cider and Kicked Bac, based on the experienced look of the driver and the hope that the two men on horses leading the team to the starting line meant the race horses were feisty and fast.

"Never bet before you see the horses," Perlitz said.

With the rest of the crowd that had gathered near the track at the Romick Rodeo Arena, Perlitz and Bren peered down from the snowbank toward the track as the two teams whizzed by them.

At the finish line, Garcia's team was a good horse and half a chariot ahead of Valley Transfer.

Garcia's victory pushed Bren and his friends' winnings for the day to $44. They planned to spend it on lunch.

Garcia's victory also meant she was the 2003 Colorado champion of the event that is hosted by the Yampa Valley Cutter and Chariot Racing Association.

Garcia, who moved from Steamboat to the Front Range this year, had the fastest combined time from Saturday's and Sunday's races at 45.90.

Valley Transfer took second.

The Wheeler Family took third and BOM racing was fourth.

This year's Chariots of Honor Award for excellent sportsmanship and dedication to the sport went to Pat Robson, who has worked with the club since the 1960s.

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