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Two-up teams of horses race in the snow at Jackson Hole

Nicole Michaels
for Tri-State Livestock News
At The Cutter Race in Jackson Hole, competitors barrel down a quarter mile track in snow. Photo by Marilyn Paine

They race two wide on the white stuff, fast enough to make it melt.

On a snowy track outside Jackson Hole, twenty six teams of quick horses pulling chariots ran two abreast for a quarter mile at the 45th annual Cutter Races.

Competitors from several associations in the sport participated over the weekend race, and this year’s event Feb. 13-14 played to more than 3,000 spectators from half of U.S. states and a few foreign countries.

Organizers say it’s the only race of its kind in the nation.

“I told my partners on the Hardrock team when I came up here, whenever you run in Jackson, you can have the fastest horse on earth and still lose. You’ve just got to get lucky. There can be a lot of slipping and sliding.” Jon E. Simmons, Cutter Races competitor

“It’s a signature event for Jackson,” says Rod Everett, public relations chairman for the local Shriner’s Club that produces the race as a fund-raiser. “Being there and seeing these beautiful animals scream down the track, snow flying everywhere. It gives me a thrill every time.”

Well-conditioned horses are paired to pull a featherweight chariot driven by a single handler in a sport that’s popular in the intermountain region.

“You’ve got to have big fast horses and know how to drive,” says Robert Lundy, race coordinator. “People that come to this can get points to make it to the world finals. They’ve made this a sanctioned race.”

Held at the Melody Ranch, the race has raised more than $600,000 for Shriner’s Hospital in Salt Lake City since it started in 1972.

The event is part of Jackson Hole Winter Festival.

Ticket sales and calcutta wagering and auctions grossed over $100,000 this go-round.

Volunteers like Lundy come back year after year, and organizers hope to grow the field of racers.

Long time competitor Tommy Nelson of Freedom, Wyoming, wasn’t happy with his performance, but is still standing second overall in his association.

“I had one horse that didn’t start good,” says Nelson. “It got a little soft as the day progressed. The horses seem to run better on a harder track.”

How much does luck have to do with it?

“Oh a lot,” says Idaho’s Jon E. Simmons who placed second and third overall with his two teams. “I told my partners on the Hardrock team when I came up here, whenever you run in Jackson, you can have the fastest horse on earth and still lose. You’ve just got to get lucky. There can be a lot of slipping and sliding.”

Young Gunz of Rigby, Idaho, had the winning time. Hardrock, a favorite, took second. PJ Wanna Play came in third and the fourth place team hailed from Utah.

Simmons is from Rigby and has been racing since 1982. He starts training in September.

Driving from a fiberglass shell outfitted with an aluminum tongue and axels is a thrill.

“My chariot itself weight 56 pounds,” Simmons says. “That’s not a lot to impede a horse.”

Some of the horses come off the track, and many have other jobs including ranch work and hunting or as saddle horses.

Nelson got his start with his father, chariot racer Archie Nelson, back in 1971. “I was in about the fourth or fifth grade when I started running and he got me into the driving when I was seventeen.”

He has a routine for winter training that includes a hot walker and other work.

“In the winter, I hook ‘em up, remind them what they are supposed to do and I put them on a truck and lope them on an exercise track a couple of miles.”

Nelson says most competitors prefer using running bred quarter horses over thoroughbreds.

“They got a little more, how would you put it, uh, sense,” he says. “You can work with them a little better.”

Shriner’s Hospitals treat children with burns or with orthopedic problems.


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