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Low-Riders at the Finish Line

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sherry Ledesma cradled her 10-month-old puppy.

She had entered her beloved pet, Just a Little Smudge, in the dachshund races at Huntington Beach’s Old World Village earlier Sunday. But Smudge--startled by the commotion of nearly 200 spectators--barely made it to the finish line.

“Oh, baby! You just weren’t ready,” Ledesma consoled her dog. “You’re still No. 1.”

In this race, everyone is a wiener.

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The lighthearted event is second in popularity only to the mall’s Oktoberfest celebrations, organizers said. Lovers of the breed showed up en masse Sunday for the first race of the year. About a dozen such races are held each year.

“This is great,” Ledesma said above the din of sharp barks and yelps.

The Orange woman had not planned to enter Smudge, showing up just to watch. But she decided to have Smudge go for it when race officials told her they were one short of the 24 dashing hounds needed for the race.

“People think they can’t run because they have these little legs, but they are really fast,” said Inga McKellop, one of the organizers of the race and owner of Coffee Mill, a gift shop in the village.

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The 6-year-old event began with six dogs from a local dachshund owners club and now has about 550 registered dogs, McKellop said, though only a fraction of members show up for any given race. “You don’t see this at every shopping center.”

The mall holds 12 races every year and draws about 200 dachshund owners and lovers during the events. The dachshunds whip their tiny paws down a 22-yard race course in the mall’s cobblestone strip. The winner is determined in a final race after two elimination rounds.

On Sunday, the village’s main strip was a mesh of leashes and chew toys as dogs and their owners prepared for the afternoon race.

“You are the man, Buddy!” one handler shouted to encourage his dog.

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Spectators cheered for their favorites, with names like Sgt. Pepper, Hobo and Snoopy Jo. But in the end, the champion by a fraction of a snout was Myska, a 5-year-old who was already a winner in six previous competitions. Her owners drove over three hours from Springville, near Bakersfield, to enter her in the race.

So what’s Myska’s secret?

“I cannot tell you,” her owner, Inga Rehka, whispers. Then she opens a slightly greasy paper bag with the distinctive scent of . . . bologna.


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