Eat your heart out, Kentucky Derby.
The stage is set for a race day as Winter Park’s smallest four-legged friends line up at the starting line for the sixth annual Running of the Chihuahuas on Sunday, May 6, at Cocina 214.
More than 100 chihuahuas will compete for glory, fame and doggie treats in an event that raises money for pet-related nonprofits. All proceeds from the registrations fees will benefit Winter Park Lost Pets and Poodle & Pooch Rescue.
Anyone who’s never been to the doggie race outside the Mexican restaurant on Welbourne Avenue is in for a great time, Cocina 214 co-founder Lambrine Macejewski said.
“We get everybody lined up, we blow the whistle, they let go of their dog and off they run — it’s fun to see who actually crosses the finish line,” she said. “People are cheering, and it’s just a good time. Some of the chihuahuas don’t run, some of them go super fast — like in the blink of an eye they’re finished — and others are making friends on the track. It’s just a fun, feel-good event.”
Chihuahua participants will race in heats of five, narrowing down the lineup of runners until the top three dogs are crowned. The winning dogs each will take home a bark box filled with chew toys, treats, a gift card to Cocina 214 and more.
It’s more than just a race though, Macejewski said. Chihuahua lovers dress up their dogs in festive outfits for Cinco de Mayo in a playful canine costume party. There’s even a photo booth on-site, where owners can grab a photo with their pets.
“Most of them are dressed up,” Macejewski said. “They have cute little outfits. Their owners sometimes have matching outfits. I do remember one — I don’t remember which year — but the chihuahua had pearls on. She had the beautiful pink dress with pearls, and I just thought, ‘That was awesome.’ To see a chihuahua in pearls — I’ve never seen that before. That was super cute.”
The event brings people together throughout the community, and that’s why the event was first started, she said. Spectators are more than welcome to watch the race for free on the sidelines.
“There’s a lot of families, there’s dog lovers and there’s kids — that’s why we started this,” Macejewski said. “Cinco de Mayo is so adult driven, and we have a lot of families that come to our Winter Park restaurant and a lot of pet owners. People bring their dogs on our patio, so we thought, ‘Wow, this would be really cool — something for our pet friends and for families.’”
Everyone loves a good race, but just having a great time is what it’s all about, Macejewski said.
“It’s charity and it’s for fun — it’s not anything to be taken too seriously,” she said. “Life can be so serious, so we’re about having a good time and spending it with family and friends. This event just does all those things and really fits with what we’re trying to do — not just as a restaurant but someone in our community.”