Sandoval, Kuehster win Buena Vista burro races to cap triple crown titles

Antonio Olivero/Summit Daily
Louise Kuehster, left, poses for a photo with Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation race directors after she and her burro Pandora won the 46th annual Buena Vista Gold Rush Pack Burro Days Race. The victory secured Kuehster the 2019 women's triple crown after her and Pandora's women's race wins in Fairplay and Leadville over the previous two weekends.
Antonio Olivero/Summit Daily
RACE RESULTS — 1. Louise Kuehster, 23, 01:55:16.47 2. Tracy Loughlin, 41, 01:55:16.89 3. Marvin Sandoval, 41, 01:55:17.2 4. Kirt Courtkamp, 57, 01:55:21.79 5. Bob Sweeney, 52, 01:55:28.18 6. Hal Walter, 59, 01:58:55.41 7. George Zack, 49, 01:58:58.37 8. Patrick Sweeney, 40, 02:12:07.46 9. Colin Gilbertson, 43, 02:12:08.94 10. Roland Brodeur, 32, 02:12:58.6

BUENA VISTA — This summer’s triple crown of pack-burro racing concluded with a rollicking sprint down Buena Vista’s Main Street on Saturday. In thrilling fashion, two triple crown contenders gave it their all through the finish line to earn their respective crowns.

After 13.1 miles of racing up into the mountains from Buena Vista’s downtown, Louise Kuehster and her burro Pandora (01:55:16.47) beat out Tracy Loughlin and burro Mary Margaret (01:55:16.89) to win the 46th annual Buena Vista Gold Rush Days Pack Burro Race. But after the 23-year-old graduate student from Castle Rock easily won the women’s races in Fairplay and Leadville, the challenge in Buena Vista was on another level.

That’s because the burro-racing veteran Loughlin was paired at the last minute with Mary Margaret. Mary Margaret won the men’s and overall triple crown last year with burro racing veteran Kirt Courkamp. Considering Mary Margaret is regarded as probably the strongest and fastest burro currently in Western Pack Burro Ass-ociation, Loughlin said Sunday felt less like a race and more like “hanging on for the ride,” rope in tow behind Mary Margaret.

Despite the fact that Loughlin and Mary Margaret led Kuehster and Pandora for the majority of the race, the Castle Rock duo was able to eek out the victory on the homestretch. The sprint to the finish between the top two women came after Kuehster helped Loughlin put the pack saddle back on Mary Margaret in the middle of the competition. Once secure, it was a sprint.

“I told her to just go and run her race,” Loughlin said, “and she just refused and wanted to help me. So we stopped our burros on that singletrack, she fixed my saddle, and then we caught up to the guys so it was just beyond cool that she did that for me.”

Kuehster and Pandora caught up to Loughlin and Mary Margaret after spotting them on the railroad grade headed back into town.

“We have a command,” Kuehster said, “‘Go home!’ That means to just freaking go. So I just said, ‘go home,’ and once she sees ’em, she’s going to catch them. So we ran up behind Tracy all the way up to the singletrack.”

The end of the race was wild for the top two women as well the top two men, including this year’s men’s triple crown winner Marvin Sandoval, 41, of Leadville. Sandoval finished under a second off the pace of Kuehster and about four seconds ahead of the Pine resident Courkamp and his new burro this summer, Ricky Bobby. Before the bridge leading back into town, Sandoval and Courkamp took the lead before the women re-took the lead after the bridge. Once back on Main Street, all four groups raced close together, like a herd kicking up Rocky Mountain dust and dirt.

During that frenetic finale Kuehster said Pandora sprinted easier and faster than her normal pace and style.  

For Courkamp, Sunday in Buena Vista was a much stronger race for his new burro Ricky Bobby after the first-year burro — who Courkamp adopted from a shelter in January — struggled in Fairplay and Leadville. 

“He totally showed up today, man,” Courkamp said. “I’m stoked for this in his fifth race. But it’s a little tear in my eye seeing Mary Margaret out there. He’s in love with Mary Margaret. He was on her tail all day.”

For a race the 2018 triple crown winner Courkamp described as “super fast,” Sunday was a challenge for Sandoval and Buttercup. The day prior, Sandoval took 179th place of more than 1,600 entrants in the daunting Leadville 100 trail mountain bike race in his hometown. He completed the 103-plus mile 12,000-plus-foot elevation gain course in 08:33:00. Then, on Sunday, after he completed the burro race, Sandoval immediately jetted out of Buena Vista to run in a Leadville Race Series 10K race. He finished that race in 109th place of more than 400 runners, in a time of 55:25.

As for Kuehster, Sunday was the realization of a four-plus year competitive relationship with Pandora, who lives at her family’s home in Castle Rock. After her parents’ burro racing careers rubbed off on her when Kuehster was a child, she adopted Pandora from the Long Hopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett. Kuehster did so after her mother saw the burro’s picture on the shelter’s website and simply said “she looks fast.”

“And,” Kuehster said with a smile on Sunday, “she was surprisingly, totally right.”