The Mouse Race

I’ve lived in St. Louis for over 15 years after growing up in Virginia, and I’m still learning new, weird things about the culture of this city.

Case in point:

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to a fundraising event for a local school. Usually these fundraising events are trivia nights, another St. Louis thing (one that does not interest me in the least).

This fundraising event was different, because it was a mouse race.

My friend didn’t say much more than the event involved betting on mice, but I was intrigued. My first two thoughts were:

  1. That would make an interesting blog entry.
  2. This can’t possibly be a thing.

So I wrote back to confirm I would attend, and she replied, “Just to let you know, they’re not actual mice. They’re little kids from the school dressed as mice.”

Ah, I thought. That makes more sense. Surely we live in an age when we don’t pit animals against one another in feats of speed or strength.

Then I showed up last Saturday at the mouse race to find this:

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My friend’s offhand comment was a joke. These were real mice, and they were going to race against each other in this contraption.

Thus began one of the weirdest evenings I’ve ever had.

As you might be able to tell in the photo, we were in a school gymnasium with about 300 other people and 12 mice. There was a drink station, a betting station, a small silent auction, a voter registration booth, and a DJ blasting songs from the ’90s.

I wanted to see if the mice were being treated well, so I took a look at their containers:

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I halfway expected to see mice with huge quads, bred and trained to be racers. Instead I found a very normal group of mice sleeping together in a pre-race pile. They seemed pretty content.

There were 10 races over the course of the evening. The same 12 mice were mixed and matched for the races, but for each race they were given different names, all puns on mice and cheese. My favorite was Brieyonce.

For each race, you would pay a few dollars to bet on a mouse (you didn’t know exactly which mouse, but you knew the name and number for that particular race. Remember, there were only 12 total mice), and you’d receive a little number.

Before the race, the “odds” were calculated based on the number of bets placed on each number. So I always tried to pick what I though would be the least popular name.

For each race, most people in the room would gather around the racetrack. The mice were placed into the contraption and released at the same time. Usually the mice barely moved–they’re mice! They don’t know they’re in a race.

After a few seconds of people screaming at their mice to run forward, eventually one or two of the mice would remember how much they like to run through small passages, and they would dart forward to end the race.

If your mouse won, you’d win a few dollars to spend on another race.

As fun as the races were in their sheer futility, I think the best part was seeing the mouse company employees (yes, there are companies in St. Louis that specialize in mouse races) trying to get the mice out of the racetrack:

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It was a surreal night, I have to say. Have you ever been to anything like this? Does it exist outside of St. Louis?