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?


9 Responses to “The Mouse Race”

  1. John Coveyou says:

    Haha, Jamey this sounds Amazing! And yes, I felt like you captured some of the same thoughts I would have had over the whole event. Trivia, eh I could pass. Mouse racing, you have my attention! I hope I might be so privileged to hear about a fundraising event like this before its over some years ahead. hint, hint, wink, wink. 🙂

  2. Allen Chang says:

    Over here in Australia we have something similar. But our rodents are much larger. We race wallabies. Every other Thursdays we ride Koalas on their backs up eucalyptus trees.

    I kid. It’s every other Friday. Who goes out on Thursday nights?

  3. Emma says:

    THANK YOU! As someone who used to manage donation requests for a local business (The CUP), I have given out gift cards for mouse race events for years without fully understanding it. Thank you for providing pictures and explanation for a St. Louis phenomenon that captured my interest but never my attendance. I don’t know that I want to go, but it’s good to hear that it’s fairly chill/humane/funny and not overdone. What a funny thing!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Emma: Yeah, there’s a fine line–I mean, it’s odd that we’d race animals in any way, given that they don’t really have a choice. But the mice didn’t seem all that bothered by it. Let me know your reactions if you ever get to attend one!

  4. Jasmin says:

    This is adorable, Jamey. I keep coming back to look at that photo of a small warm pile of sleeping mice. So cute. I want to pet them. They should do one that’s a gerbil maze race. Put the gerbil in the ball and see how quickly each can finish. Of course, gerbil with the shortest time as the winner. Actually, hamsters in gerbil balls race is better. You know how much hamsters love to run!

  5. Kyle Brannam says:

    Hey guys I have a mouse race tomorrow March 9th at 7pm. If you have not been to one they are a blast. $25 all you can drink beer soda bottled water wine. Location at St. Mary’s High School! St. Louis of course……lol feel free to stop by and help our baseball boys raise some money for the upcoming year .If anyone ask tell them Kyle sent ya!

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