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Pigging out at the fair

July 18, 2002

Deirdre Newman

Pigs can't fly. But don't tell that to the kids who come to watch

the Alaskan pig races at the Orange County Fair.

On Wednesday, a crowd of them breathed a collective sigh of

disappointment as Soapy Smith, one of the Alaskan pigs, failed to

jump over a 3 1/2-foot-high hurdle and opted instead to lazily

breeze through a gate at the bottom of it.

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"I thought [Soapy] would really jump over the fence," said Candace

Sundine, 9, of Irvine.

The fact that the crowd of children bought into the so-called

"miracle" is a testament to the persuasive skills of M.C. Marc

Stamper.

Stamper, who abandoned a job in corporate marketing for pig-race

calling, whipped the crowd into such a frenzy that they would have

believed pigs could sing Broadway show tunes if he said so.

The trick he said -- which of course only some of the grown-ups

would be aware of -- is to know who the real Soapy Smith was: an

Alaskan boomtown con man.

The pig races, which

run five times a day, always pack a crowd, Stamper said. "On the

weekends, you have

to get here half an hour

early."

During the races, four Alaskan pigs race against each other. Then,

four non-Alaskan pigs compete. The top two finishers in each race

compete for the honor of fastest pig of the moment. After the 1 p.m.

races Wednesday, that honor went to an Alaskan pig named Kobuk.

No one was happier to see Kobuk prance as only a portly pig can

across the finish line than 11-year-old Nick Price of Irvine -- he

had picked him to win.

"It's great," Nick said. "You can't see pig races anywhere else."

Not even in parts of Alaska, it turns out, said Doris Hale, who

lived in Alaska for 13 years and never saw one pig race. Hale, who

brought her 3-year-old son James to the fair, said they both enjoyed

seeing the races.

"I thought it was a

good workout," Hale said. Stamper "worked the crowd good."

The pig races used to be held in the livestock area at the far end

of the fairgrounds, but were moved this year to an area outside the

centennial farm, much closer to the fair entrance.

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