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"The ducks became conditioned to the idea that when they reached the other end, 'That's it,' " says Duck. Because the training track was nine feet longer than regulation, the ducks gained an extra bit of endurance as they dashed to the end of the practice lane.
"There's a trick in letting them go," says Duck. "You have to make the duck uncomfortable. I always tickle their ribs."
In 1980 Duck's ducks proved they could consistently negotiate the course in two seconds in training. But some of them ate too much before the 1980 races, bulked up and, consequently, had slower times. In '81, to keep his racers in trim, Duck stopped leaving corn around and had the ducks chase their meals. "All that extra work going after grasshoppers, worms and flies kept them in condition," he says.
Duck, who had 20 birds last year, including nine babies, even had weight training for his ducks. He filled socks with sand and gravel and tied them to the racers' legs with shoestrings. They clomped around the backyard, building up their legs. But the socks were always getting stuck on rocks and weeds. Afraid of injuries, Duck has stopped that phase of the workouts.
When it came time for the races, Duck had seven ducks he felt were ready. He bought a new pickup truck to transport them and, with his birds, his wife and his two children, Sharon. 7, and Bryce, 4, headed for Deming.
Robert named five of his ducks after relatives: Pauline the Duck, Lloyd the Duck II, Magnificent Molly, Rollin' Nolan and Leapin' Lydia. B.F.D. Express, or Bosque Farms Duck, is named after the town of Bosque Farms where the Ducks live. Donna Duckstein is named for Duck's friend Jay Dinerstein. When the entry blank asked for the names of the dam and sire of Donna Duckstein, Robert wrote in "Sarah and Abraham Duck."
Saturday, Aug. 22, was a big day for the town of Deming. There was a hot-air balloon race that morning and a Beautiful Duckling contest for kids dressed like ducks. There was also a Best Dressed Duck contest for ducks dressed like kids. There were all kinds of eating places and booths, even Yuk Rent-A-Duck for those who didn't bring their own fowl.
Duck was ecstatic when Donna Duckstein won the first heat of the day. "I really felt as though I had some fast ducks and that we could win a few heats," he says, "but as far as winning all the marbles—that was out of the question. There were just too many ducks." In the preliminaries alone, Duck had five ducks that took first and one that finished second. By the end of the first day it was obvious that the training was paying off—to the tune of $50 a heat for the prelims Duck's ducks won.
There was a big Cold Duck celebration that night. B.F.D. and the other ducks weren't allowed to drink, though, it being the night before the big race. There was also a Duck Ball with dancing to country and western music. A Duck Queen contest was held at the ball. "The girls were all dressed up in silly duck costumes," says Duck.
In the opening round of the semifinals on Sunday, his ducks entered four of the eight races and took firsts in all four. In the second round they again won four. "All that made me very happy," says Duck, "but I just took it one race at a time. Winning it all seemed like an elusive dream."