Sunday marks the 39th annual Blacktip Land Crab Derby, featuring three-year-old thoroughbred crabs from every stable on Blacktip Island as well as international crab farms.
The Derby is the final race in land crabbing’s unofficial Triple Crown.
Organizers of this year’s Run For the Sea Grapes have instituted sweeping changes to restore the race’s image, sullied in years past by allegations of crab-doping, extortion and race fixing.
“It was mooks from the big island muscling in,” Derby chairperson Ledford Waite said. “Popping crabs with phenylbutazone. Rattling trainers with vats of drawn butter.
“This year we’ve sprung for extra muscle. Banned known gamers from the venue. Upped our drug and cholesterol testing to guarantee a clean race. Takes a while to rebuild a reputation, though.”
Island police have stepped up their presence as well.
“Wagering on the Derby won’t be tolerated,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We’ve loads of plainclothes officers in the crowd this weekend. If you place a bet, odds are you’ll be caught.”
Off-track and internet betting has proved impossible to stamp out.
Krabb Kakes is this year’s favorite with 7-5 odds, but will face stiff competition from Scuttlebutt, winner of last month’s Breeder’s Cup, at 8-1, and Fanny Wigglesworth, the Tiperon Stakes winner, at 9-1.
As ever, each crab is required to carry a cockroach jockey affixed to its carapace.
“Last year, Up Yer Address had a record time, but was disqualified for finishing without his rider,” trainer Marina DeLow said. “We suspected foul play, but nothing could be proven. That flypaper was awfully dry, though.”
Trainers with brooms will line the racetrack to ensure all crabs stay on the course.
“Your heart races hearing the scuttle of all those exoskeleton feet on the asphalt oval,” said racing enthusiast Wendy Beaufort. “There’s no other event quite like this. Anywhere.”
A crowd of several dozen is expected to pack the infield and lawn chair seating, traditionally dressed in their finest cargo shorts and sleeved t-shirts.
“Folks dress to the nines for this,” Ledford Waite said. “It’s the first gala fête of the season. Last year some folks even showed up in shirts with collars and buttons.”
Traditional Derby mojitos will be served throughout the day.
The post-race dinner will feature a Caribbean crab rundown, crab Rangoon and fresh crab legs courtesy of the losing crabs, Waite said.
“Losers provide the food? Hell, the losers are the food.”