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High-stakes Calcutta kicks off Roundup


The 2003 Mother Lode Roundup will hit stride tomorrow night, when local calf-scramble teams go on the block at the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Posse's annual Calcutta.

Calcutta organizer Ty Wivell has his usual advice for anyone brash or bold enough to enter the 7 p.m. bidding wars at the Posse's Rawhide Road headquarters: "Your heart will be pounding big time."

And your wallet may be hemorrhaging big time: At last year's Calcutta, bidders ponied up more than $10,000 for their favorite scramblers.

A "social hour," during which players can build their courage, will begin at 6 p.m.

Hearts might keep pounding throughout the Roundup weekend, as thousands of dollars could change hands based on a cowhand's ability to tie a ribbon to the tail of a runaway calf.

Here's how the Calcutta works:

At the stroke of 7, Roundup Queen Caity Smith and her court will parade each of the 14 local calf-scramble teams across the stage for inspection by would-be buyers.

This talent march has been compared to a livestock auction. But educated bidders can theoretically deduce from physical inspection which teams will do well at the Roundup's real-life answer to Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

Bidding action should be spirited.

A crowd of more than 200 is expected, and in the past, top teams have gone for as high as $1,500.

The scramble is a not-ready-for-TV event in which two cowboys (or a cowboy and a cowgirl — several coed teams are entered) run down and tackle a galloping calf. One then ties a ribbon to its tail and sprints across the finish line.

The local teams will compete — seven each, simultaneously — in the Saturday and Sunday Mother Lode Roundup rodeo sessions. Teams with the three fastest times over the two days will win belt buckles the size of Frisbees.

But for Calcutta participants, cold cash is at stake.

Bidders canny or lucky enough to buy one of the top three teams tomorrow night will split a pot that in the past has been as big as $8,000.

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