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Cave Creek Bull Run In Arizona Faces Scrutiny From Town Officials And Animal Advocates

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PHOENIX — The bulls are better tempered, slower and their horns have been blunted, and this definitely isn't Pamplona.

Nonetheless, they are bulls, and nearly two dozen of them will be chasing after hundreds of humans on a quarter-mile track this coming weekend in the small town of Cave Creek, Ariz., despite objections from animal advocates and town officials.

Cave Creek's run is loosely fashioned after the annual event in Spain in which thousands of daredevils trip over each other in a mad dash from angry bulls in the morning and then party in the streets until dawn. Gorings and tramplings are common, and 15 people have been killed since record-keeping started in 1924, most recently a 27-year-old Spanish runner who was gored in the chest and neck in 2009.

Phil Immordino, who's organizing the Cave Creek run, said it does carry risks but that it will be far safer than Pamplona's 420-year-old annual festival.

"Remember, we're in America, not Spain. Everyone's sue-happy," said Immordino, who lives in Phoenix and also organizes golf tournaments. "There's much more danger in Spain and much more of an adrenaline rush. But I guarantee that anyone who gets in our run will have more of a rush than they've ever had in their life."

Immordino has organized similar runs three times, in 1998 and 1999 in the resort town of Mesquite, Nev., and in 2002 in Scottsdale, Ariz. No one was killed or seriously injured in any of those runs.

Still, runners must sign a four-page waiver that doesn't mince words.

"Warning: This activity and your participation in that activity can cause serious injury or even death, and you herby agree to assume all risks," it reads.

Runners also must sign a medical form saying they have not had any booze or drugs before the run, and that they aren't getting treated for certain medical conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, epilepsy, alcoholism or pregnancy, among others.

Immordino also is considering renting out helmets and protective gear for elbows and knees to further reduce his liability.

"If I ever go to court, I've got to have a lot of ammo," he said.

But Immordino said he's confident that it won't come to that, saying the bulls aren't as aggressive as Spain's, that runners will have escape routes if they want to leave the track and that rodeo clowns will be there to rescue those who fall down.

"There's no guarantee there won't be some bumps and bruises and scratches, but it's very, very, very unlikely that there will be anything major," he said.

While Pamplona uses fighting bulls for its runs, Cave Creek's will use rodeo bulls owned by John Hetzel, a bullfighter and rodeo clown living in Gilbert, who raises bulls for his company, Spear J Cattle, and takes them around the country for rodeos.

Hetzel, wearing a cowboy hat and red cowboy boots, said he chose the 21 bulls going on the run mostly for their calm demeanor.

He said runners will be in more danger of getting trampled than gored, partly because the bulls' horns have been blunted. The bulls weigh between 800 and 1,500 pounds.

"But I don't really think the size matters," he said. "It's like getting run over with a VW bug or a truck. They both hurt."

Unlike the Spanish bulls, which are destined for the bullring and bullfighters with swords after their run, the Cave Creek bulls will be taken home to Gilbert and continue working in rodeos.

Even so, animal rights groups are strongly opposed, and officials in the dusty, 5,000-person town of Cave Creek withdrew their blessings when Immordino didn't produce the $3 million insurance policy that they requested.

"He had a $1 million dollar policy, and that did not seem to me to be adequate enough to protect the town in the event something went wrong," Cave Creek Mayor Vincent Francia said. "I'm responsible for my town, and I can't assume that just because it went well in Mesquite, Nev., that it's going to go well here."

Francia said that he's received dozens of emails from people in and outside of Arizona calling for him to stop the event, mostly arguing that it constitutes cruelty to animals. An online petition has collected about 1,900 signatures in opposition.

Francia said the event is on private property in the town, so his hands are tied.

"I'm a big believer in private property rights, and that's what this is," Francia said. "I'm just going to hold my breath `till we get through this that neither animal nor human gets injured."

Dennis Clancey, a 29-year-old operations manager for Amazon.com living in Phoenix, said he has run with the bulls 20 times over five trips to Pamplona, and will run with the bulls in Cave Creek at least four times over the course of the weekend.

"The first time you run, it is a very scary thing," said Clancey, a former Army infantry leader who served in Iraq. "You recognize a lot of it's out of your control. Once you overcome that, runs become a beautiful thing."

Immordino said he wants to make the bull run an annual event.

"This is the beginning stages to the newest extreme sport in the United States," he said. He thinks the danger will attract runners and an audience.

"Why is NASCAR so popular?" he said. "It's not because people want to see a car drive around in circles. It's because they're waiting for that accident."

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/AmandaLeeAP

Running of the bulls: http://runwiththebullsusa.com/

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