Adrenaline junkies, unite: The man who brought Pamplona to Arizona is back, and this time, the running of the bulls is barreling through Cave Creek.
As several perforated Pamplona participants would tell you, bull running isn’t exactly a walk in a cattle-filled park. Just ask Phil Immordino. The Phoenix man who imported the Spanish stampede to America and organized the country’s first (and only) three such events has had his share of hard knocks. The first year, he was arrested for
having the wrong permits and tossed in the slammer. Another year he tore a tendon while scaling a roof to get a better view of the vacqueros and was rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, none of his mishaps involved being shish-kabobbed by a 1,200-pound, spear-headed beast, and runners at his events have never sustained more than minor scuffing.
Which should come as a relief to the 10,000-strong crowd expected to converge on Cave Creek October 14-16 for America’s fourth Running of the Bulls.
It’s been nine years since the last Pamplona-esque mad-dash was held at Rawhide (then in Scottsdale), and pent-up adrenaline is boiling over. Immordino expects upwards of 1,000 runners to participate. The event will kick off Friday with media and charity bull runs. Next out of the gate will be a runners’ party and a weekend packed with rodeos, bull riding, a beer garden, concerts, mariachis, food booths and seven bull runs.
Unlike in Pamplona, where thrill-seekers sprint down the town’s cobblestone streets, Cave Creek’s event will take place in a more controlled setting: a fenced, quarter-mile track just off the main drag. Four times on Saturday and three on Sunday, men on horseback will herd eight bulls at a time as daredevils bolt through the bovine obstacle course.
“If you really want to enjoy an exciting adrenaline rush,” Immordino advises, “be prepared to run right alongside the bulls. That is the ultimate rush and the sign of a true bull-running champion – to run as far as you can, as long as you can right in front of the bull’s horns.”
Immordino reassures runners that, unlike in Spain, they won’t be hotfooting it between belligerent fighting bulls but among less dangerous rodeo bulls. The bulls aren’t destined to be killed by a matador but are pampered practically like Kobe cows on their Laveen ranch and as they tour the Southwest rodeo circuit. “The bulls are the stars of the show, so these bulls are treated perfect,” the fifth-generation Arizonan assures animal rights activists. “They’re never touched, they’re never prodded, they’re simply herded down a quarter-mile track…and people happen to get in their way.”
The idea for a Pamplona-in-America began with the almost (but not quite) bull-free sport of golf. Immordino, president and founder of The Golf Tournament Association of America and author of How to Produce a Successful Golf Tournament, was commissioned by a rodeo circuit to wrangle up some celebrity golf competitions. As a publicity stunt, Immordino came up with the idea of releasing rodeo bulls into the city streets. That proposal didn’t fly, but it led to another taurine scheme: In 1998, Immordino held America’s first bull run just over the Arizona border near Mesquite, Nevada. After another Mesquite run in 1999, the event moved to Scottsdale in 2002.
Then an insurance and liability rate hike ended the bull run run for nine years. Appropriately, it was golf that spurred the concept again. While strolling the fairways of a Cave Creek golf course, a friend of Immordino’s suggested that the cowboy burg would be the ideal locale for a bull run rebirth. Judging by the response at press time, he hit the bull’s-eye.
“It’s already gotten [Cave Creek] a lot of exposure, it’s bringing a lot of people to Cave Creek and generating a lot of local business,” Immordino says. “I think it’ll be a win-win for Cave Creek.”
Bull Running History 101
Pamplona’s famous San Fermin festival originated as a 12th-century religious celebration honoring the town’s patron saint. In the 14th century, bullfighting debuted as a form of animal sacrifice. The bravura-displaying practice of running with the bulls as they were herded to the arena probably began informally in the 1600s. Pamplona’s festival remained small and obscure – just one of many bull runs held throughout Spain – until it was catapulted into worldwide fame in 1926 when Ernest Hemingway wrote about it in The Sun Also Rises.
For more information visit runwiththebullsusa.com
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