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Rubber Duck Race, Ellison Park, Saturday, June 12

You couldn't ask for better racing conditions. Not a cloud in the sky, a gentle breeze from the northeast. The water current is brisk. The air temperature is 58 degrees and rising. Fans line the banks of Irondequoit Creek, toting binoculars, talking smack. "My money's on 4 for the win," says a boy in a red shirt to a towheaded girl with pigtails. "Oh yeah?" she retorts. "My Grandma put our money on 6, 8, and 5." They elbow each other for primo placement along the finish line.

            Announcer Ken Vogt's voice booms out across a megaphone: "And they're off!" Everyone holds their breath. And the leaders come into view! It's Rubber Duckie number 9, rounding the bend! He's grinning a cock-sure grin. Suddenly, number 8 comes out of nowhere. "It looks like Seabiscuit all over again!" Vogt cries. "Look at that little guy paddle!"

            The Indy 500 has nothing on the annual NAMI Rubber Duck Race at Ellison Park. This was the seventh year that the Rochester branch of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill held the race, and the seventh time that these same 10 ducks went bill-to-bill in the raging waters of Irondequoit Creek.

            It's one of the city's most unique fundraisers. Bettors get three ducks for three bucks. If your three ducks place, you can win up to $500 dollars. The proceeds of the day's races benefit NAMI's research, support groups, and other programs for more than 350 local members.

            The Rubber Duck Race is the brainchild of Bill "the Duck Man" Hosley.

            How did you come up with the idea?

            Oh, gee, I dunno. Where do they come from? It's changed over the years, but the formula seems to work. Last year it was rainy, and the creek was high and muddy. We thought we might lose some ducks, but they all made it through.

            These are the same ducks, then?

            Yes. The same ducks have raced every year.

            They must have a rigorous workout, to keep in shape for the big day.

            No, they just race for fun.

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