PLEASANTON -- Adrenaline junkies no longer have to trek all the way to Spain to get the rush of running with the bulls or the joy of hurtling thousands of tomatoes at other thrill seekers.
The Great Bull Run and Tomato Royale, which copy their famous counterparts in Spain, are coming to the Alameda County Fairgrounds on July 26, but the wild events are mired in controversy.
Two animal rights groups have filed a lawsuit to halt the bull run, claiming the event would violate state animal abuse laws.
"The Great Bull Run is inhumane to animals and dangerous to the spectators and participants," said Matthew Liebman, senior attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The fund partnered with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to file a lawsuit in March in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco .
"California prohibits forcing an animal to fight with either another animal or a human being, which is exactly what the Great Bull Run does," Liebman said. "... At past events, our investigators have seen participants slap and punch the bulls as they run by. ... It's unnecessary to cause the animals to go through that stress for someone's temporary thrill."
Rob Dickens, founder and chief operating officer of the Great Bull Run, says the massive bulls in the events -- which are booked around the country -- are not abused or injured.
"It would defeat the business from a business standpoint to injure our bulls or abuse our bulls in any way," he said. "These animals are worth about $10,000 each. ... It's a frivolous lawsuit and it's not going to succeed."
A veterinarian is on staff to ensure the bulls' safety, he said.
Liebman contends cowboys use ropes to whip the bulls.
"They essentially create panic among two dozen bulls, which causes a stampede," he said.
But, Dickens calls that bull hockey.
"We're herding them forward without even touching them," he said. "... They're running because that's what bulls do. Stampeding is a natural thing."
The wheels of justice move slowly, which means the lawsuit to stop the bull runs in California likely will not be resolved before the July 26 event. But Liebman noted that another run is set for Southern California in November.
Both sides agree there's an element of danger for participants, although unlike with the Spanish bulls, these bulls do not have sharpened horns. But, Dickens points out that there have been no bull injuries in the eight previous runs staged by his company.
As for human injuries, "it depends on what you call an injury," he said. "Most people are asking about gorings or near deaths. We get a broken bone every now and then, but it's usually just concussions, scrapes and bruises."
Despite controversy, the upcoming run is expected to draw about 2,400 runners willing to shell out $60 for the experience, and more than a thousand spectators. The bulls run on a quarter-mile stretch on the fairgrounds' horse racing track. Fences keep them confined and allow participants to escape.
"Running with the bulls certainly tests how you would respond to a dangerous situation to see if you behave well and with dignity or if you scream like a little girl and run to the fence," Dickens said with a laugh.
The Pleasanton event will feature three separate runs, each with about 800 runners.
The bull runs begin in the morning, followed by the massively messy Tomato Royale food fight with thousands of pounds of overripe tomatoes.
The event is billed as an all-day festival with music, games, beer and food.
"If it's been on your bucket list to run with the bulls, this is a great opportunity to cross it off," Dickens said. "... It's a way to experience emotions that you don't get in your everyday life like adrenaline and fear. We try to simulate those things with roller coasters and horror movies, but it's not like staring a 1,500-pound bull in the face. It's all about bragging rights."
IF YOU GO
The Great Bull Run & Tomato Royale will be held Saturday, July 26, at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. The bull run starts at 11 a.m. on the horse racing track. Six sessions will be held.
The tomato food fight starts at 2:45 p.m. in an area near the track. Tickets are $60 for both events, $45 for the Tomato Royale only, and $10 to be a spectator.
Bull run participants must be at least 18 years old. Tomato Royale participants must be at least 14 years old.
For more information and to register, go to www.thegreatbullrun.com.
What: The Great Bull Run & Tomato Royale
Where: Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton
When: Saturday, July 26. Bull runs start at 11:30 a.m. on the racetrack. Tomato Royale begins at 2:45 p.m. near the track.
Tickets: Advance tickets bought by Tuesday are $60 for both events, $45 for the Tomato Royale only and $10 for a spectator. Event-day tickets are $75 for the combo package, $55 for the Tomato Royale and $15 for spectators. Bull runners must be at least 18 years old. Tomato Royale participants must be at least 14.
Information: www. thegreatbullrun.com, facebook.com/thegreatbullrun, twitter.com/thegreatbullrun