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story.lead_photo.caption Wooly llamas, an animal emblematic of the Andean mountains in South America, become the star for a day each year when Ecuadoreans dress up their prized animals for children to ride them in 500-meter races. Photo by Associated Press / Texarkana Gazette.

LLANGANATES, Ecuador — The tiny rider sat — well, was tied — atop the towering steed that would carry him to victory in the annual llama races at Ecuador's Llanganates National Park.

Wellington Barrera, clad in a wool poncho, sheep-leather pants and a cowboy hat, was the only finisher in his under-3 category, bouncing 500 meters (1,640 feet) to victory.

But two dozen children in other age groups also competed Saturday in an annual event meant to draw attention to the park's high wetlands and the need to preserve them.

The park, roughly 125 kilometers (80 miles) east of Quito, is famed for dramatic Andean vistas, and the race took place between the wetlands at altitudes nearing 4,500 meters (15,000 feet).

A llama named Rayo McQueen carried 6-year-old Eric Javier Chicaiza to a win in his category. His mother, Ftima Guanotua, said the animal was a gift to the family when the boy was born, and the two have always been close.

Nine-year-old Ibeth Santafé, three times a winner in past races, was somber after finishing third. But she came out a winner in a llama-training contest, showing mastery over her beast.

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