PALMETTO — Hard to tell who was having more fun Wednesday.
Katie Carlsen, 6. Or mom Lynn.
Tyler Popp, 7. Or mom Gayle.
Camden Vining, 7. Or grandpa Jim Kronus.
They kept clapping, cheering and laughing despite the cold.
Sweet sounds for Phil Hendricks.
“I’ve got the best job on earth — making people smile,” said the 45-year-old ringmaster in a banana hat and Hawaiian shirt. “Kids, parents, grandparents. Everybody.”
Welcome to “Banana Derby: America’s Favorite Monkey Jockeys,” a zany collaboration of wily capuchin monkeys who take your quarter, doff their hats and ride lovable mutts around a mini-track at the Manatee County Fair.
“It pleases the young and the young at heart — and it’s recession proof,” Hendricks joked.
Bobo, Burt and Gilligan the monkeys starred along with George and Sasha the dogs, and were a hit for Saint Stephen’s School first-grade field trip.
Ellie Fensterle got a close-up from the railing, picked by Hendricks to be a cheerleader with pompom and her own banana hat.
“The monkeys looked so cute, the way they were holding on and riding the dogs like, ‘OOOoooOOOHHH,’” said the 7-year-old.
The adults felt the magic, too.
“Classic Americana at the Manatee County Fair. I love it,” Carlsen said.
“Like something at the Jersey Shore,” said Popp, a recent transplant from Morristown, N.J.
“Amazing what they can do,” Kronus said.
Not to mention what they did for Hendricks.
He had practiced law in Illinois for a decade, including a stint as an assistant state attorney working juvenile justice in DuPage County.
“It was always a downer,” Hendricks said. “Here, every day is a fair day wherever we go.”
A dog trainer since 12, he decided one day in 1996 to quit law and take his act on the road with a circus.
His dogs were rescued from pounds.
The monkeys, indigenous to Central and South America, were all pets acquired from former owners and joined the show five years ago.
“The dogs are easy because they’re working dogs,” Hendricks said.
“The monkeys are challenging because they’re so intelligent. They want to know what’s in it for them.”
Still, the monkey jockey routine came about naturally.
“Bobo was the first and would ride the dogs around the house,” he said.
“Then somebody said, ‘You ought to do this at the fair.’ So we did.”