Two relative newcomers to the amateur driving ranks will draw swords (actually whips) for the first time against eastern harness racing combatants in next week's East-West challenge.
Karen Isbell and Amanda Fraser both earned their positions on Team West's roster by finishing in the top of the heap during the two Amateur series conducted at Cal-Expo in 2011.
Karen Isbell is a story in and of herself. Jockey turned amateur driver, she was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana and now lives in Lincoln, California with her husband Allen Aldrich. They have two children and two grandchildren. She was a jock for 23 years and rode her first Thoroughbred to victory on September 3, 1979 at Cal Expo.
Karen also won races aboard Quarter Horses, Arabians and Mules. After retiring as a jockey in 2001, Karen's competitive spirit kept her active, riding hunters and jumpers. At the age of 54, exactly 31 years after her first victory aboard a Thoroughbred, Karen drove in a harness race at Cal Expo on September 3, 2010.Two months later, she won her first race.
Amanda Fraser is a native Canadian. Born in Nova Scotia, Canada, Amanda, 33 just started driving in 2011 and immediately joined the California Amateur Driving Club. After working with Thoroughbred racehorses as a groom in beginning in 2002 in Alberta, Canada, Amanda started working with Standardbreds.
After two years of spending half of each year with Thoroughbreds and the other half with Standardbreds, Amanda made the decision to become fully involved with harness horses.
In 2007 she met her husband and Cal-Expo driver Scott Cisco and has since had the chance to race horses in Ohio, Ontario, Alberta, and California to race in Sacramento. Amanda gives credit to her deep interest in harness racing to her stepfather for buying her a retired Standardbred mare as a riding horse as a young girl.
This induced a life-long love and respect for Standardbred racehorses which eventually led to her present-day passion and love for the sport.
The two women are joined by teammates Dave Siegel and Rick Bertrand in their quest to push the win total to five of the soon to be seven East-West Challenges conducted at the Sacramento one-mile oval. The 8-race series will be held on Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14.
When asked to comment about her involvement in the series, Karen Isbell said" "I am so happy to be participating in this event. I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of driving here against the professionals and am honored to participate against fellow amateurs. This is another great highlight of my career."
Her teammate Amanda Fraser echoed Karen's sentiments. "Last year was my first as an amateur driver and was thrilled to do well enough in one of our series to drive in the Fauts race during Jug week in Ohio. Now it gets even better - driving in an 8-race series against some of the best eastern amateurs. You know I read Tony's comments about guaranteeing a win this year. What we might lack in experience relative to Team East we will more than make up for in guile and sheer determination. Tony's back better be in good shape as I think he will be mucking some stalls for the next year!"