Fierce competition at Worlds - by Joe Faraldo

05:06 AM 20 Jan 2012 NZDT
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The tranquil and picturesque Joe Faraldo
The tranquil and picturesque - Auckland Harbour - New Zealand's largest port.
Joe Faraldo

The day started for American Amateur harness racing driver Kelly Walker with a cruise around Auckland harbor. Auckland has eight inactive volcanoes and the suburbs are the home of 50 plus inactive volcanoes.

From the tour the drivers were all escorted to the track, gave interviews and then were marched into the judges for a briefing on NZ racing rules. After a two hours' long review of some complicated rules by Chief Steward John Muirhead at Auckland's Alexandra Park with a promise of fines and penalties for any violations, the races were off.

At first, our American hero was crashed by the Czech driver and almost unseated and brought down on his face. The recovery was swift, and Kelly Walker managed to get the most out of that drive, finishing sixth. His horses were no better than the pundits suggested in his next drive, but when the dust settled Muirhead made good on the promise and rightfully meted out penalties to the Czech driver and others, . Kelly was not moved up however, and at night's end sat 7th with 24 points.

Meanwhile, World Cup heats were won by Spain's Damian Oliver; The Czech Republic's Jiri Svoboda; France's Franck Marty and New Zealand's godfather or ambassador of amateur racing, Steve Phillips. The standings are presently as follows:

Spain - 41 points

New Zealand - 39 points

The Netherlands - 38 points

Czech Republic - 31points

France - 28 points

Germany - 28 points

USA - 24 points

Norway - 22 points

Ukraine - 22 points

Today, a group of a few happy and most waiting for another chance at glory were herded off to the South Island's city of Christchurch, whose outer limits felt another three tremors last night; a 4 on the Richter scale.

This was a dreadful reminder of last February's tragedy in this beautiful city. Half of Christchurch has literally been destroyed by the devastating earthquake. Yet a group of horsemen less than 5 miles away kept at the business of buying and selling their yearlings, seemingly unaware of the devastation around them.

Over one thousand buildings felt the tremors and still, almost one year later, the scars are evident and the pain caused remains deep in the veins of the inhabitants. Those who live here have experienced tremors ever since.

They serve as constant reminders of a memory better to more quickly have faded than to ever have to have been contemplated again, for even a moment. Almost two hundred people paid the ultimate price losing their lives. Still worse, many lost their loved ones both younger and older.

Addington Park awaits with three more heats before the final three to be raced on the grass track at Motu Karara, on Sunday. All the drivers seem to be getting acquainted with the way racing is conducted here. The first thing to cope with for many was the clockwise racing.

Even the cars traveling the opposite way takes a lot of getting accustomed to. Constant reminders are needed before you step off into the street that you had "better look right mate or you'll be carted off to hospital."

Tonight the racing will return to the usual counterclockwise direction most are used to but that could be the only thing going in Kelly's favor as his mounts are about the same quality as last evening. Kelly will need some luck to hold, or improve, his position; Yet, the punters dropped his odds on winning the whole enchilada from 41-1 to 14-1.

In driving competitions where the point structure is tight (13 for a win, 11 for place, then 10 for third and 9 for fourth......), dramatic changes occur as suddenly and unpredictably as the earthquakes.

by Joe FARALDO

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