Marcela Riddick, 14, of Redondo Beach, Calif., and Brittney Billman, 14, of Jim Thorpe, Pa., will represent the Harness Horse Youth Foundation's Pocono Downs Youth Camp in a youth driving exhibition at the Meadowlands on Hambletonian Day, while 12-year-olds Madison Lofgren, of New Egypt, N.J., and Katie Eick of Farmingdale, N.J., will represent the HHYF Gaitway Farms camp.
Later in the day, the eyes of the sport will be on HHYF Youth Camp alum Tony Alagna, the trainer of My MVP, who will race in the $1.5 million Hambletonian.
For Riddick, the 3,000 mile long adventure actually started last year. She had hoped to attend the HHYF camp at Indiana Downs, but schedules conflicted. She scoured the HHYF website for program schedules this year and was selected to attend the Pocono camp. An avid horse rider, she also saw Olivia Marshall's account of her 2011 Meadowlands experience in Young Rider magazine and became determined to get to the finals.
"Marcela was really excited," according to her family. "She asked 'how can you control a horse if you don't sit in him?' We went to YouTube and had her watch some driver cam videos, and she began to understand it. In fact, the day before we dropped her off at Pocono, we went to the races at Monticello. Right away she was questioning strategy and decisions the drivers were making."
Alagna will send MY MVP, a 15-1 longshot, from post five in the Hambletonian. The son ofis driven by Hall of Famer Mike Lachance for owners Brittney Farms, Joe Sbrocco and Modern Family Partners.
"HHYF gave me an opportunity to travel to different places and see different aspects and facets of the business. It really opened my eyes to what the industry was about, in a way that a kid from a small town in Illinois would never have seen otherwise," said Alagna.
It is his first Hambletonian.
Here is the field for the HHYF race, which will be contested at 11:35 a.m., just before the regular race card begins.
1. Ima's Hit-Madison Lofgren-12-New Egypt, NJ-David Miller
2. LR Trixie-Brittney Billman-14-Jim Thorpe, PA-Tim Tetrick
3. Jandi Tuff As Sky-Marcella Riddick-14-Redondo Beach, CA-Ron Pierce
4. CD's Miss M-Katie Eick-12-Farmingdale, NJ-Yannick Gingras
The Harness Horse Youth Foundation is a charitable 501(c)3 organization dedicated to providing young people and their families educational opportunities with harness horses, in order to foster the next generation of participants and fans. The Foundation has been making a difference in young people's lives since 1976, and its programs include interactive learning experiences with these versatile animals, scholarship programs, and creation and distribution of educational materials.
For more information on opportunities through HHYF, or to support its mission, go to www.hhyf.org.
by Keith Gisser, for the Harness Horse Youth Foundation