Pair of New Yorkers look to avenge defeats

06:00 AM 06 Apr 2012 NZST
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Tony Verusso will compete in next Amanda Fraser will compete in next Jim Lackey will be making another trip
Tony Verusso will compete in next - weekend's 2012 East-West Amateur Driving Challenge
Amanda Fraser will compete in next - weekend's 2012 East-West Amateur Driving Challenge
Jim Lackey will be making another trip - to Moscow for the International Harness Drivers Championship

Harness racing identity Joe Faraldo is no stranger to the winner circle. But he has not been up close and personal to it in our country's largest state. Joe appeared in five races in the 2007 version of the Challenge, and did muster a second place finish, but the glitz of the circle eluded the NY-based barrister.

Tony Verruso is making his third appearance to the Golden State. He came away empty in his first trek in 2006, but in 2010, Tony cozied up to the circle of champions twice. Unfortunately, the plus-minus for these two native New Yorkers is a negative three.

It is rumored that neither has slept particularly well in the last five years with these losses weighing heavily on their minds. But 2012 has brought with it an opportunity to reverse the effects of this chronic insomnia.

On April 13 and 14, these two Italian-hope-to-be-stallions will hope to redeem the prowess of their talents as part of the 7th annual East-West Amateur Driving Challenge which will take place at Cal-Expo in Sacramento, California. They will be joined by teammates Steve Oldford and Peter Gerry.

Joe Faraldo drove his first race in 1980 at Goshen Historic Track and has made his mark on the harness industry both on and off the track. He has competed in races internationally at almost every Hippodrome in Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria.

In 1986 he competed in an international competition in Taranto, Italy and was encouraged to, and did organize, the first World Cup of Amateur Racing ever conducted outside of Europe in 1988 then repeated the effort in 2008. Joe is one of original participants in the Billings amateur series and is the founder of the North American Amateur Drivers Association and an honorary member of many European amateur associations.

Also, the North American Amateur Drivers Association under his direction has hosted many international competitions and aided in others run by local amateur clubs Joe has encouraged over the years. He continues to serve as a Director of the USTA, Chairman of that group’s NYC District and served four years as Chairman of the Board.

Joe has also been the Chief Executive Officer of the Standardbred Owners Association of NY and has guided horsemen through years of contract negotiations and legislative battles to an end result that Yonkers Raceway and all of New York State has enjoyed a renaissance in Standardbred racing.

Teammate Anthony Verruso is the owner of a small embroidery shop in Queens, NY. He makes many of the garments worn by amateur and professional harness racing individuals... He acquired his love for the sport at 10 years old going to Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways with his Mom and Dad on weekends.

Verruso is well known for driving numerous hours just for the thrill of a 2-minute race. He has been driving for 13 years and last year was named President of the CKG Billings Harness Drivers Association. He has won the Billings Gold Cup once and last year finished 1st in the Eastern Division.

When asked to comment, Tony said this about the upcoming race. “This is my third trip to Cal-Expo and I cannot tell you how well they treat us. I go all over the eastern U.S. to race in one or two races on the card, and often they are non-wagering races. Here, I am thrilled to race in eight races over the two nights. This is such a great concept and I sure hope that California racing continues so other Billings drivers can enjoy what I have over the last several years.” He went on to say, “just like Joe Willie promised back in ’69, I guarantee a win this year! Okay, maybe not guarantee, but my wife says if you come home without the trophy; prepare to be mucking out stalls for the next 12 months!”

By David SIEGEL

LACKEY STRIKING ANOTHER BLOW FOR GLASNOST

Next week will find Jim “Chip” Lackey making his third trip to Russia in 10 years, as he will represent the United States in the 25th International Harness Drivers Championship in Moscow.

Lackey first made the trip to Russia in 2002 for the competition, and enjoyed the experience so much that he made it his 2003 vacation destination. He is looking forward to his return trip that will find him participating in a two-day event that will also feature a special celebratory dinner for the Russian training legend Madam Polzunova.

“My first trip over there came strictly by chance,” Chip explained. “The USTA ran something on the website asking who might be interested in going to Russia for an international competition, I sent in my name and a couple of weeks later I’d been chosen.

“It’s funny, I don’t have any Russian blood in my immediate family, but I’ve always felt some kind of a connection. I remember watching the Winter Olympics and being struck by the level of passion I saw with the Russian skaters, and I always rooted for them. I just had some kind of an affinity for Russia in my gut, even though I’d never been there.”

Lackey’s trip in 2002 only increased his fascination, so much so that he returned there on his own the following year for a week.

“It was fantastic vacation. I visited the Cosmonaut Center and saw the Mir Space Station, which had just returned, and also saw a very interesting amateur competition for women. I also made it a point to spend two days at the famous Trobois training center in Paris, which was unbelievable. As luck would have it, on the plane over from Moscow, I met an amateur driver who knew everybody and everything at that facility and she gave me a first-class tour.”

No one has represented America in the Moscow competition since 2007, but when Lackey saw the posting go up again on the USTA website he was quick to respond. It should be pointed out that it is Lackey’s responsibility to cover the expenses, but he isn’t giving that a second thought.

“I didn’t really think I would be chosen again, but maybe it does have something to do with availability and expenses. I’m really excited about going back. I leave on the 12th and return on the 17th, and I’m going to stop in Amsterdam for a day and a half on the way there.”

Albion Holds Aces In Saturday Featured Pace At Cal Expo

Albion, who has clicked in half of his 12 trips to the post this season and a romping winner at this top rung last week, looks to continue his good work in Saturday night’s (April 7) featured $4,500 Winners-Over Pace at Cal Expo.

A 6-year-old son of The Panderosa out of the Artsplace mare Arcatraz, Albion is conditioned by Matias Ruiz, who also co-owns with Dan Tullio and James Mascola. Luke Plano will once again handle the lines.

The dark-hued performer is getting close to the $100,000 earnings plateau and sports a 1:51.1 lifetime standard that was established last year at the Meadowlands. It was among the 10 wins he recorded from 33 appearances.

Albion comes into this assignment off two completely dominating scores. Racing under optional claiming conditions on March 24, he brushed to the lead at the half, opened up turning for home and came to the wire with seven lengths to spare in a 1:53.1 tour.

His most recent decision at this top level was pretty much a carbon copy, as Plano moved to the top by the half, held a safe advantage turning for home and prevailed by four and a quarter lengths.

Cycle Power won back-to-back races on March 17 and 23 in impressive style before checking in fourth behind Albion last weekend. Nathalie Tremblay owns and trains the Cambest offspring and James Kennedy has the assignment. He likes to finish his races faster than he starts them and is dangerous if he can get a little help up front.

Amigo De Garcia is still looking for his initial snapshot of 2012 but has been knocking on the door for owner Robert Bacon and driver/trainer Steve Wiseman. He clicked eight times last season and was runner-up in both the March 10 and March 23 clashes at this top level.

One And Only recorded his most recent decision off a class drop on March 2 for trainer Liberio Pacheco and Jim Lackey will guide, while Ivegotwhatuneed has gone some big miles over this layout and moves back up to the top level for conditioner Bob Johnson with Lemoyne Svendsen at the controls.

Live racing resumes at Cal Expo on Friday (April 6) & Saturday (April 7) at 6:00 p.m. (PST). On every live card, Cal Expo offers free parking & free admission after 4:30 p.m. On Friday, Cal Expo offers Happy Hour from 4:00-7:00 p.m. on which Beer; Well Drinks & Wine are offered at $4 each, while a Burger with fries is offered at $5.

Cal Expo currently offers a reduced 15 percent takeout rate on all Pick 4’s. Additionally, all Late Pick 4’s now come with an increased $20,000-guaranteed gross pool. Also, the Friday Late Pick 4 will offer a 0% takeout on all winning wagers made on track or at Twinspires.com, while the Saturday Late Pick 4 will be broadcast on TVG.

by Mark RATZKY

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