Sloppy track conditions could not dampen the spirits of 9 hearty Michigan Amateur drivers as they competed in the Great Lakes Amateur Drivers Association season opener at Hazel Park Raceway in suburban Detroit tonight, (Monday May 17).
The all new series, to be presented on the harness racing card each Monday night throughout the meet will benefit charities of Hazel Park's choosing thanks to declaration fees paid by each participating driver.
The inaugural race was a one mile dash in the splash for conditioned trotters or those in the $7,500 claiming class and the purse was $2,700. Taking center stage was owner-driver-trainer Mike "The Mortgage Man" Mitchell of Davison, Michigan who steered his own 5 year old mare, Likaty to victory in a time of 2.01.3.
As the starter said "Go", Mitchell and his steed blasted away to the front but rolling up on the outside with dead aim on the top spot early was the driving Vet, Dr. Michael Caston who was handling Don Harmon's Rompaway Bullet.
Sloshing by the quarter in 29.2, Caston's prescription was to play catch me if you can as Mitchell and Likaty stalked menacingly getting a two hole trip.
As the field headed up the backstretch, Steve Oldford, a former National Amateur Champion, made a big move to draw up alongside the leader as he steered the old-time class horse Artful Power....it appeared they'd clear but they got hung out by Caston and his charge as Mitchell and Likaty continued to contently trot along in third.
Kelly Walker tried to move Hemlock Slugger up but they weren't making much progress so Congenial Gene Miller, another former National Champion swung wide for the drive home as veteran horseman Jim Ingersoll pulled on the right line from along the rail and quickly was out in the center of the track trying to rally.
By mid-stretch, Mortgage Man Mike who might be re-named Menacing Mike, cleverly steered Likaty off the rail and they splashed on by Caston to win by a length and a half with Ingersoll finishing third at the lines of Caballo Diablo. Gene Miller handling his own mare, Rompaway Ulaine finished fourth.
The others in the inaugural running of the GLADA series to compete were MHHA President, Brett Boyd who finished fifth behind Easter Holiday D, Steve Oldford (Artful Power), Kelly Walker (Hemlock Slugger), Jack Pasco (Rollaway Starlet) and Craig Sebert (SS Katie). Mitchell and Likaty lit up the board paying $39.20, $18.40 and $8.00. For Mike it was his third driving win of the year and his 20th lifetime trip to the winner's circle.
In up coming weeks, more Michigan based Amateur drivers will get their chance to perform. The series will have point standings, awards and the point leader on September 1 will represent GLADA in the Tim Fouts Memorial race for Amateur drivers at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Ohio, home to the famed Little Brown Jug.
Though they're called 'amateurs' each competing driver must have earned a 'A' or a 'P' license and the word amateur is meant to mean they've not accepted compensation for their driving in the past ten years. In other words, the series is about amateurs yes, but novices no.
If the season opener is any indication of things to come, its going to be an entertaining series that will undoubtedly bring some new attention to the harness races in Michigan, where the sport is struggling and battling for survival.