Twelve of the world's very best Amateur harness racing drivers will shortly be heading to New Zealand for the 12th running of the World Cup of Amateur Driving. Ready to face them in this ultimate challenge as New Zealand's representative is Franklin horseman Steve Phillips.
After a life time involvement in the sport as an owner, breeder, administrator, trainer and latterly a successful Amateur driver Steve says "for me this is certainly a career highlight".
It was back in 1958 with the introduction of harness racing at Alexandra Park that Steve got his first taste of the sport. Part time holiday jobs in stables fostered this growing interest with "hands on experience".
After qualifying as an accountant and doing the obligatory big OE. His return to New Zealand saw an increased involvement in harness racing. This culminated in the development of a successful band of broodmares plus 15yrs as a stud master standing stallions such as, Genghis Khan, , Butler BG and Chiola Hanover.
It was whilst travelling overseas that Steve was introduced to how successful Amateur Driving was in Europe and the USA. He could see that the increased participation and ownership that flowed from providing the opportunity for the owners to have hands on involvement would be just as beneficial to the sport in New Zealand.
So, ably supported by his wife Anne, he became pivotal in seeing the Amateur Drivers movement get off the ground in 2001. So it will be a proud day for them both when the eight race series commences in Auckland on 19th January. "after little more than ten years to be hosting the world champs is a major achievement, but I am confident we are ready" opined Steve.
After the four races staged in Auckland, the World Cup entourage travels to Christchurch for two further races at Addington. The World Champion will be decided on Sunday 20th January at Motukarara.
Steve starts the series with home country advantage, but he may very well need it. When quizzed about the other competing drivers he quickly stated his awe at their records. " The driver from Germany, Marian Tux, has 580 wins and the Ukrainian, Danish, French and Russian drivers all have in excess of 150 winners."
"These guys are driving all the time and often against the professionals so I have the utmost respect for them all".
With a life time of harness racing achievement on his resume now comes the chance to add a much valued World Championship trophy to the mantle.
Piet van Pollaert Belgium
Licenced 1996 Age: 29 Occupation: Trader
Total Winners: 78 Winners in 2011: 3
Represented Belgium at the 2010 World Champs in France 8th Finish
Jiri Svoboda Czech Republic
Licenced 1999 Age: 50 Occupation: Businessman
Total Winners: 92 Winners in 2011: 15
Competed in the European Championship in 2009 & 2011 and the FEGAT Europa Cup in 2009
Bjarke Haagensen Denmark
Licenced 1999 Age: 36 Occupation: Farrier
Total Winners: 175 Winners in 2011: 4
Danish Champion in 2008, 2010 & 2011
Franck Mary France
Licenced 1994 Age: 37 Occupation: Business Diector
Total Winners: 174 Winners in 2011: 15
Won FEGAT Cup in Prague in 2007
Marian Tux Germany
Licenced 1972 Age: 62 Occupation: Businessman
Total Winners: 580 Winners in 2011: 4
European Champion in 2011 in Mallorca, Spain.
Jaap Terstal Netherlands
Licenced 2002 Age:29 Occupation: Ambulance Nurse
Total Winners: 37 Winners in 2011: 13
Steve Phillips New Zealand
Licenced 2002 Age:63 Occupation: Accountant
Total Winners: 43 Winners in 2011: 6
Former North Island Champion
Represented NZ at World Champs in Belgium in 2004
Bernt Oksnevad Norway
Licenced 1983 Age: 46 Occupation: Farmer
Total Winners: 78 Winners in 2011: 13
Georgy Makarevich Russia
Licenced 1993 Age: 58 Occupation: Engineer
Total Winners: 162 Winners in 2011: 10
Represented Russia at the 2010 World Champs in France
Competed at the European Championships in 2008 & 2009
FEGAT Europa Cup in 2005 & 2007
Damia Oliver Oliver Spain
Licenced 1994 Age: 34 Occupation:
Total Winners: 42 Winners in 2011: 7
Volodymyr Kushtal Ukraine
Licenced 1998 Age: 55 Occupation: Manager
Total Winners: 211 Winners in 2011: 8
Won Mediterranean Trot Championship in Croatia in 2007 & 2008
1st Place in Derby Championship in Ukraine
1st Place in Elite Loped in Ukraine
President of Ukraine Amateur Drivers Club.
Licenced 2004 Age: 55 Occupation: Farmer
Total Winners: 51 Winners in 2011: 12
Michigan Amateur Driver of the Year in 2009
2011 National Amateur Driver of the Year by the United States Harness Writers Association
Won 2011 Delvin Miller Memorial Gold Cup Driving Championship (CKG Billings Series)
Drove in the 2009 USA-NZ friendship challenge in New Zealand.
The World Cup of Amateur Driving commences on Wednesday 18th January with a welcome function at Alexandra Park. This will see twelve of the Worlds best Amateur drivers come together and do battle over an eight tote race series.
by Gavin COOK