David Siegel of Palo Alto, California has put the United States in position to capture its first ever World Cup of Amateur Racing Championship when he brought home both winning horses in the first leg of the prestigious series hosted at Maywood Park Friday night.
“I still really don’t know if I’m here,” said an enthusiastic Siegel after his victories. “This is a surreal experience for me. The races are a blur but they’re starting to come back to me now. This is the first time I’ve won a race outside of Cal-Expo. I’ve driven 15 starts at other tracks here in the U.S., but never won a race outside of Sacramento, California. This whole event is just incredibly thrilling for me and my family.”
The 50-year-old Siegel, competing in his first international competition, came from last to first with the 12-1 longshot Mac BJ’s Knight in Maywood Park’s opener, winning in 2:04 flat, and then guided the five-year-old mare Kenny’s Dream in come-from-behind fashion in the second half of the Daily Double with a 2:03 clocking.
“To prepare for tonight I studied the program for a very long time,” Siegel noted. “I thought selfishly that if I could get a jump on the competition here because I had experience with pacers, that it would put me somewhat ahead. I was concerned because all of my European rivals have a great deal more experience with trotters than I do. So I wanted to get a head start early on, so that if I didn’t win another race throughout the rest of the competition, I’d be alright. As it is, I’m just so happy to win these two.”
After the first of six legs of tournament competition, Siegel is atop the driver standings with 26 points. In second with 17 is Canada’s Antonio Valente. Calvin Cook of New Zealand is third with 15. There’s a three-way tied for fourth with Christian Mayr of Austria, Bob Mellsop of Australia and Norway’s Bjorn Steinseth, each with 11 points. Then comes Tamas Keleman of Hungary (10), Andreu Oliva-Suau of Spain (9), Fred Handelaar of the Netherlands (8), Alle Loman of the Czech Republic and Teddy Wang of Denmark (7) and Germany’s Jorgan von Holdt (6).
Siegel, Valente, Cook and Mellsop were the only participants with two drives on Friday first leg. Round two is Saturday at Balmoral Park in Crete, Illinois. New York’s Monticello Raceway hosts the next leg on Monday, Yonker’s Raceway has leg four on Tuesday and a double header in New Jersey—Freehold in the afternoon and The Meadowlands in the evening—concludes the 2008 tournament on Wednesday. By the conclusion of competition all 12 participants will have the same number of drives.
"I’m really vocal when I drive,” said Siegel. “I was yelling at the other drivers and things got pretty rambunctious out there tonight. We’ve still got a long way to go yet with these races, but I’m pretty confident now that we’ve got these first two over with. This is just a great all-around experience.”
Members of the North Amateur Drivers Association are hosting the World Cup that is held bi-annually and this is only the second time in the United States. The first was in 1988. No North American driver has ever won the World Cup championship or finished in the top three during the first 12 contests.
Siegel’s victory with Mac BJ’s Knight ended a 30-race losing streak for the six-year-old gelding trained by George Clegg. The gelding’s last win came on May 17 of 2007, also at Maywood.
Siegel dropped Mac BJ’s Knight into seventh at the start of the first race from post six when Galvin Cook sent the eight-horse Heath out from the outside eight-slot and into a lead before the first turn. After :30 first quarter, Cook rated Heath to :32.3 and :32 flat middle quarters while Siegel was eighth at the half-mile pole and three-wide on the backside heading to the three-quarters.
Mac BJ’s Knight came out of the last turn three-wide nailed Call Me Roy, who raced first up and had the lead in deep stretch, by a head. Heath held on for third for Cook, beaten only a neck.
Kenny’s Dream was the 3-1 co-second choice in race two and Siegel had her in good position leaving from post three, in the pocket behind the pacesetting Ms Kate (Christian Mayr), who took the field to first half fractions of :29.3 and 1:01.3, Ms Kate still had the lead at the 1:33.3 three-quarter marker with Kenny’s Dream some three lengths behind her. However, Siegel got Kenny’s Dream into a higher gear for the stretch drive and zipped past for a one-length victory. Maggie’s Dream came on strong to take the show spot for Hungary’s Keleman.
Michael F. Paradise