Day At The Track

Pennacchio looks to make history in World Cup

08:56 AM 21 Feb 2020 NZDT
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Joe Pennacchio, harness racing Andrea Fazekas, harness racing
Joe Pennacchio
Photo courtesy Florida Amateur Driving Club
Defending champion Andrea Fazekas from Argentina

The 20th edition of the World Cup for amateur harness racing drivers will be held next week at Florida's Pompano Park and U.S. representative Joe Pennacchio will be aiming to make history. No American has ever won the event, which this year brings together participants from 12 countries from around the globe.

"I'm honored to race under the U.S. flag and represent our country," Pennacchio said. "It's very exciting to be doing it, and it would be an incredible treat to be able to win. We're going to try to get it done. But I know all the other drivers are very capable. I'll just see how the races unfold and do the best I can to be in a good position. We'll see how it shakes out."

Pennacchio, a retired CEO who spent most of his career in department store retailing, has won 186 races in his career and was the U.S. Harness Writers Association's Amateur Driver of the Year in 2018. Pennacchio won 15 of 67 races that season. His victory total was one shy of his career high.

In addition to driving, Pennacchio has enjoyed success as an owner, most notably with 2004 Breeders Crown winner Yankee Slide. He is the past president of the Florida Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association, a director of the U.S. Trotting Association, and a member of the Florida Amateur Driving Club. The club is hosting the World Cup.

"I've driven internationally quite a bit and many of those drivers have multiple hundreds of wins over their careers," Pennacchio said. "They tend to drive a lot more over the course of the year than we do. But our amateur series in the United States has grown incredibly in the last five to 10 years. There are more races than any one person could want to go to at this point. The opportunities are all over the place.

"We have a great club in Florida. We race three or four times every weekend. The only problem for me is I'm old. I wish I was 30 years younger. I've got more behind me than I've got in front of me. So, it's even more special for me (to drive in the World Cup) because I don't know if I would get another opportunity to do something like this."

The World Cup consists of eight races, with each driver getting five starts. The first four races are Monday (Feb. 24) and the final four are Tuesday (Feb. 25).

Argentina's Leonardo Agusti is the defending World Cup champion. Agusti has won more than 1,300 races in his career, which began in 1966. He has raced in the U.S. on several occasions and owns a win at Pompano Park, which he picked up in 2008.

The remaining drivers in the event are Switzerland's Barbara Aebischer, Spain's Miquel Vich Capo, Canada's David Drew, Hungary's Andrea Fazekas, Denmark's Lars Munk, Belgium's Piet Van Pollaert, New Zealand's Warren Rich, Austria's Thomas Royer, Italy's Andrea Sallustio, and Sweden's Lukas Svedin.

Fazekas also has a win at Pompano Park, which came in 2016. Two years later, she picked up a victory at Monticello Raceway. She and Agusti are the only non-North American drivers with wins in the States. Fazekas has won nearly 180 races since beginning her career in 2003.

"It will be amazing to return to this track (Pompano)," Fazekas wrote via Facebook Messenger. "Having won there before brings me confidence. I'm looking forward to the World Cup and will try to do my best. I believe in myself and cross my fingers for good horses.

"I enjoy the excitement of racing," she added. "Driving new horses, getting to know them; it's always a good experience."

The drivers will arrive in Florida on Saturday and be treated to a number of excursions, including a trip to Sunshine Meadows Equestrian Village and boat tour of Fort Lauderdale.

"Steve (Oldford) and Dein (Spriggs) have done a remarkable job putting together a great program," Pennacchio said. "People are going to have the opportunity to be busy every minute of the day. They're going to take them all over the place."

He then added with a laugh, "Maybe they can get them really tired and I can win."

Pennacchio, who drew posts eight and two on Monday and posts three, five, and three on Tuesday, knows it will not be that easy.

"When you go on the racetrack it's incredibly competitive," Pennacchio said. "When you come off the racetrack everybody is friends and we laugh about it. We'll have a great time. We'll have a greater time if we win, but we'll have a great time no matter what."

For the program pages for the Monday races in the competition, click here. For the program pages for the Tuesday races in the competition click here.

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA 

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