By John Manzi
MONTICELLO April 18, 2003 Though harness racing has enjoyed better times, amateur racing has been a boon to the industry and is the fastest growing segment of the sport.
Amateur driving clubs have sprung up at nearly every harness track in the United States. The two biggest amateur organizations are the Delvin Miller Amateur Drivers Association, sponsors of the C.K.G. Billings Amateur Trotting Classic, and the North American Amateur Drivers Association (NAADA). The Billings Classic, affectionately known as the Grand Circuit of Amateur Racing consists of a year-long series of races at 45 different racetracks throughout the United States and Canada. NAADA is the organization that hosts international amateur competitions and whose members often travel abroad to compete against their European counterparts.
Amateur racing has spawned new interest in the sport and is responsible for getting more people to buy horses since they often can drive their own stock. But remember, as amateurs they can receive no remuneration for their driving exploits. However, if an amateur owns and drives his horse, he (or she) obviously can keep any purse money earned and some amateurs earn plenty of purse money in various competitions. But they cannot keep the 10 percent drivers commission and most donate that money to the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame or to another worthwhile charity.
Beginning April 18 and continuing through April 25, NAADA will be hosting a contingent of amateur drivers and horse owners from Hungary. According to NAADA President Joe Faraldo, along with the usual amenities that are afforded its guests there will also be international amateur driving competitions to be held at Yonkers Raceway on Monday, April 21, at Freehold Raceway on Tuesday, April 22 and here at Monticello Raceway on Wednesday, April 23.
Among the visitors from the 12-person Hungarian contingent are four drivers who collectively have driven over 350 winners.
Headlining their quartet is Miss Kristina Szabo, the best lady amateur driver in Hungary, who alone accounts for 274 of those victories. An owner of 15 horses, Miss Szabo participated three times in the European Championship.
Shell be joined by Bela Revi, a winner of 48 races and a former participant in the World Championship of Gentlemen Drivers in Canada; Sandor Hegedus, a winner of 30 races who also owns 15 horses and Dr. Pal Katona, a winner of 11 races who has competed in Denmark, Malta and Sweden.
Monticellos leg on April 23 will see the Hungarian amateurs being challenged by NAADA counterparts Lon Frocione, Irv Atherton, Vladimir Melnichencko and Gerry Fielding, wholl represent the Catskill Amateur Drivers Association, the local amateur driving club.
In keeping with the spirit of international competitions, after the race here the entire Hungarian contingent will break bread with the American drivers at the Homestead Restaurant in the evening as guests of NAADA. The same amenities will be afforded the Hungarians after the driving competitions at Yonkers Raceway and at Freehold Raceway. In fact, the Hungarians are not only wined and dined while visiting the U.S. but their room and board is taken care of by their hosts, which is standard for any international amateur competition.
Last year the Hungarians hosted our boys in their homeland and kicked our butts, Faraldo said. Now we are hoping to return the favor.