By John Manzi
MONTICELLO November 14, 2003 Though the great sport of harness racing has seen better days, amateur racing is growing in leaps and bounds. The amateur movement, which has always been a part of the Standardbred competitions especially in the dawning of the sport has made a strong comeback in recent years.
Today, over 1,500 gentlemen and lady drivers are members of various amateur clubs and organizations.
But its the C.K.G. Billings Amateur Driving Series, what many affectionately consider the Grand Circuit of Amateur Racing, that leads the way in the amateur resurgence. Now in its 22nd season, the Billings showcases the top amateur drivers in the country and offers competitions not only in the United States but in Canada, too.
The C.K.G. Billings Amateur Trotting Series began its 2003 season on April 30 at Northfield Park in greater Cleveland, Ohio and culminated on November 9 at Colonial Downs in Kent, Virginia. Along the way, 54 venues hosted a leg of the Grand Circuit of Amateur Racing, with the Colonial Downs event being the 55th and last competition prior to the regional finals and regional consolations.
Most who competed in the Billings Series were out to garner enough points to be eligible for post season action. To extend their racing season, however, amateurs needed to be among the top 21 in points in their respective regions, Midwest or Eastern, so as to secure a berth in either the regional finals or regional consolations.
Now that all the points have been tallied, Bud Hatfield, a car dealer by trade who drove 13 winners in Billings competition this season, walked off with another championship as his combined points total of 206 was 38 better than Northfield Parks racing secretary, Greg Keidel, who finished with 168. Hatfields 162 points in the Midwest competitions not only was tops in that region, but good enough to earn him a bye in the upcoming Midwest Regional Final at Balmoral Park this Sunday, November 16.
Alan Schwartz, owner of a moving company who was the point-champion in the Eastern region, also drew a bye and will not have to compete in tomorrows Eastern Regional Final at Yonkers Raceway.
As point champions, both Schwartz and Hatfield now are assured a spot in the $35,000 Gold Cup Final, which will be raced at a distance of one and 3/16th miles at the Meadowlands on Friday, November 28.
However, their competition in the Gold Cup is yet to be determined.
The amateurs who finished second through 11th in points in their respective regions will get a chance to compete in the regional finals, with the top four finishers there joining Hatfield and Schwartz in the Gold Cup. The final two slots will be filled with the winners of the regional consolations.
The regional consolations will be comprised of drivers finishing 12th through 21st in points in their regions. The amateur reinsmen who finish second, third and fourth in each regional consolation, along with the fifth, sixth and seventh place finishers in each regional final, will go head-to-head in the 12-horse, $15,000 Delvin Miller Silver Cup, also raced at the one and 3/16th mile oval at the Meadowlands on November 28.
Last year, the winner of the $40,000 Gold Cup Final, Gene Miller, not only took home the $20,000 first prize, but had his picture and a short piece on his accomplishments appear in Sports Illustrated a few weeks after his victory.
Since Monticello Raceway hosted different legs of Billings competition this year, I feel its apropos to report on the happenings in the regional finals and consolations as well as the Gold and Silver Cup events.