By Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO August 12, 2005 Monticello Raceway, in association with the National Prostate Cancer Coalition (NPCC), brought together a group of journalists from around New York State this past Sunday afternoon for its annual New York Reporters Race.
The tracks Public Relations Director and Democrat columnist John Manzi was the driving force behind the event that saw 11 journalists from the New York area spend the day at the raceway enjoying a free buffet and complimentary cash for the Video Gaming Machines.
After a quick crash course in harness racing, the reporters were given the option of racing alongside a professional in a double-seated rig for the main event.
The main event consisted of two races. The first race included six reporters and the second race featured five.
Representing the Democrat in the second race was yours truly, riding the horse Fredys Baby, in tandem with Stephane Bouchard, who is one of the nations most talented harness drivers.
Bouchard earned the Nations Top driver honors in 2001 and has more than 4,700 career wins.
This year, Bouchard has 342 wins, with 120 of those victories at Monticello Raceway, where he is known as Manzi put it, As a great talent.
I thought that I was as cool as ice as I watched the first race. My nerves started to act up as I realized these horses move a bit faster than I had realized and there apparently were no safety restraints on the rigs.
Race one ended with Max Gross, a writer for a New York City Jewish newspaper called, The Forward, crossing the finish line first.
My tough, fear-nothing attitude quickly dissipated and turned to mortified terror as I first met Bouchard.
He was a very nice and helpful man, but the extensive wounds on his left arm compelled me to learn more about this legendary driver with an unmistakable French accent.
What happened to the arm?, I asked. Was it a shark? Maybe a pack of rabid Pit-bulls bent on destroying his career?
I fell, he replied.
I fell off of my horse while racing last week and two other drivers also wrecked, the arm looks like this because it got caught up in the wheel.
And Eli, he continued, I just want you to know that there is a great possibility that that could happen today, to you.
Oh boy, was about all I could muster.
So off we were, just me and Bouchard and my camera, which I was advised to leave behind, but I took it anyway because I thought it would be nice to get photos while riding.
We got off to a very quick start and I thought we had a chance to win. But shortly after giving up second place, we fell way behind the pack and you could hear Stephane yelling, Hes tired.
Not a problem for me since a tired horse means a slower horse and I had accumulated enough sand and gravel on my face and in my teeth for the day as it was.
Fredys Baby finished the race in fifth place and I was no worse for the wear.
The winner of the second race was Tara Lynn Wagner from the Hudson Valley-based Regional News Network (RNN). Afterward, all of the journalists turned harness racers assembled at the winners circle for photos and to receive plaques.
Heidi Noble, a representative for the NPCC, was on hand to accept a check for $1,500 from monies raised by this event.