UK welcomes drivers from the USA ... more
Last December, five lucky drivers from the UK and Ireland were given the opportunity to travel to Florida to compete in an amateur driving series against five US reinsmen.
Now these five US drivers will be making the trip to Wales to see if they can reign supreme on British soil. Those standing in their way are recent Musselburgh final winning driver Richard Haythornthwaite, Wales & West specialist Jaimie Davies, father and son combination Patrick and Lee Morris and Irish contender Chris O'Reilly. These British and Irish contenders proved that we have some great talent having won the series in Pompano Park.
The races will take place at both Tir Prince and Tanycastell and are set to be hotly contested events with the Americans hoping they can take home the bragging rights and the 'locals' looking to stand their ground on home turf.
Tir Prince racing manager Eric Witherspoon spoke of his excitement towards having such a memorable race at the North Wales venue, "We are delighted to be hosting this prestigious event and look forward to seeing the guest drivers put their skills to the test in what looks a very competitive race. May the best driver win!"
Here's a closer look at the 10 drivers who will be hoping they can land the spoils.
Ron Cuismano followed in his father's footsteps and began training and driving in the late 1980s. He was a regular driver throughout the 90s winning several New York Sire Stake races and Florida Breeders Stakes. He left the harness racing business altogether in 1999, but continued to follow harness racing. After 17 years away from the business he had the chance to join the Florida amateur drivers club an opportunity which would allow him to give back to the sport that he loves.
Tony Dinges is a full time trainer and currently trains 25 horses at Tioga Downs. He got involved with harness racing as a child through his grandfather. His career highlight to date is training Tarver Hanover, a horse he also owned to win over $850,000. He has also been lucky enough to have a runner in the 2011 running of the world famous Hambletonian.
Dein Spriggs is a real estate consultant who became involved in harness racing through his father William Spriggs and both he and his brother Steve have followed in their father's footsteps. Dein was USA Amateur Driver of the Year in both 2004 and 2005 and has had the opportunity to drive in American, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy and Spain and is no stranger to winning on international soil. He lists winning the 2005 CKG Gold Cup as his career highlight as he was able to share the experience with parents, daughter and brother.
Jeff Schaefer is a full-time farrier and splits his time between Pomano Park in Florida in the winter and Tioga Downs in New York in the summer. He has had the opportunity to shoe a few champions like Horse of the Year in the USA and Canada Burning Point and Corleon Cosmos. He has been training harness horses since the age of 7 with his parents and started driving at 16 where he finished 2nd in the Junior Driving Championship. Jeff has already experienced harness racing in the UK and may have an advantage over his fellow countrymen having drove on the grass at Almeley last year.
Dennis Whittemore has been around Standardbreds his whole life and started driving in the late 70's. He has owned horses since he can remember and it is a real family affair with his father, son and daughter all involved in the sport. Since taking up driving in 1977 he has won 117 races and over $167,000 in prize money. His most successful year came in 1982 where he won 18 starts and placed in 53 others.
Team UK & Ireland
Richard Haythornthwaite is a carpenter by trade who got involved with harness racing through his parents Alan and Teresa Haythornthwaite and the sport is very much in the family's blood. Richard is a regular at several tracks around the UK and has become the main driver for a number of owners. He has had some very high-profile winners and he names his success in the Vincent Delaney Memorial on Tyrion Hanover as his career highlight to date.
Chris O'Reilly, another carpenter, started his affiliation with the sport as a young 13-year-old competing in saddle races. He then left the sport for several years and is perhaps the least experienced of the group as he only trains and drives his own horses. However, this did not affect him during the competition in America and he gave a flawless drive to win on his first ever attempt at driving a trotter, an experience which he states will be very hard to match.
Jaimie Davies is one of the most utilised drivers on the Wales & West harness racing circuit and is the third generation of his family to become a driver. Although he only has one of his own in training he picks up outside drives every week and has become the go-to man for several trainers. Jaimie, who works on his family farm, was thrilled with his opportunity to travel to Florida and experience harness racing at its highest level.
Patrick Morris, a shop fitter by trade, has been involved in harness racing for a number of years and got into the sport through his father. His partnership with Meadowbranch Josh provided him with some his most notable winners including heat and final at Tanycastell, a heat of the Big Guns Series at Appleby, a heat of the Crock of Gold and several Free For Alls including two 1.57 miles. Patrick enjoyed his experience in America so much that if the opportunity arose he would move there in an instant.
Lee Morris is a full-time farrier. He is the main organiser of the event and was delighted to get the opportunity to drive at Pompano Park and although he didn't get a winner the experience of getting to drive around such an impressive track could only be described as "awesome" and an absolute highlight of his career. Lee however is no stranger to the winners enclosure and has won high profile races at Ceredigion with Lyons Stallone, Musselburgh with Blue Top Gun and a heat of the Crock of Gold with Meadowbranch Josh.
With the first race scheduled for Tuesday night being an ultra-competitive event, excitement is building towards a great series. Good luck to all competitors and a huge congratulations to those who have worked tirelessly to make the event happen. From everyone in the UK and Ireland we hope the five USA drivers thoroughly enjoy the experience. We hope that this competition can increase in size and stature in the future to become one of the highlights of the UK harness racing season.