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Cal Expo bests Pompano in Pro-Am Challenge

March 13, 2012
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It all came down to the stretch drive of the final race of the 2012 Sunshine Pro-Am Drivers' Challenge which pitted four man teams from California against Florida in a two-night contest which wrapped up on Tuesday evening at The Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park.
 
The teams were comprised of two full-time catch-drivers and two amateurs. The driver with the fewest wins of all eight contestants, Rick Bertrand of Cal-Expo, unexpectedly came up a hero for his side when all the chips were on the table in the final heat of the two-night event encompassing six races.
 
In a claiming event for pacers priced at $4,000, Bertrand sat last at the half with his charge Mattern Miracle as Pompano's Bruce Ranger cut the mile with Hose Me Down and was repeatedly challenged by his teammate John Campagnuolo and his mount, Kel's Return to a very fast three-quarter clocking of 1:25.2.In the stretch, Wally Hennessey got clearance from the pocket with Albanian Artist and was clear at the tote board only to be gunned down by Mattern Miracle and Bertrand at the wire in 1:57.1.
 
In the eight horse and driver fields of the Challenge, points were awarded on a 13-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. The teams entered the final race of the tournament in a tie at 105 points apiece after trading Tuesday evening wins by Pompano's Bruce Ranger with trotter Cheers To Chip followed by Cal-Expo's Steve Wiseman striking right back in the next race by splitting horses at the wire to win the photo with trotter CL Sun Dancer. The final points tabulation saw the Cal-Expo crew topple the home Pompano side by a 129-123 margin.
 
"Here I am the least accomplished driver in this great eight-man contest and all the luck came my way at the end," said Cal-Expo's Rick Bertrand in a live trackside TV interview and awards ceremony in the winner's circle. "I was sitting at the back at the half and thought I had no chance. I could see Pompano's John Campagnuolo repeatedly battling with Bruce Ranger up front and all I could hope was that they softened each other up. That's how it worked out because when I tipped out Mattern Miracle around one horse he suddenly bravened up and picked up the bit. When we turned into the stretch, I had a good feeling I could get by them all and it was an amazing moment, which, as an amateur driver, I'll never forget. And it sure is great to win for the whole team too."
 
Mattern Miracle is trained by Rodney Grady for Pompano Beach owner Clayton Merrill Jr.
 
In the individual standings, Ranger led the way with 39 points to edge out Wiseman's 38-point performance. Luke Plano and Hennessey were tied for third at 34 points, followed by Campagnuolo at 30 points, David Siegel at 29 points, Bertrand at 28 points and Jamie Marra at 20 points.
 
The Tuesday program also featured a Legends Of Harness Racing Drivers event for a second straight night which followed the Sunshine Pro-Am Series races. Richie Simard came up the winner from a pocket trip with trotter Sundowner Bob for owners Katie Currie and owner-trainer Scott West over Julius Secret in rein to David Ingraham and Ultimate Control with Ed Hensley in the bike. The Legends events were carded for 10 drivers with a combined total of almost 65,000 lifetime wins for over $400 million in combined driving purses from over a half million career starts. (Pompano Park)
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