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New Zealander captures World Cup of Amateur Racing

May 22, 2008
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Gavin Cook of New Zealand was declared the winner of the 2008 World Cup of Amateur Racing after capturing the final event of the competition on Wednesday night at the Meadowlands. The $25,000 trotting event was the grand finale of a six-day, six-track competition that brought together the top amateur drivers from 12 countries.  Preliminary races were held at Maywood, Balmoral, Monticello, Yonkers and Freehold. 

Cook and Kinetic Kid shook loose from the rail in mid-stretch and held off Denmark’s Teddy Wang and Punk Man for a three-quarter-length victory in 2:05.1. Fred Handelaar of the Netherlands finished third with Armbro Doug.
 
Cook and Wang were tied for second entering the final race of the competition, making their stretch battle all the more dramatic. David Siegel, the United States representative, had led the point standings throughout the competition but caught a bad break–literally–as his horse broke stride at the half-mile marker and finished last. Siegel, a 50-year-old resident of California, finished third overall.

Cook and Kinetic Kid were sent off at 5-1 and paid $13, $5 and $3.20 in Wednesday’s third race. Kinetic Kid, a 7-year-old mare, picked up her third win in 16 starts this season for trainer-owner Robert Naginewicz.
 
“She felt so good off the gate, I just had to let her run,” Cook said. “(Robert Naginewicz) told me ‘just see how she feels and do what you want to do.’ She was traveling nicely in behind. I just let her pick them up in her own due time. Unfortunately, the game came up the inside because Teddy Wang had me boxed in on the outside and he and I were vying for the championship. It was that close.”

Cook has been active in harness racing for the past 30 years and with the introduction of amateur driving in New Zealand in 2003, the opportunity came to increase his involvement. He sold his chain of pizzerias that year, allowing him to fully pursue his passion of breeding, training and driving harness horses from his 30-acre farm in Christchurch.  Cook was the inaugural Canterbury amateur driving champion in 2004 and New Zealand champion in 2007. 

“I’ve always had a passion for harness racing,” Cook said. “I’ve always been involved in it on a part-time basis. I couldn’t do it full-time because I owned 53 pizza stores, but I sold those and now I hobby train half a dozen horses and travel the world driving when, and whenever, I can.

“Everybody really jelled really well and got along,” he said of his fellow competitors. “For two minutes a day we were very competitive, but once we’re off the track we’re great mates.”

Also participating in the World Cup of Amateur Racing were Antonio Valente (Canada), Bob Mellsop (Australia), Bjorn Steinseth (Norway), Christian Mayr (Austria), Tamas Kelemen (Hungary), Alle Loman (Czech Republic) and Andreu Oliva Suau (Spain).

The 2008 competition marked the first time in 20 years that the World Cup of Amateur Racing was held in the United States. 

“I’m just overjoyed that it went as well as it did at all of the racetracks, from Maywood and Balmoral right down here to the Meadowlands, the greatest venue for harness racing,” said Joe Faraldo, president of North American Amateur Drivers Association, which hosted the World Cup events. “To see people come from all over the world just to race here is a tremendous thing.” (Meadowlands)
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