"Yankee Joe" Lee named Amateur Driver of Year
December 07, 2017
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It was unanimous. The USHWA National Amateur Driver of the Year Award Committee has named "Yankee Joe" Lee the National Amateur Driver of the Year for 2017. The ever-improving 38-year-old Bronxville, N.Y. native is enjoying his best season in the sulky while being a member of multiple amateur organizations.
When contacted, Lee was at Yankee Stadium where he is the New York Yankee's assistant equipment manager, thus the moniker "Yankee Joe."
When told of his recent accolade, Lee paused a moment and then said: "I'm greatly honored and I'm humbled by the award. This is only my third full season of amateur driving and I love it. And I'm especially grateful for the confidence that the owners and trainers have shown in my abilities."
Lee could be considered a true amateur in that he owns no racing stock nor does he have any specific trainer to drive for exclusively (save Bruce Aldrich Sr. at Monticello Raceway) and has taken the reins from at least 15 different trainers this year alone.
This national award comes on the heels of the local Amateur Driver of the Year Award from the Monticello-Goshen Chapter USHWA ,which, by the way, pioneered showcasing the talents of amateur drivers back in the 1980s.
Currently Lee has a career-best 15 driving victories to go along with 11 seconds and 10 thirds. Arguably the most prolific was the triumph in the 1 1/4-mile $25,000 CKG Billings Gold Cup final at Yonkers Raceway with Dizzy Rizzy on Nov. 26. However, it didn't come easy.
And Lee recalls that triumph vividly.
"We had tough trip that that night but we got the job done," he said. "I tried leaving but Steve Oldford, with Gonna Fly, was giving Paul Minore and Wygant Prince a tough time. I then tried to slip down along the pylons to no avail but got lucky when Bob Krivelin's horse made a break.
"Sitting third I thought I had a good spot. Then Oldford pulled the pocket with over a half mile to go so I got to slip into the two hole. At the top of the stretch I rolled out of the pocket grunted at her (Dizzy Lizzy) a little and she scampered past the leader and got there in time. I was real honored to win the Billings Gold Cup for her connections."
However, Lee's fastest victory this year was a 1:54.3 triumph with Soul Train at the Meadowlands on Sept. 8 for trainer Al Annuziatta.
Not bad for a kid who began with show jumpers. "Once I jogged a (harness) horse I never had anything more to do with jumpers," he said.
Lee credits his friend Buzzy Sholty as his mentor. " I love the sport and once this game gets into your blood it consumes you. And the more involved you become the more dedicated you are to the sport of harness driving," Lee alleges.
Says competitor and two-time National Amateur Driver of the Year, Dein Spriggs: "Joe Lee demonstrates what I feel is required to receive the 2017 National Amateur Driver of the year Award. He's a strategic driver using tactics and lt losing composure during a race while readjusting strategies during the race to overcome his competition. He's of good character and moral standing besides being the 2017 Billings Gold Cup winner."
Lee will receive his accolades at the U.S. Harness Writers Awards Banquet in Orlando, Fla., during late February, 2018. (John Manzi)