04/10/2012 9:57AM

A trip to Monticello for some Matzoh


The author driving trotter Christy Rae | (photo by Mike Lizzi)

I will be on hand at Monticello Raceway this Thursday (April 12) for the 14th annual Passover Trot, a race for drivers of Jewish descent. Well, that is only a half truth. Typically the Passover get-together for us Matzoh-loving menschen is a Pace, but after 13 consecutive pace races, 2012 will feature the Passover Trot.

Each year when April rolls around I get the rare opportunity to put my provisional driving license to good use. I get to hop into the sulky and have a fun ride. Over the last decade, I have at least a handful of starts in this yearly event without a win to my credit. Last year was probably my best chance, when my inexperience -- hey, I’m only driving one race a year! -- showed and I let Bob Krivelin off the cones and probably cost myself the win (feel free to judge for yourself in the video below). It was the second time I have crossed the wire one spot short in the “Race for the Matzohs.” Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

I’m driving against the usual bunch of clansmen this year. My heart tells me that this could be my year. Though, my handicapping side says that amateur extraordinaire Alan Schwartz is the clear favorite on Four Starz Ransom. The horse is dropping to the level of his last win and arguably is getting a positive driver change to “The Intimidator” as Schwartz is sometimes called.

“I have won the Passover Pace three times and [Mike] Kimmelman has won it three times. He says I only win with the favorites and I say the public makes me the favorite because I’m driving,” joked Schwartz, who has amassed an astonishing 24 wins in 78 starts this year.

Schwartz, who admits he drives for fun, had no idea why he's won in such big bunches this year, but it was clear that he loved winning races and would like to add this year’s Passover event to his win total.

“There is nothing like winning a race; and my wife needs the matzohs. Though, it would mean a lot more to me if they were chocolate matzohs,” said Schwartz with a chuckle.

My charge is an 8-year-old mare named Our Special Girl. She has been trained by Bruce Aldrich since December and some member of the Aldrich family since November 2009. On paper it appears that I have a chance. Although my ride has yet to win in 10 starts this year, she is in equal company, as the rest of the field combined only has one 2012 score to their credit, with that win going to the aforementioned Four Starz Ransom.

The one thing that is clearly in my favor is that my horse doesn’t show any breaks on her lines and has shown the ability to race well from on or off the pace. She has also earned a check in each of her last five starts at Thursday’s condition (non-winners of $200 per start in 2012).

I would love to help my fellow handicappers out and divulge my racing strategy, but let’s be honest: I might be a bit rusty and might not be able to practice what I preach. I’m hoping to get away fourth and perhaps pick up some cover. But I would be even happier if a few to my inside broke stride and I could go right to the top. Hopefully, racing luck will be on my side.

Win, lose or draw, I will likely take some pictures and post them to our DRF Harness Facebook page for your viewing pleasure. Perhaps I will even send out a tweet or two for those that follow @DRFHarness on Twitter.

What I can say for sure is that driving a standardbred can be tons of fun. It is one of the few professional sports where any everyday “Joe” can decide he/she wants to compete and make it happen regardless of athletic ability.

If you want to take a shot at driving one day, why not check out the United States Trotting Association’s driving school in Goshen, New York, from May 30 to June 3. The instructors will teach you the ropes and set you on your way to getting in the sulky for the ride of your life.

If those dates do not fit into your schedule, you can visit this link to contact your local driving club.

Yonkers Raceway news and notes

While watching MLB on ESPN the other day I noticed a commercial for harness racing at Yonkers Raceway. While it may have taken way too long for the track to actually step up and market their racing product, I have to applaud the effort.

In other news, Yonkers is bringing back the $20,000 guaranteed late pick four play on Mondays and Tuesdays. The pick four will start on race seven and is a must-handicap wager.

Glad to see Yonkers has an on-air presence on Fridays and Saturdays during its broadcast. On top of the handicapping with Frank Drucker and Pete Venaglia, the track has done a number of interviews with drivers and trainers to spice up the broadcast. Hopefully the show will thrive and perhaps expand to include all racing nights.