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French Drivers Discuss Challenge

Published: April 17, 2015 12:44 pm ET

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A ‘belle dame’ and a racing journalist are among the five amateur drivers from France vying against a quintet of U.S. counterparts in the ‘French-American Friendship Competition.’

Yonkers Raceway will be hosting the opening event on Tuesday afternoon (April 21).

First post for the matinee program is 1 p.m., with the one and a quarter-mile, 10-horse event carded as the 11th of 12 races.

The four-day competition will continue at Monticello Raceway (Wednesday, April 22), Freehold Raceway (Thursday, April 23) and the finale on Friday night (April 24) at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The French contingent includes leading lady Sophie Blanchetiere, a winner of 350 amateur races, and four French amateur championships, including the last two; racing journalist Romain Poree, the amateur world champion in 2010 and French champion in 2009; Michel Poirier, the top French amateur in 2003; and Christophe Roszak, who finished in the top ten of the French championships. None of these French drivers have ever been on United States soil.

The fifth driver, Hubert Jay, is the club representative and will only drive two races – at Yonkers and the Meadowlands – in the pair of contests with 10-horse fields. Jay studied in Minnesota and North Dakota.

The America amateurs are Peter Gerry, Peter Kleinhans, Robert Krivelin, Alan Schwartz and Anthony Verruso.

Here's the field in order of post position: 1. Meadowview Arny (Alan Schwartz); 2. Prince Lauxmont (Christophe Roszak); 3. Blue Valley (Robert Krivelin); 4. Trottin Troy (Hubert Jay); 5. Amalfi Coast (Peter Kleinhans); 6. Hesgotlegs (Romain Poree); 7. Cagnes (Peter Gerry); 8. Mr. Invincible (Sophie Blanchetiere); 9. Nowerland Firebird (Anthony Verruso); 10. Sun of Victory (Michel Poirier).

“The dates are set, and fine-tuning the details to host our amateur friends who are coming from across the sea are being finalized,” North American Amateur Driving Association President Joe Faraldo said. “It is the first time that we (the United States of America) race against our French counterparts on American soil.”

Blanchetiere, whose father was a harness trainer, works with her partner trainer/driver Yannick-Alain Briand in France. She has driven more than 1,800 races with just over 350 wins and competed internationally in Sweden, Malta and Switzerland. Blanchetiere started driving when she was 16.

“I have never been to America, so I look forward to it,” Blanchetiere said. “I have had a look at the Yonkers races that they show on Equidia here in France. It’s very different from everything I know. I assume I will need a few races to adjust, but it’s going to be fun.”

Poree is a racing journalist and son of a harness trainer who raced 1989 UET Grand Prix winner Tipouf and also took him to the International Trot at Yonkers a year later. He has extensive international experience having also driven in Sweden, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Germany. He has accumulated nearly 140 wins in more than 800 races.

“I never went to the States, but I have been dreaming of driving over there,” Poree said. “I also like to follow the top drivers, like Tim Tetrick, but Brian Sears is definitely my favourite. I like his style, he’s a fine driver.”

The veteran Poirier, who turned 60 earlier this week, is a farmer who also breeds trotters. He started driving horses at the track of local trainer Guy Dreux, who encouraged him to get an amateur license. Poirier won his first race at Alencon on May 29, 1977 and has more than 300 career wins in some 2,300 races with international experience in Spain and Italy.

“I’ve never been to the States, so it is a big trip for me,” said Poirier. “My wife is coming along and I am happy that we travel with other drivers because I would feel a bit lost on my own in New York.”

Roszak is a breeder from Normandy who became interested in harness racing during his youth from his monthly trips to the track with his father and got his amateur license in 1994. He tried his hand at training for a while before switching over to the breeding side of the business.

“I have never been to the US and feel privileged to go,” Roszak said. “I hope that we will make the most of it and have good fun with our fellow Americans.”

Club manager Hubert Jay, who won the French Amateur Cup in 2004, was around horses at a very young age with his grandfather who was a trainer. He won his first race at age 17, but soon after had to focus his attention on academic studies.

“I had to give it up, but I always wanted to keep on training and driving as a hobby,” explained Jay, who has been to the U.S. before. “I studied in Minnesota and South Dakota, but did not go racing over there. It’s an honour to drive at the Meadowlands and Yonkers, world famous racetracks.”

The NAADA is planning to host another amateur series involving drivers from Spain in June.

(Yonkers/NAADA, with quotes from the USTA)

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