The Battlin’ Billings Boys made their annual trip north of the border to compete in Canada and race on Prince Edward Island at Charlottetown Driving Park on Saturday,(Sept. 6) and at Summerside Raceway the following afternoon.
Eight members were to make the trip but when “Bullet Bob” Davis had to cancel, the group leader and Billings vice president, Steve “You’re Never Too” Oldford, contacted local amateur and Charlottetown resident, Todd Walsh, to fill in for Davis. And Walsh made the best of his chances, winning a Billings contest at both Maritime racetracks.
But even though Todd “the substitute” Walsh copped a pair that still left room for two others who made the journey to have their pictures taken in the winner’s circle. Mike “the Mortgage Man” Mitchell was one and “Racin’ Jason” Sgrignuoli the other.
The first contest at Charlottetown on Saturday went to Walsh when he sat back off the leaders and then closed with a rush to score an easy 2:01.2 victory with the veteran Bettors Delight pacing gelding, Blue Man Group. Also coming from off the pace was second place finisher TMS Starlet Cruise, capably handled by “Mighty Matt” Zuccarello. Third place went to Wine To Go, driven by Hilliard Graves, the retired professional hockey player.
Graves appeared in 556 games in the National Hockey League from a 1970-1980 with the Vancouver Canucks, the Atlanta Flames, the Winnipeg Jets and the California Golden Seals. And like many other Canadian- born hockey players where hockey and harness racing are national sports in their country, Graves has been involved in harness racing, for most of his adult life and thus far he has won 265 races. Oldford, and the other Billings members, were very pleased to have Graves fill in for one the absent members.
The second contest there saw “the Mortgage Man” take advantage of sizzling early fractions then rally Sumbodys Fool to collar Forced To Travel and Steve Oldford in the final strides to score a neck victory a time of 1:59.2. Hilliard Graves drove the third place finisher in that contest, also.
On Sunday (Sept. 7) at Summerside Raceway, Walsh was back in the winners circle after winning the first Billings contest there with In Cahoots in a time of 2:01.3. They finished 1-1/2 length s ahead of Bizzy Izzy driven by Daniel “Handy Dan” St. Pierre. Matt Zuccarello took home the show dough with Incredible Mike.
A final Billings race went to All Out, who seemed to be all-out from gate to wire to score a two length triumph in a time of 1:59 triumph for “Racin’ Jason” Sgrignuoli. Zuccarello was second with Jamantha while Todd Walsh finished third with Woodmere No Fool.
“We got to the lead easily and we never had a serious challenge in the race ,” Sgrignuoli said. “At the finish my horse still had a lot left and the owners (Dale and Ronnie Rennie) were very happy. I was too. “ Later all the Billings drivers, and even some of ( the PEI) horsemen, got together and celebrated with a nice dinner.”
The next day, when all the Billings participants were at the airport and were readying for the trip back home, Steve Oldford, who has been the driving force behind this international amateur completion, had nothing but compliments for their Canadian hosts.
“I can’t say enough good things about the hospitality we are shown when we come here,” Oldford said. “Every one invites us to stop by their barns and ‘have a beverage or two’. No one tells us how to drive their horses; all they say to us is ‘have fun-be safe’.
“We enjoy every moment when we are with our PEI friends and we look forward to a return trip again next year.