Former Balmoral Trainer Champ Won’t Return

By Mike Paradise
The possibility of a shortage of race horses for this summer’s Hawthorne meeting grew a little closer to a reality when former Balmoral Park trainer champion Bob Phillips confirmed that he won’t be back for the summer’s 80-night meeting.
“It’s hard to try and make a living in Illinois when there’s racing less than five months a year and then only a couple of days a week,” said the 70-year-old Phillips who has shifted his residence along with his 20-plus stable to Ohio after Hawthorne declined to conduct a winter meet in 2017.
That decision cut its live harness racing days to only 80 for this year, thus reducing horsemen’s racing opportunities by over 22% from 2016 and by a staggering 69% in the past six years.
Hawthorne opens its harness meet on May 11 with a Thursday through Sunday weekly format but Phillips has his doubts the track will have enough horses to fill four cards a week.
“I think they may be down to two, or maybe three nights a week of racing,” continued Phillips. “I’m not the only one who won’t be back. There are others.”

Bob Phillps

Bob Phillps

Phillips, who won his first trainer championship at the 2011 Balmoral meeting when he was 66, was perennially among the leading trainers in starts and wins at Balmoral Park from 2009 through 2015, when both the far south suburb facility and Maywood Park went belly-up after a multi-millions of dollars lawsuit was awarded to the river boats from the two Chicago circuit racetracks, ending more than a 60 year reign in Illinois harness racing by the Johnston family.
Phillips sent out 96 winning horses in Illinois in 2011, a career high. One-year later his barn annexed $667,612 in purse money, a season best when he raced the likes of State Street Liz, Big Brad, Holdingallthecards, AJ Get’s The Money. Life Is Good Today and the star pf the stable Al’s Hammered who made almost $215,000 as a ICF 3-year-old.
Al’s Hammered (1:48.3). a two-time Super Night champion, was owned and trained by Phillips who sold the then five-year-old to former Illinois horseman Harry von Knoblauch near the end of the 2014 campaign. A handful of starts later in early 2015 Al’s Hammered broke down and ended his racing career with 37 victories in 87 starts and a career bankroll of $520,297.
In his last year of racing for Phillips Al’s Hammered won 15 of 20 outings in Illinois including the Maurello Final, the Broadway Preview and a half-dozen Balmoral Invites,
Phillips, a long-time resident of Crete, Illinois now makes his home in Lebanon, Ohio where its Miami Valley Raceway meet, Scioto Downs in Columbus and Hollywood Gaming Casino racing in Dayton gives the Buckeye state year around harness racing in central or southern Ohio.
Northfield Park in Cleveland covers of the northern part of the state with a long 11-month January through November meeting.
Motherhood Awaits: Missing from the Chicago racing circuit for the first time since 2010 will be the former Illinois bred stake champion Just By Design (1:51.3), winner of 32 races in her career and nearly $400,000 in purse earnings for owner Josh Carter of Williamsville, Illinois.
“She developed a bit of a suspensory problem last summer and that made it an easier decision for me to end her racing days and have her begin her career as broodmare,” said Carter. “She’ll be bred this year to Real Desire.”
The now 9-year-old daughter of Sportsmaster out of the Broadway Express mare Rock N Roan, captured a Hanover, the Ann Vonian Final and the Grandma Ann Super Night Consolation at Balmoral and a division of the Circle City stake
at Indiana Downs in her sophomore season.
Just By Design proved best in Balmoral’s Parklane Powerful and the ICF Du Quoin championship at five, won an Lorna Propes stake elimination at six, and another Du Quoin stake crown at seven, all under the care of Springfield based conditioner Mike Brink.

Simmons Hit Bullseye with Single Shot

By Mike Paradise
Through the years Springfield based trainer Tom Simmons and his wife Benita have owned outright or shared proprietorship with over 400 horses and most were ICF yearlings.
Some of those youngsters went on to do very well racing in Illinois for the Simmons stable such as former Orange and Blue Colt champions Brass Door (1992) and Froggy Turner (2007) and the sub 1:50 pacers Constant Change (1:49.4) and Glass Pack (1:49.4).
With seven former Super Night champions on the stable’s list of accomplishments it wasn’t a surprise to some Illinois circuit followers that the Simmons’ Fox Valley Herbie came away with the Incredible Finale 2-year-old crown on Hawthorne’s 2016 Night of Champions.
However, unlike in many of the past 25 years or so when Simmons had a number of ICF yearlings to bring along with Super Night championship aspirations in mind, last year Fox Valley Herbie” was “it” for Simmons.
“He was the only Illinois bred yearling we bought in 2015,” said Simmons, a 2006 Illinois Harness Hall of Fame inductee “There’s always a little bit of luck with these young horses. You might say we got lucky with Herbie.”

 Fox Valley Herbie (Mike Oosting), is shown winning last year's Incredible Finale Championship at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Photo)

Fox Valley Herbie (Mike Oosting), is shown winning last year’s Incredible Finale Championship at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Photo)

Like most of Simmons ICF freshmen Fox Valley Herbie did some racing on the Illinois County Fair Circuit. Between the Fairs and Hawthorne he dropped his first five decisions before capturing a division of the Illinois Stallion Stakes at the Charleston Fair with Simmons driving.
A son of Yankee Skyscraper out of the broodmare Hereshecomesagain Herbie ended up eighth in his first leg of the Incredible Finale Series and could do no better than fourth in his next leg. The youngster picked up his initial pari-mutuel victory on August 18 at Hawthorne and 10 days later he was second-best in the Governor’s Cup at Du Quoin.
Seven different drivers guided Herbie in his initial nine starts before Mike Oosting took over and had immediate success, winning the last Incredible Finale Series Leg less than a week later.
“Mike just seemed to click with the horse,” said Simmons.
“Herbie is a big colt but he was immature in the early part of last season. When I looked at him in the pasture before the sale he looked like a solid good looking horse. I basically bought him off his looks. The good things about the horse out-numbered the not-so-good ones so I took a chance on him”.
Herbie sold for only $2,800 to Simmons and went on to pull down $87,743 in his first season, winning 4 of his last 5 starts including the Cardinal Final at Hawthorne in his familiar late-charging fashion.
In his Cardinal elimination Oosting changed tactics and raced Herbie on the front and got nosed-out at the finish by Gabe Henry.
Herbie was victorious on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions when he came from tenth and last at the top of the lane. He ended his season at Hoosier Park, overcoming nine lengths in the last quarter (27 flat) of the mile with Sam Widger in the bike.
”He was a heart-attack horse to watch last year,” said Simmons laughing. “I’ve started back with him and he’ll be pointed for the 3-year-old stake series at Hawthorne.”
The Good Old Days: When Brass Door won the Orange & Blue Colt Final at Sportsman’s Park some 27 years ago the purse was $360,000. His stakes record time of 1:56.1 came on the first Super Night conducted on the Cicero, Illinois track’s new seven-eighths oval.
The last harness race conducted at Sportsman’s would come seven years later.

Current Stakes Schedule the Sensible Solution

By Mike Paradise
While the catchphrase “Fair and Balanced” is the staple slogan of the Fox News Channel it can also be accurately applied to the Illinois harness racing stake schedule inaugurated last year at Hawthorne Race Course and enriched for this summer’s meeting.
. The move to conduct a number of stake series legs and use a point system to determine the finalists for the season’s premier ICF championships proved to be a popular modification with Illinois horse owners, their trainers and the betting public.
“I do think the change worked out well,” said IHHA Director Josh Carter who again spearheaded the stake schedule negotiations. “The feedback I got was pretty positive on it. I’m glad Hawthorne wanted to stay with that type of format.
“The original concept to switch to this type of format was made by (former long-time IHHA board member) Roger Welch who thought that maybe we ought to look at what Indiana has been doing successfully with their series.
“My original version of our stakes schedule last year followed what we traditionally did with the Southland Festival and the same Super Night format.
“I then made another version just to see if we had enough money to come up with a series type format and when it did, people started to like the idea. We suggested it and Hawthorne was fine with it
Josh Carter“One of the benefits I think it has is to spread the money around more than the old eliminations format,” added Carter who serves on Committee’s for the IHHA regarding Legislative, Marking and Public Relations, Negotiating Contracts, Social Media, Purse Condition Sheet and Finance.
“With this format if your horse is good early in the year there’s a chance to make some money and if your horse comes around late in the year it can also make some money. This way everything doesn’t come down to one elimination night as far as getting into the final. I think for everybody that was the nerve-racking night more than Super Night.
“This format allows everybody a better chance to make the final and I think it does lend itself with the 10 best horses ultimately getting into the championship.”
This time around negotiations between the Hawthorne Race Office and the IHHA regarding ICF stakes went much smoother.
“Last year we (IHHA) had to take the lead in putting together the program. This year Robin (Schadt, Hawthorne’s new Race Secretary) did the bulk of the work on it and the process went quite a bit easier,” continued Carter, a horse owner from Williamsville, IL, part of the Springfield Metropolitan Area.
“Hawthorne decided they wanted to go with a similar stakes schedule as 2016. Our goal for 2017 was to have a comparable or slightly higher purse structure than last year which we have accomplished.
“In 2016 we spent just over $1.5 million out of the purse account on ICF stakes The anticipated amount this year will fall somewhere between $1.7 and $1.8 million and that will depend, of course, on the number of divisions within the legs which is hard to predict at this point.
“Based on last year’s numbers and the changes we’ve made I think we’ll see somewhere between a $200,000 and a $300,000 increase for those total purses. The first two series legs this year will go for $12,000 and legs three and four will go for $16,000. Last year it was $10,000 and $12,500 for the trotters and $12,500 and $15,000 for the pacers.”
“We encourage everybody to get those stake nominations in. The deadline for the 3-year-olds is Feb. 15, which is next Wednesday. For 2-year-olds it’s April 15.”
Note the Change: The original stake schedule had Hawthorne hosting the Cardinal and Violet stakes in early September. Instead they have been moved two months earlier with eliminations on July 1 and 2 and the finals one week later so they no longer conflict with the 2017 Du Quoin race dates of Aug. 26 and Aug. 27.
The revise and correct stakes schedule can be found both on the Hawthorne and IHHA web-sites.

Princess Sage has Freddie Energized

By Mike Paradise
Trainer and driver Freddie Patron Jr. always seems to have a smile on his face and justifiably so these days. After all his talented young filly pacer Princess Sage was anointed the 2016 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year at the recent District 5 USTA Awards Banquet held in Springfield, Illinois.
“I’ve been on a high ever since I came up to Illinois for the awards banquet. I’m just thrilled she was honored,” said the 52-year-old Mississippi native who has a farm in his hometown of Clifton.
Princess Sage is owned by Freddie and the filly’s breeder Keli Jo Bell of Windsor, Illinois. The first foal of the Armbro Mackintosh mare Katie Mack, Princess Sage filly had a remarkable first season, winning 8 of 11 starts, with 2 seconds and earnings of $90,527.
She proved best in a tough freshman division with a triumph in the $100,000 Incredible Tillie Final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions and ended her campaign by sweeping the Violet.

 Princess Sage (Freddie Patton Jr.) captured the Incredible Tillie Final of Hawthorne's Night of Champions. (Four Footed Photo)

Princess Sage (Freddie Patton Jr.) captured the Incredible Tillie Final of Hawthorne’s Night of Champions. (Four Footed Photo)

The only time Princess Sage didn’t finish first or second as a freshman was a fifth place finish in the September 2nd leg of the Incredible Tillie and she had an excuse for not hitting the board that evening.
“Princess Sage showed promise from day one when I first put the harness on her,” said Patton.” She broke nicely and it took me a long time to put hobbles on her. I felt she didn’t need them. I trained her on the half-miler at Springfield without hobbles and she had no trouble going 2:04 or 2:05.
“She’s always had a good attitude except for the time they had that recall and ended-up fifth. Her attitude went out the window that night. She got very frustrated by the recall and got really ranked-up.
“She had a small temperature before the race. The filly wasn’t sick enough to scratch her but she wasn’t feeling real well.”
Princess Sage may be diminutive in stature but has shown a big heart and a knack for winning races.
“She’s a small filly,” continued Patton. “Over the winter she has gotten a little taller but didn’t fill out much. I started back with her a few weeks ago and I’ll have her ready for May when Hawthorne opens up.
“She’s eligible for all the stakes at Hawthorne and so are my other 2-year-olds that race there as two-year-olds.
(Reminder for Horsemen: Hawthorne’s Stake payments for ICF three-year-olds are due February 15th. The ICF two-year-old stake payments are due on April 15th).
“Going into her 2-year-old season I knew Princess Sage was a good filly but I didn’t know just how good she was.”
 Freddie's  Dee Tumbleweed (Cornellus Cavett) proved best at Du Quoin in the Director Awards Final. (Four Footed photo).

Freddie’s Dee Tumbleweed (Cornellus Cavett) proved best at Du Quoin in the Director Awards Final. (Four Footed photo).

Freddie also trains Dee Tumbleweed, the third place finisher in the Violet Final with his son Cornelius Cavett in the bike.
“I was really, really high in Dee Tumbleweed going into her 2-year-old season,” continued the numerous past driving champion on the Illinois Country Fair Circuit. “But when she first started out she didn’t know how to handle herself. She just wasn’t very mature but she got better and better with every race and was really good at the end of Hawthorne.”
I asked Freddie is he had the names of any of his 2-year-olds that will be racing at Hawthorne that he wanted us to keep an eye on?
“Not yet,” he answered. “I’ve got quite a few of them but right now I’m not ready to name them. I’ll tell you this: ‘Look for something pretty big from my barn in the 2-year-old trot division.’ I’ve got some good young pacers again but last year I was kicking myself because I didn’t have anything in the (ICF) trotting division. This year I will.”
I told Freddie not to kick himself too hard. After all, he did break, develop, train and drive Illinois’ crown jewel of harness racing in 2016.