Perfect Freshman Filly Aims for Plumper Bankroll

By Mike Paradise
Anna’s Lucky Star was perfection on the racetrack as a freshman for owner and breeder Danny Graham, nevertheless, the home-bred ICF filly trotter didn’t have an entire picture perfect season through no fault of her own.  Anna’s Lucky Star went six-for-six last year, took both the Springfield and Du Quoin division crowns, and ran-away with the ICF 2-Year-Old Trotting Filly honors for her Salem, Illinois owner.

At the same time she earned just under $37,000; considerably less than any of the other 2 or 3-year-old division champions and that may have cost Anna’s Lucky Star a legitimate shot at 2016 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors.  “She should have probably picked-up around $80,000 instead of making ‘37’,” said Graham. My wife and I thought we had her staked to everything but found out we didn’t. It was our mistake and that’s why she didn’t race in the Hawthorne (Fox Valley Flan) stake series.”  The filly also stated her career on July 24th, about a month after most of the other ICF freshman trotting fillies and unfortunately, she ended it earlier than expected, when she got sick and had to be scratched-out of the $18,900 Violet in late September on race night.

 Springfield champion Anna's Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong) will start her sophomore season with a perfect record. (Four Footed Photo)

Springfield champion Anna’s Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong) will start her sophomore season with a perfect record. (Four Footed Photo)

This year you’ll find Anna’s Lucky Star’s name right at the top of Hawthorne’s Beulah Dygert stake series list of nominations and there’s more in store for the filly in her sophomore campaign.  “She’s staked to everything in Illinois and later in the year to some stakes in Indiana when Illinois is over, continued Danny.  She’s in training at Sawgrass Farms in Crete and her trainer Nelson Willis says she’s looking sharp. She’s down to about 2:20. Over the winter she filled-out a little bit but she didn’t grow much taller.”  Of course Danny recognizes a sensational 2-year-old season by a horse doesn’t always translate into an exceptional 3-year-old campaign.  “Last year Anna’s Lucky Star looked like she couldn’t be beat in her division. This year could be different. Some of those other fillies looked very sharp at the end of last season and could have grown since then. Hopefully this year my filly can make more money but you just never know in this business,” said Graham.

While Hawthorne’s 2-year-old stake series eligible pacers and trotters aren’t out yet (nominations are due on April 15), when the list is posted you’ll find two more of Danny’s young ICF trotters on it.  “I have a 2-year-old full sister to Anna’s Lucky Star that I nominated, said Danny. Her name is Princess Ashley. My third grand-daughter named her. My second grand-daughter named Anna’s Lucky Star. Princess Ashley is also in- training at Sawgrass.  I also nominated a colt named Sir Vinnie that I own with Jerry Graham. He’s looking really good. He’s been in 2:35, last half in 12.”
Sir Vinnie is by Cassius, out of the Yankee Glide mare Get Groovin, who also produced Leaveitonthetrack (1:56), a ISOBA stakes winner as a 3-year-old for trainer Jerry Vivani in 2010.

Stall Applications Due: A reminder to horsemen that stall applications for the 2017 Hawthorne harness meet are due tomorrow (Saturday, April 1st).  Management asks that all trainers, regardless of whether they will be shipping in or stabling on-site to please submit the required stall application.

Nominations for all of the Late Closing Series events also, must be postmarked by April 1st. More information and nomination forms are available at
The deadline for Hawthorne’s ICF 2-year-old stakes program ($1,250 nomination fee) is April 15th; while nominations for the Cicero Claiming Series must be postmarked no later than April 24th.

3-Year-Old Nominations Bodes Well for Meet

By Mike Paradise
There was enthusiasm in the voice of Racing Secretary Robin Schadt when I asked her about the upcoming harness racing meet at Hawthorne Race Course.
“I’m excited about Hawthorne,” said Robin who takes over reins as the track’s new racing secretary after serving as the assistant last year.  “I’m optimistic about this year’s meet.  We have a nice purse schedule out there to offer horsemen and while I don’t have any concrete numbers yet to determine how many horses we’ll have available I’m confident we’ll be in good shape.
“Any state bred program is going to prop up a racing secretary’s options. It’s bad out here in California. They registered only nine foals. We’re in a much better situation in Illinois. While it’s not anywhere near as good as it was when I first started, the ICF program still has enough of a foundation to get your overnight races going,” said Schadt from her residence in Sacramento, California where she’s the Director of Racing at the Cal-Expo harness meet.

Hawthorne LogoOne of the reasons for the Oak Lawn, Illinois native’s optimism is the amount of 3-year-old ICF stake nominations she has received for the 2017 Hawthorne meet.
“We have 111 nominations for the 3-year-old stakes. That’s 11 more than we had last year. The 2-year-old ICF stake nominations are due April 15th, so I don’t have those numbers yet, but I expect they’ll be good as well.”

Nominations for Hawthorne’s Late Closer Series are due on April 1st, while the nomination fees for the Cicero Claiming Series must be postmarked by April 24th.

All the Late Closer Series races will have new titles this time around, compliments of Robin:  There’s the Bea Farber and the Daryl Busse for trotters, the Walter Paisley (fillies and mares) ; the Robert Larry and the Phil Georgeff (colts and geldings) for open company pacers; the Peter Galassi for 3-year-old open company filly pacers; the Dave Magee for ICF fillies and the Mike Paradise for ICF colts and geldings.

The Late Closers have a $300 nomination fees, due April 1, and consist of two legs and either a $10,000 or $11,000 added money final in late May (27 or 28).

Lackey Returning: Robin also confirmed that veteran horseman Jim Lackey will be back at Hawthorne when Cal-Expo concludes its meet the first week of May. The 65-year-old Californian is Cal Expo’s fifth leading driver and also ranks sixth in the trainer standings.  Lackey came to Hawthorne last year and steadily picked-up drives as they meet went on, finishing among the leaders in the final driver standings.  “Lackey’s driving style reminds me of Jim Curran’s,” continued Robin, “he’s patient out there and excels on a mile track.”  Lackey is having another first-rate meeting this year at Cal-Expo where he is currently the meet’s fifth leading driver, winning at better than a 16 per cent clip. Last weekend he brought home six winners, four on Friday and two on Saturday.

Stake Info: All four of the 2-year-old ICF Night of Champions stakes have a single $1,250 nomination fee, due April 15th.  The four qualifying legs, with purses ranging from $12,000 to $16,000, will carry a $200 starting fee.

The Incredible Tillie for freshman filly pacers and the Incredible Finale for 2-year-old colts and geldings have an estimated $125,000 added purse final, along with a $20,000 Consolation.

The Fox Valley Flan for filly trotters and the Kadabra for male trotters are estimated to be $75,000 championships and $20,000 Consolations. All those 2-year-old ICF stake championship purses figures will be firmed up once the final tally of nominations are received by the Hawthorne Race Office.

Better Than Expected: The 3-year-old Plum Peachy for filly pacers was estimated to have at $100,000 final but increased to a projected $105,000 pot when 35 distaffers were nominated.
The Robert F. Carey for sophomore colts and geldings saw 38 pacers nominated boosting its estimated $100,000 Final to a now anticipated $112,000 championship.

More Than Okay: The Illinois owned and trained 5-year-old mare OK Heavenly notched her fourth season victory Wednesday at Pompano Park in the $10,000 Open Pace for filly and mare pacers.  The season best mile of 1:51.3 came in first-over fashion and boosted her 2017 earnings just under $30,000 for owners Dandy Farms Inc. (Glenview, IL) and Mark Winship (Canton, IL). Angie Coleman (Channahon, IL) trains OK Heavenly.

The 2015 Springfield State Fair 3-year-old champion Tricky Nick was a 1:55.1 front-end winner in Wednesday’s $18,000 featured Preferred Trot at The Meadows. The now 5-year-old son of Band’s Gold Chip has 20 career victories in 71 trips postward.

Rittof’s Florida Horses Hawthorne Bound

By Mike Paradise
Illinois based trainer Rob Rittof is enjoying more than the warmth of the weather in Florida these days while spending the winter at Pompano Park. The Joliet, Illinois native’s horses are doing quite well, nevertheless Rob’s center of attention is on the upcoming harness meeting at Hawthorne.

“Everything I’m racing here in Florida is with Hawthorne in mind,” said Rittof whose horses have finished third or better in almost half (18 for 37) of their starts at Pompano.
The Rittof Stables Sunset Dreamer banked over $41,452 last year and all but $960 of that amount came at Hawthorne. The Western Ideal gelding only picked up one check, a third place finish at Hoosier, racing out of Illinois. He won 7 of 24 starts at Hawthorne, including an Open Pace in late January of 2016 and two legs of a Late Closer Series in May.

Sunset Dreamer (JKyle Wilfong) will return to Hawthorne where he was a seven-time winner in 3016. (Four Footed Photo)

Sunset Dreamer (Kyle Wilfong) will return to Hawthorne where he was a seven-time winner in 2016. (Four Footed Photo)

“Sunset Dreamer likes Hawthorne’s long stretch,” continued Rittof, who resides in Channahon, Illinois, located about 45 miles west of Balmoral Park.  Hawthorne’s turns are a little bit different and Sunset Dreamer seems to get around them real good. He loves to chase horses down. When he starts passing horses his confidence just grows bigger and bigger and he just keeps going.”

Six of Rittof’s eight wins in Florida have come with the small hard-trying filly Alabamashakey who won her first six starts since joining Rob’s stable. The one-time $27,000 yearling purchase was unraced as a 2-year-old and made only a little more than $1,500 when she went winless at three in six tries campaigning at Saratoga (NY).

However she’s been sensational for her Chicago owner Mark De Vience since joining Rittof’s barn, earning over $17,000 this year and taking a mark of 1:53 flat on the five-eighths south Florida track.  Rittof commented, “Alabamashakey is a New York bred so they wanted to give the filly an opportunity to race there. She got sick and had some problems with her feet. All-in-all she just had bad luck. They turned her out last fall and then sent her to Bob Sanders in Spring Garden (Florida) for about a month before I got her and had her down in 20 or 25. We kind of just went right on down the road with her and she didn’t have any hiccups. She did everything the way we wanted and Mike (driver Simon) gets along with her. She’s sound and she’s a filly that likes racing up-close. Every week we kind of shake our heads in surprise on just how well she’s doing.  “She’s a small filly but she doesn’t know that. She thinks she’s the biggest horse in the barn. ”  Mike (driver Simon) gives her a big compliment when he says: ‘She just wants it.’”

Rittof doesn’t think the move to a bigger track will prove to be a determent to Alabamashakey.  “She’s had to cut some fast fractions in some of her wins down there. I think she’ll be able to carry her speed on the bigger track at Hawthorne as long as she doesn’t get hooked-up in an early speed duel.  Everything I’ve got here in Florida is for Illinois owners with the intent of them going back to Hawthorne. We came down here because we didn’t want to spend the winter shipping all over.  We’re stabled in a shed row.  My horses right now are looking outside where its 77 degrees with a nice breeze is blowing in their faces. They can’t have it too much better for this time of the year.  I have a 2-year-old Illinois bred here that I’ll be bringing to Hawthorne. His name is Dandy’s Phoenix. He’s a Sportsmaster colt out of C Suzabelle so that makes him a full brother to Kelly’s Keepsake.”

Editor’s Note: Kelly’s Keepsake won the Filly Orange and Blue and the American National as a 2-year-old and Hawthorne’s Lady Chicago stake at three for trainer Erv Miller. The filly made over $527,000 in four years of racing.  Dandy’s Phoenix (originally named Fox Valley Phoenix) is owned by Dandy Farms Inc. (Glenview, IL), Mark Winship (Canton, IL), Angie Coleman (Channahon, IL) and Rittof.

Earning Her Visit: Deb and Bernie Paul’s solid ICF mare Seeyouatthefinish earlier this week notched her second season victory at The Meadows in western Pennsylvania. The 1:52.4 front-end mile win for the 7-year-old mare came on the front end in a high-end $11,500 conditioned event, increasing her 2017 bankroll to $17,655.

Wheeler Sets Sights on Hawthorne

By Mike Paradise
In northeastern Louisiana trainer Herman Wheeler is busy getting his horses ready for the upcoming Hawthorne harness racing meet. When opening night comes around on May 11, the 47-year-old horseman plans to have 20 head ready for action.  “I’ve got a few Illinois bred 2-year-olds I’ll bring up for the stake series,” said Wheeler.  I also have a couple of three-year-olds that will also make the trip north. They didn’t race as 2-year-olds because they were too immature. They’ll be ready for Hawthorne.”

The pride of the Wheeler Stable won’t be making the long 900 mile trip up from Herman’s farm in Monroe, Louisiana to the Cicero, Illinois racetrack.

Herman Wheeler's Fox Valley Qatar is on the sidelines this year. (Balmoral Park Photo)

Herman Wheeler’s Fox Valley Qatar is on the sidelines this year. (Balmoral Park Photo)

“Fox Valley Qatar looks like he won’t race this year,” continued Wheeler.  He didn’t do well last season as 4-year-old. The horse had some health problems and only raced a half-dozen times. I trained him back this year down to ‘18’ but then he came-up with the same problems as last year so I stopped with him. He’s a good horse and he’s been good for me. I’ll give him all the times he needs before bringing him back.”

Fox Valley Qatar was an ICF sensation in his freshman season, winning his first eight starts before a second place finish in the Lincoln Land Final, the gelding’s last start in 2014. Along the way he captured the $48,000 Plesac Final at Balmoral and both the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fair championships.

The son of Pizzazzed, out of the King Couch broodmare Armbro Bahrain, raked-in over $84,000 in his initial season. In 2015 he went postward 14 times and posted an impressive record of 5 wins (including the Cardinal), 5 seconds and 2 thirds while adding almost $48,000 to his card.  Last year “Qatar” went winless in six trips behind the starting gate. He had one second and a trio of third place finishes when he earned a disappointing $4,331. Wheeler plucked Fox Valley Qatar out of the 2015 Walker Standardbred Sale for a modest $7,000 price tag.

Freebee for Matt: Some 1000 miles or so east and south of Wheeler’s balmy winter headquarters Illinois driver Matt Krueger is enjoying what can be called a “paid vacation” at Pompano Park on the even warmer southern east coast of Florida.  “I came here in January with my one-horse (the trotter Sand Swan) for a bit of a winter holiday and it’s turned out a paid vacation for me. The horse has made over $9,000 since I got here. He hasn’t missed a check in six starts,” said the 42-year-old native of Manteno, Illinois.  Sand Swan won his Florida debut on January 15, giving Krueger a $3,250 paycheck for his birthday, one day later.  Kruger had more driving opportunities (713) last year while horses he drove had earnings of $514,771, also a career high for Matt. Among the Illinois bred horses he drove last year at Hawthorne were Royale Rose, Sporty Redhot, Roma Falls, Fox Valley Hoss, Joyful Game, Ashlee’s Fine Lady, She’s Savvy, and Fox Valley Dandy.

Illinois Invaders Prevail: ICF horses are faring well in Ohio.

Run And Tell Papa is shown here winning the American National as a 2-year-old. (Balmoral Park Photo).

Run And Tell Papa is shown here winning the American National as a 2-year-old. (Balmoral Park Photo).

The 2016 ICF Aged Horse Trotter of the Year, Run And Tell Pap is still going strong at the age of ten. On Tuesday night he was an easy front-end 1:56.2 winner on a sloppy track in a $13,500 conditioned race at Miami Valley Raceway.  It was the son of High Fall’s 62nd lifetime victory and brought his career earnings to $660,289. As a 2-year-old Run And Tell Pap captured 15 of 19 starts for trainer Leo Grummel including the $110,000 American National at Balmoral Park with driver Mike Cox when Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois owned the horse.

On Monday evening the now 4-year-old Primed N Powerful (Trace Tetrick) took a $9,500 conditioned trot in 1:57 with Dale Hiteman at his lines for trainer Illinois trainer Doug Graham. In his first two seasons the son if Psychic Spirit made 18 trips to the winner’s circle that encompassed triumphs in both the Springfield and Du Quoin Finals as a 2-year-old and amassed over $70,000 coming into this year. He’s added another $13,400 thus far in 2017 for owners Ron Phillips (Athens, Illinois) and Sharry Boledovich (Lakewood, Colorado).

A few events later the Kathy Millman trained mare Rev Me Up showed she can also still get the job done as a 10-year-old when she won a conditioned pace in 1:54.3 for Indiana lessee Merl P’Pool. It was career victory No, .46 for the Park Place mare out of the Cole Muffler broodmare Turbonium and pushed her career earnings to $652,694.

Last Sunday the Dennis Pietranduono pacer We Rob Banks (Trace Tetrick) came from way back to take a conditioned pace in 1:55 flat for trainer Jim Ellison. The Dunside Perch gelding, out of the Ideal Towne mare Ava Labelle is owned by Illinoisans Anna Ellison (Park Forest) and George Dremonas (Oak Lawn).

No Low-End Claimers in Perry’s Downsized Stable

By Mike Paradise
When Hawthorne rolled out its Cicero Claiming Series on its website for its upcoming harness meet I immediately thought of Perry Smith, the long-time Crete, Illinois conditioner, with a number of Chicago circuit trainer titles to his credit.

This past decade no Illinois based trainer has been busier at the claiming box than Perry and those astute acquisitions that became the backbone of a successful stable.
I called the now 65-year-old Smith to see if he had heard about the $4,000 to $10,000 claiming division series for colts and geldings, as well as fillies and pacers; after all he wasn’t shy from entering horses in last winter’s claiming series at Hawthorne.  That won’t be the case this time around.

“No I didn’t know they had a claiming series,” said Perry, and I’m not interested in it. I don’t have any of the horses left that were claimers last year at Hawthorne.  After Hawthorne decided not to race in the winter for 2017, they lost me. I had 34 horses in my barn when Hawthorne raced last year. I’m down to 16 now and all my low-end claimers are gone.”

Trainer Perry Smith

Trainer Perry Smith

Smith is currently racing horses once a week in Ohio (Dayton) and doing what he can “to keep my head above water,” he said.  “I leave on a Saturday at six in the morning with my horses and don’t get back until Sunday at 4 in the morning. It’s a long and tiring trip but like some other Illinois trainers, I’m doing what I have to do just keep going.  It’s awfully hard to try to race in Ohio two or three times a week. I have horses here (Crete, Illinois) that I have to train. We’re doing the best we can with a bad situation.  After Hawthorne closed I called the Amish and sold my cheaper claimers off. It didn’t make sense to keep them. They weren’t going to get raced in Ohio and Hawthorne wasn’t going to get started up again for another eight months.  The cheapest claimer I now have in my barn is a $15,000 horse. If you have a horse that shows anything in a claiming race in Ohio they’ll take him right away. The purses are good enough that a decent claimer just doesn’t last very long in your barn.”

Perry entered this year with 1,567 career first place finishes as a trainer. From 2008 through 2016 his barn averaged 107 wins a year. The only Illinois based horseman to average more (109) in the same time period was Nelson Willis.

I asked Perry what are his plans for 2017.  “I’ll race my horses at (Hoosier Park two or three days a week when they open April 1).  I’ll make the trip once a week to Ohio. As far as Hawthorne, I’ve got some three year-olds that should fit in their conditioned-claimers.”

Perry had his best night of the winter in Ohio last Saturday evening (Feb. 25) went he sent out three horses and won with two of them in five-figured races. Feelikearockstar (John De Long) captured a $13,500 conditioned pace and his Salusbrook Astrobo (Kayne Kauffman) took a $15,500 event for $30,000 claimers.

Party Time: The ICF home-bred pacing mare Mimosa Party ($19.40) made a successful debut as a 4-year-old last week at Saratoga (NY) for driver-trainer Pat Curtin, winning a $6,090 conditioned race for the Watson’s (Trenton, Brenda and Braden) Stable of Fairfield, Illinois.
A daughter of Party At Artsplace, Mimosa Party, was making her first start since last October. She was an eight-time winner as a 3-year-old, taking her mark of 1:52.3 at Hawthorne while earning over $35,000 in 2016.

More ICF Success: The 2015 Springfield Illinois bred trotting champion Tricky Nick cruised to a 1:54.4 victory Wednesday night at The Meadows.
As a three-year-old the Band’s Gold Chip trotter, bred by Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois, raced out of the Carl Porcelli Jr. barn for Illinois owners Megan Rogers Stable (Chicago) and Derek and Amy Jacobus (Lewistown). Tricky Nick was sold in July of last year when he posted eight wins as a 4-year-old and made over $84,000 racing in Pennsylvania.
Channahon, Illinois trainer Rob Rittof, picked-up his eighth victory of the Pompano Park meeting Wednesday evening when Alabamashakey (Mike Simmons) captured the Filly and Mare Open 3 Pace in 1:53 flat.