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Going into last Sunday’s tenth race at Hawthorne a triple dead-heat to win had occurred only 27 times in the entire history of harness racing and it had never happened on the Chicago Standardbred Circuit.
Not at Sportsman’s. Not at Balmoral, Not at Maywood and until last Sunday not at Hawthorne.
In fact, it’s highly improbable a “triple heater” ever transpired anywhere in Illinois because it didn’t take place at the State Fairs meets at Springfield and Du Quoin, along with the past defunct Prairie-State harness racing meetings at Washington Park, Aurora Downs, Fairmount Park, Quad City Downs, Arlington Park and Cahokia Downs.
History records at the Illinois County Fairs are sketchy, so I can’t rule them out with absolute certainty but I have serious doubts any came about there.
So Illinois harness racing history all changed when Picky Picky Valor (Casey Leonard), Keep The Cash (Keith Crawford) and Skyway Jaylo (Larry Lee Smith), all got their noses on the finish wire at the exact same time in Sunday’s Open III Trot.
The 10th race horse field was so bunched-up at the finish that the ninth and last place trotter Primed N Powerful was only beaten by two lengths from the trio of winners who recorded the sport’s 28th triple dead heat to win.
Balmoral Park did have a very rare triple dead-heat for second place back in late September of 2007.
Oldies and Goodies: The cliché “It’s a young man’s game” certainly didn’t fit its narrative on Hawthorne’s winter meet opening night last Friday. Of the ten races contested with freezing temperatures (eight below zero at post time), four were won by horses making their 2017 debuts at the age of 10 or 11.
The 10-year-old winners were Best Man Hanover (Todd Warren), at $23.80 in the Open III feature and the mare Wings (Tim Curtin), at $9.20 in race seven. The 11-year-olds were Mobil Big John (Casey Leonard), in the first leg of a $10,000 claiming series opener at $50.40 and Stonebridge Lyric (Tom T. Tetrick), in the tenth race nightcap at $16.00.
Stonebridge Lyric triumphed for the 52nd time. Bestman Hanover notched win No. 42 while Mobile Big John got his 41st. Wings posted her 29th, however, she has started about 100 times less than the above trio.
The three gelding pacers had over 220 lifetime starts each and Wings was making her 124th career outing, so racing in the bitter cold was something they’ve done dozens and dozens of times. Maybe they’re smart enough to know the faster you race in the cold, the faster you get to go inside to a warm paddock.
Casey Doing His Thing: Defending Hawthorne driver champion, Casey Leonard, got off to a hot start on the frigid first three nights of racing at Hawthorne. The 40-year-old Leonard brought home eight winning drives.
Drivers Brandon Bates, Kyle Wilfong and Tim Curtin also enjoyed a very solid first weekend. Bates had five winners while Kyle and Tim each bagged four.
The Loralee Johnson Stable and Payton Ode Stable were frequent visitors last weekend in the Hawthorne winner’s circle. Each trainer sent out four winning horses.
By Mike Paradise
Hawthorne’s first Sunday card of the winter is a good indicator that the winter meet won’t lack for some good trotting horses. On tap are a $10,000 Open Trot and a $7,200 Open III with a full-field of 10 trotters.
The third race Open I feature has a compact field of five trotters with the favoritism likely to be split between the Angie Coleman trained Banker Volo (pp 4, Kyle Wilfong) and the Jim Eaton Stable’s Walter White (pp 5,Casey Leonard) who will meet at Hawthorne for the first time.
Both trotters raced on Hawthorne ‘s oval but in 2017 they came at different times. Walter White breezed in his June 18 start in 1:55 flat but was sidelined a month later for the year after dropping a photo in a late July Invite at Hoosier Park.
Banker Volo had two seconds and went out-placed in three starts in Hawthorne Opens.
Walter White, a son of Catab Hall out of a Muscles Yankee mare, did go postward 20 times before health issues cut his season short and pulled down over $83,000 for Eaton’s principle owner Robert Silberberg of Farmington Hills, Michigan. The now 6-year-old has a $363,871 career bankroll and a mark of 1:53.4 at Pocono Downs on a “good” surface.
Banker Volo, a nine-year-old Yankee Glide colt, boasts 21 trips to the winner’s circle over his past two seasons of racing for Grinnell, Iowa owner Daniel Roland. The trotter’s career earnings are $353,198 and his lifetime mark of 1:52.3 was also taken at Pocono.
Banker Volo dominated the trotting ranks last summer at Running Aces. At one time the gelding captured five consecutive Opens on the Minnesota track where he accumulated the bulk of his $67,685 earnings in 2017.
Banker Volo left for Ohio when Hawthorne closed and won 2 of his last 4 starts at Dayton Raceway. He’s one of the two Open starters who competed in December. The Brandon Bates Stable’s Swan Handicap is the other. The Indiana bred trotter went on Lasix last month and finished second in both of those December outings at Daytona.
Louscipher, currently trained by Ronnie Gillespie (pp 1, Pat Curtin), was a 10-time winner in his 3-year-old season when he captured just about every major ICF stake except the big one. Traffic woes kept the Lou’s Legacy gelding from being any better than fifth as the 2-5 favorite in the $115,000 Erwin Dygert Final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.
Louscipher has raked-in $171,927 in his first two seasons for his owners and breeders Flacco Family Farms of Alexis, Illinois.
Madewell Hanover (pp 2, Todd Warren) looks very capable if he doesn’t need his first start in almost two months. The 7-year-old Yankee Glide gelding has back class. He’s closing in on $300,000 in career earnings. As a 3-year-old Madewell Hanover put over $152,000 on his card in 15 starts and captured a $72,000 PASS stake and the $30,000 PASS All-Star event.
Madewell Hanover is owned by Allard Racing of Canada and is now trained by Payton Ode.
Five of the 10 trotters in the tenth race Open III boat bankrolls over of over $100,000 with the ICF 5-year-old Primed N Powerful (pp 1, Jamaica Paton) topping the list at $125,646. The Physic Spirit gelding’s 28 lifetime victories are also tops in the field.
Primed N Powerful hasn’t started since October at Springfield but he isn’t alone as far has layoffs are concerned. Only Driven (pp 3, Todd Warren), Keep The Cash (pp 7, Keith Crawford) and Skyway Jaylo (pp 9, Larry Lee Smith) competed in December.
The other Open III starters—All About Cowboys (pp 2, Brandon Bates), Lou’s Credit Report (pp 4, Pat Curtin), Trixie’s Jethro (pp 5, Jared Finn), Erwin Dygert champion Picky Picky Valor (Casey Leonard), Whatevershesgot (pp 8, Rick Magee) and Schwarber (pp 10, Tim Curtin)—all are racing for the first time since either September or October.
A Rockin Start: It was another frigid night of racing Saturday and chalk players got the cold shoulder in the first race opener, the $7,2,00 Open III Pace for fillies and mares.
Mystical Nectar was driven down to 2 to 5 odds in the feature pace and when driver Todd Warren got her to the top on the backside, passed the half-mile pole in modest 58.2 and had command turning for home some of the heavy favorite’s backers were figuring out their winnings.
However Rocking Katie was full of pace and driver Casey Leonard was in a perfect spot to pull off an upset.
Casey had cleverly made the first move on the backside out of third with the 9-1 longshot Rocking Katie and took the pocket when Mystical Nectar came out of fourth in the early going and cleared to the front.
As it turned out Rocking Kate blew right past Mystical Nectar and was well in hand at the finish of the 1:55.3 mile, notching her Hawthorne debut and her first start for trainer Ross Leonard.
Meanwhile Mystical Nectar obviously wasn’t herself on this night. She backed through the field and ended up fifth, finishing ahead of only one mare. Boogie On Down (Kyle Wilfong) took the second place honors, beaten four-plus lengths while Rockin Racer was third in her first start since the end of September.
Owned by the Hoosier tandem of Trent Stohlen ((Markleville) and Tim Goshen (Goshen), the World Of Rocknroll 6-year-old mare Rocking Katie won for the 12th time in 51 career starts.
Casey ended the night with a driving triple and Kyle Wilfong and Brandon Bates each had two winning drives.
By Mike Paradise
You won’t have to wait long to see Saturday’s feature race at Hawthorne. In fact, if you arrive much past 7 o’clock you’ll probably miss it.
Racing Secretary Robin Schadt has slotted the Open III Pace for fillies and mares as the first race on the 10-event card. The solid six horse field brings out three newcomers to the Hawthorne oval—Savanah Georgia (Mike Oosting), Rockin Katie (Casey Leonard) and Rockin Racer (Jared Finn).
They’ll take on two familiar faces to Illinois racing fans, the Brett Wilfong trained ICF mare Boogie On Down (Kyle Wilfong) and the Jim Molitor stable’s Backwoods Barbie (Brandon Bates).
Making her first start at Hawthorne since the winter meet of 2016 is the 7-year-old mare Mystical Nectar (pp 1, 8-5) who now races out of barn of Payton Ode. Kurt Sugg is scheduled to come in from Northfield Park to drive the likely post-time favorite.
Mystical Nectar hit the board in both her 2016 at Hawthorne and each came in the top level Opens. Her $143,000-plus career bankroll is tops in tonight’s field for Michigan owner Greg Gardner.
The George Anthrop’s Savannah Georgia, another Michigan owned mare (Tomas Enterprises of Battle Creek) comes to town in tip-top shape with back-to-back front-end wins at Saratoga. In fact she’s gone wire-to-wire in 5 of her last 6 starts,
Currently trained by Ross Leonard, Rocking Kate has been hurt by outside posts in her last couple of Ohio outings and should benefit from a middle-slot (the four) and the switch to a bigger track. Casey Leonard drives her for the first time tonight.
The Indiana owned World of Rocknroll mare (Trent Stohler Stable and Tim Graber) owns a 1:51.2 lifetime mile, the fastest among the first race field.
Rockin Racer makes her first start since last September for owners Jared Finn (Newton, IL) and Hinshaw Homestead Farms of West Des Plaines, Iowa. Unraced at two, the Rockin Image filly rattled off victories in her first six career starts mostly in 3-year-old Indiana Sire Stakes. Rockin Racer made over $57,000 in 2017 and is currently trained by Heather Stell.
Boogie On Down was one of the top ICF 3-year-olds last season, banking over $64,000 for the Wilfong family. The home-bred daughter of Skydancer Hanover chalked up five wins in 2018 including the $50,000 Springfield Championship and a leg of Hawthorne’s Plum Peachy stake series.
Backwoods Barbie spent much of last summer at Hawthorne and loved its long stretch. The Lisa Mara mare packs a big late wallop and concluded her 6-year-old campaign racing in $12,500 and $15,000 claimers at Hoosier Park with three consecutive victories, the last in mid-November for trainer Jim Molitor of Oak Lawn, IL an co-owner Dave Falzone of Chicago,
Frosty First Friday: It was a frigid opening night at Hawthorne with the temperature in the single digits and a wind chill factor of minus eight below zero when the featured fourth face Open III Pace went off.
With both of the Tom Simmons Stable’s classy horses Somestarsomewhere and Aimo Hanover weather related scratches the field was reduced to six starters.
The veteran pacer Best Man Hanover (Todd Warren) pulled off a surprisingly easy win at 10-1 odds, drawing off by four lengths at the end of the 1:55.4 mile with a 27.1 last panel.
The betting public hammered down the Cal Expo invader Firedrake (Kyle Wilfong) to1 to2 odds and he got a perfect pocket trip behind the pacesetting Soap Stars (Keith Crawford) who took the field to a :58.4 half with the now 10-year-old Best Man Hanover racing inside in third.
Firedrake was pulled out in the last turn and wore sown Soap Suds but was no match for Best Man Hanover ($23.40) who didn’t seem to mind the bone-chilling weather at all as he stormed past in mid-stretch and was well in hand at the wire.
The victory was the 42nd in Best Man Hanover’s racing career, all for Lemont, Illinois owner Sawgrass Farms and trainer Perry Smith. Firedrake was second best while Soap Suns held on for third.
Kyle Wilfong had a driving triple and trainer Payton Ode sent out three winning horses on Friday’s 10-race opening night program.
The USTA District #5 Awards Banquet will be held on January 20th at Poe’s Catering on the Hill in Springfield, Illinois. If you have questions regarding the banquet or would like to purchase tickets, please contact Tina Schrock at 217-416-0006 by January 15th.
The following awards will be given out at the banquet.
By Mike Paradise
The curtain goes up on Hawthorne’s 2018 winter meet tonight and its first feature, the fourth race Open III Pace, will test any handicapper’s skills. Between a frigid first week of weather in the Chicago area and some significant layoffs for most of the horses involved, it is a wide-open event.
On paper a pair of classy pacers from the always solid Tom Simmons Stable, Somestarsomewhere and Aimo Hanover, could garnish a lot of the public’s support. Both have sub 1:50 miles in their career, over $635,000 in career earnings between them and a host of either stake races, invites or Opens wins on their list of accomplishments.
Both Simmons trainees are owned by (Dave) Clinard Properties, Inc. of Mt. Sterling, Illinois and will race uncoupled. Somestarsomewhere was a $90,000 purchase by Clinard at the 2014 Meadowlands Sale, while Aimo Hanover was the Blood Horse Sale topper at $60,000 sale the following year. Both were previously trained by Ron Burke.
Now a seven-year-old, Somestarsomewhere hasn’t started for seven months and had only five races last year at the age of six, winning twice.
“He had a partial tear of a suspensory and I didn’t want to just patch him up so I gave him all the time he needed to heal,” said Simmons.
Somestartsomewhere racked up over $275,000 in purse money as a 2 and 3-year-old and made the Breeders Crown finals both years. The Somebeachsomewhere pacer was the first 2-year-old to go a sub 1:50 mile when he won his Breeders Crown elimination in 1:49.4. He was third in that $500,000 Final.
“He should need Friday’s race,” said the Springfield based Simmons. “I qualified him twice in December, but the track was real bad last time. We raced on the half mile track and it was horrible. They didn’t anything to it at all.”
With the half-mile track in poor shape, the judges allocated four full seconds to a horse’s qualifying time that December 28th day. Somestartssomewhere’s winning effort was in 2:03.1 with a 29.1 last quarter.
Aimo Hanover finished his 2017 season in November at Hoosier in Opens and an a Invite. His 1:49 flat winning mile at Springfield last summer was the fastest in Illinois for 2018. However, he drew the outside eight-slot for Friday’s race.
“The horse can leave, but with the time off, it might be best to race him Friday from behind,” added Simmons.
Only three horses in the field, Firedrake (Nick Roland), Soap Suds (Keith Crawford) and Uptown Sleaze (Casey Leonard), competed in December and the latter went off-stride in his Dec. 2nd Northville Downs race at the start and finished up the track.
Off his current sharpness and landing the inside post, Firedrake likely will also be well-supported at the betting windows.
Firedrake is making his Hawthorne debut after a strong last couple of months at Cal-Expo where he won 3 of 5 Open Paces with Roland at the lines. Now trained by Payton Ode, the Dragon Again gelding gets a big plus going postward by landing the rail. All together Firedrake had an even dozen wins last year including Opens at Running Aces in Minnesota.
Soap Suds spent the last couple of months competing on the half-mile ovals of Northfield Park in Ohio and Northville in Michigan. The Artsicape gelding was a 10-time winner in 2018 as a 10-year-old and figures to push the early fractions.
Another newcomer to Hawthorne is the 10-year-old Good Two Socks, (pp 7, Rick Magee), a steady performer the past few years at Running Aces.
No. 2 Best Man Hanover boasts the fastest lifetime mile (1:48.4) and the largest bankroll ($464,985). The now 10-year-old has been trained throughout his career by Perry Smith for Sawgrass Farms.
No. 4 Sunset Dreamer, no doubt has been pointed for Hawthorne. He ended 2018 with a 1:53.1 mile last September 22nd and did it with a wicked 25.4 last panel with tonight’s driver Cliff Bell.
If you’re a player that likes “horses for courses” the Rob Rittoff trainee is definitely worth a look. The Western Ideal gelding loves Hawthorne’s long stretch.
Claiming Series Starts: The first round of Hawthorne’s winter $10,000 claiming series for pacing colts and geldings also gets under way tonight. Two $7,000 first leg divisions are on tap and races one and three.
Hawthorne has moved up its first post for the winter meet to 7:05 pm, five minutes earlier than its previous 7:10 pm post time.
By Mike Paradise
The 2018 Hawthorne winter meet driver’s colony got a lot stronger after the entries were drawn for tomorrow (Friday’s) opening card at the Stickney, Illinois facility.
Three of the top five leading drivers at Hoosier Park, (No. 2) Sam Widger, (No. 4) Todd Warren and (No. 5 Brandon Bates) will spend the next six weeks knocking heads vying for drives, and wins, with the local driver contingent headed up by Hawthorne’s top three dash winners from last summer, Casey Leonard, Mike Oosting and Kyle Wilfong, in that order,
The new face coming in from Indiana is Brandon Bates who had a breakout season in 2017 with career best numbers in winning drives and money won—and both by a huge margin.
Bates, a 42-year-old native of Van Wert, Ohio had 156 winners last year, more than twice his previous best for a single season and all came at Hoosier Park. His money won total of $1,604,975 was almost a million dollars more than in 2016, his previous best season.
Bates, who makes his home in Monroe, Indiana, also had 16 winners as a trainer.
Widger hasn’t missed a winter meet in Chicago since he began driving on a regular basis back in 1987. Sammy has his sights set this year on reaching the 6,000 plateau in winning drives. He goes into the Hawthorne meet with 5,922 dash winners and over $40 million in money won.
The soft-spoken former IHHA Director was the leading driver at Maywood Park back in 2008 and comes off a 2017 campaign of 350 winning drives and did it by winning at almost a 20 per cent clip at a very tough Hoosier meet.
Horses Sammy drove pulled own $3.5-plus million, a personal high for the Canton, Illinois native.
Widger still resides in Beecher, Illinois, a short drive to the now defunct Balmoral Park and makes the three-horse plus trip to Anderson, Indiana, the site of Hoosier Park, most summer nights.
Warren was a fixture over the last two decades on the Chicago circuit before relocating to Indiana last summer. The move has turned out to be a financial success for the Maywood, Illinois native with 4,708 career winners.
In his first full-time Hoosier Park meet the 52-year-old Warren had 54 less winning drives than he did in 2016 but his horses made more than $400,000 more in purse money
Todd’s best year in Illinois came in 2008 when he posted 342 winners, a UDRS of .293 and money won total of $2.5 million.
Another new face at the Hawthorne winter meet is Darrell Wright, a 55-year-old Wolverine State native who spent most of last year driving and training at Hoosier Park. Wright captured his 5,000th lifetime driving win in early December at Northville Downs in Michigan.
Open for Friday Feature: A $7,200 Open III Pace will be the headliner of Friday’s opening night program. A field of eight will go postward in the fourth race feature. Also on the agenda are two $7,000 divisions of the winter claiming series for pacers entered with $10,000 price tags. They’ll go as races one and three on the 10-event card.
Distaff Headliner Next: Saturday’s feature will be a $7,200 Open III pace for fillies and mares. The six horse field (listed in post-position order) consists of Mystical Nectar(Kurt Sugg), Savanah Georgia (Mike Oosting), Backwoods Barbie (Brandon Bates), Rockin Katie (Casey Leonard), Boogie On Down (Kyle Wilfong) and Rockin Racer (Jared Finn).
Milestone Nears: Driver Ryan Anderson heads into the Hawthorne meeting just three winners away from 3,000. The now 37-year-old California native was the leading driver at Maywood Park in 2007.
By Mike Paradise
While thoroughbred racing has been its staple for over a century at Hawthorne Race Course the Stickney, Illinois racetrack also has an abundance of harness racing tradition as well.
Its 2018 winter meet gets under way Friday night with a 10-race card and a 7:10 pm first post.
When Hawthorne conducted its first Standardbred meeting in 1970, some five decades ago, its initial drew meeting attracted some of the best pacers and trotters in the country and many of the sport’s top drivers and trainers.
Its inaugural meet drew subsequent National Hall of Famers Bob Farrington, Jim Dennis, Joe O’Brien, Don Busse, Del Insko, Bruce Nickells and Gene Riegle, along with eventual Illinois Hall of Fame horsemen Aubrey Petty, Jerry Graham and Joe Marsh Jr.
Farrington would become Hawthorne’s first leading driver with 33 winners in a meet that went from April 14 that year through May 22. Other memorable drivers that first year also included Walter Paisley, Jim Dolbee, Jack Williams, and Dwayne Pletcher.
Riegle’s Robert E. Adios would become the track’s first record holder pacer with a 1:59.3 clocking. The trot mark of 2:00.4 was established by Dayan (Bill Myers) who would go on to be named the 1971 Trotting Horse of the Year.
In 1972 the illustrious Speedy Crown, the Three-Year-Old Trotter of the Year in 1971, would equal the trotting track record with trainer Howard Beissinger, a 1975 National Hall of Fame inductee.
Also in 1972 Hawthorne’s track record would be demolished by the pacer Nansemond by more than two seconds with a 1:57.1 mile. The sport’s one-time lifetime dash champion Herve Filion (15,183) came to town to drive Nansemond.
Al La Carte Stable’s Sir Dalrae (Jim Dennis), the 1973 Harness Horse of the Year, was a “regular” in 1974 at Hawthorne and a frequent visitor to it’s winner circle. The National Hall of Fame pacer had victories in the Overcall and the Poplar Byrd Stakes before later annexing the Suburban Downs Pacing Derby in 158.1.
Dennis additionally trained and drove the popular pacer Rin Tim Tim to five Hawthorne triumphs that year including the Suburban Downs Pacing Final in late March.
Also in 1974 a lightly raced 4-year-old by the name of Rambling Willie came to Hawthorne for its Newcomer Series and the Bob Farrington Stable gelding became an instant hit with Chicago circuit fans.
Nine years later at the age of 13 the legendary Rambling Willie would surpass the great Niatross as North America’s as harness racing’s leading money winner with lifetime earnings of $2,088,218, “Willie” ended his racing career has the winningest harness horse with 128 victories with a record 79 sub 2:00 winning miles.
On-track $1 million mutuel handles were the norm at Hawthorne through the 1970’s. Its first meet handled an average of $1,009,985 with attendance averaging 11,696.
Hawthorne became the first Chicago Circuit track to handle over $2 million on-track for a single program when $2,018,873 went through its mutuel system on Saturday afternoon March 15, 1975,