Stats Don’t Always Tell the Whole Story

They’ll be coming down the stretch at Hawthorne in less than five weeks. (Four Footed Photo)

They’ll be coming down the stretch at Hawthorne in less than five weeks. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

While it may be true that statistics don’t lie, it’s also accurate that sometimes they can be a bit misleading.

All harness racing tracks list in their program and/or their web-site the winning percentage of favorites at a meeting. Interestingly, that figure has gone upward on the Chicago circuit since the end of the 1990s.

Balmoral Park’s winning favorites were consistently around 36 or 37 per cent in the late 1990s and through the first decade of this century, but was consistently over 40 per cent this decade.

The betting favorites last summer at Hawthorne came in at a rather high 44.1 per cent, however it took a huge drop of 7.4 per cent at this year’s winter meet, ending up at 36.7 per cent, and that figure doesn’t tell the whole story.

Digging deeper into this winter track statistics, an attention-grabbing fact was revealed: The percentage of winning favorites would have been even lower if it weren’t for the Late Closer events, where the percentage of winning favorites were way out of line. They had success at an extremely high percentage of 64.2, and its heavy favorites— horses at even money or lower—won at a mind-blowing 88.8 per cent clip.

Of the 28 Hawthorne recent winter meet Late Closer events, 18 were captured by the betting favorite and 16 of those 18 winners were at payouts of anywhere between $4.00 down to $2.20.

Hawthorne Logo Last summer’s Late Closer’s saw its favorites prevail at a very lofty 70 per cent and those events for strictly pacers won an astonishing 80 per cent of the time. Those winning Late Closer favorites had payoffs of 3 to 5 or lower 66.6 per cent of the time and 40 cent of those won at either at 1 to 5 or 1 to 9 odds!

Since a race secretary can’t handicap a Late Closer (or a stakes race), those kind of overwhelming chalks could be popping up again when this summer’s Hawthorne meeting gets under way on Saturday, May 5th.

Let’s be clear, I’m all for Hawthorne Late Closer’s events. They are very much needed to fill programs, especially early-on in a meeting, and the money won from some of their nice purses could be the difference from a stable staying afloat or going under. I’m just zeroing in on an overall track statistic that could be misleading to a player.

What also aided last summer’s lofty 44.1 per cent winning percentage for favorites were races for strictly 2-year-old horses. Of the 100 contested at Hawthorne 46 were the public’s choices.

Meanwhile, this past winter Hawthorne’s betting favorites took a beating in its Opens and conditioned claiming races. It was at 31.1 per cent in Opens and at just 22.5 per cent in the meet’s conditioned-claiming races.

A total of 126 straight conditioned contests were conducted at the winter meet, producing 50 winning favorites and half of those (25) paid even money or lower.  Note that were 27 low-end favorites also failed in those conditioned races.

There were 19 Opens for either pacers or trotters and 6 of those wagering favorites won while 13 didn’t.  Heavy Open “chalks” (1-1 or lower odds), saw 4 of those 6 horses fail to finish first.

Only 25 per cent of the straight claiming races had horses go off even-money or lower and a just meager 10 per cent of them came through despite having more than half of their Win Pool wagered on them.

If the past two meetings at Hawthorne’s are any indication chalk players for this summer’s session, it might be wise to go heavy on the Late Closer events and ease up a bit on the conditioned-claimer races.

On the other hand long-shot players might want to do the opposite.

With that said, remember: the only certainty in horse racing is its uncertainty.

Balmoral’s First Super Night Was a Winner

By Mike Paradise

There was a nice patriotic touch to the gala atmosphere presented by Balmoral Park on its first Super Night festivities in 1998. (R.E.B. Photo)

There was a nice patriotic touch to the gala atmosphere presented by Balmoral Park on its first Super Night festivities in 1998. (R.E.B. Photo)

When Illinois harness racing was given the boot after the 1997 season at Sportsman’s Park, all of its major stake events, including Super Night, were shifted over to Balmoral Park for 1998.

Many of us wondered how well the far south suburban facility would do with the Super Night baton in its grasp.

The always strong collection of ICF horses figured to be just as good as ever. The local driver colony had to rank among the best in North America with the likes of Dave Magee, Tony Morgan, Andy Miller, Joe Anderson, Sam Widger, Dale Hiteman, Eric Ledford and Brent Holland heading up

But what about the Super Night attendance at Balmoral Park?

After all, while Sportsman’s Park was an in-town track (only about seven miles west of downtown Chicago), accessible by public transportation and could draw from the city’s huge population pool, the Balmoral Park area at that time wasn’t built up yet and had with a small population base. It was also void of any public transportation.

And how would the mutuel handle fare?

Back then OTB Parlors were starting to spring up all over Illinois and the impact of river boats weren’t as great, because they actually had to go out on a river at various times to accept the public’s gambling dollars. They weren’t land-based facilities like they are now.

It was expected most of the money bet on Super Night would come off-track and it did.

Back in 1998 Balmoral Park management actually spent money advertising and promoting Super Night. There were ads on the radio and in the local publications. Also Super Night stories were appearing in both of the major Chicago newspapers.

The result was an on-track attendance of over 9,200 people, a Balmoral record. At the same time more than $1.9 million was wagered on its 12-race Super Night program, another new high point for the Balmoral mutuel system.

Speaking of records, all six pacing championships went in new Super Night record times, wiping out every previous best mile time for an ICF final at Sportsman’s Park.

Just as he did in 1997 at Sportsman’s, Joe Anderson drove three of the champion horses in 1998 at Balmoral and the nation’s leading trainer also had a fourth winner on the card that night.

The Anderson Stable’s Ohyouprettything had no trouble extending her winning streak against ICF fillies to 22 in a row in the $145,000 Grandma Ann Final for 3-year-old pacing fillies, with a stakes record time of 1:52.4.

Big Tom joined his stable-mate Ohyouprettything with back-to-back Super Night championships when he captured the $170,000 Langley Final, but the son of Cole Muffler had far from an easy time doing so.

Big Tom, along with his entry-mate Sports Wolf, were listed at 5-3 program odds, as was Taser Gun, who burst on the Illinois scene as a 3-year-old and beat Big Tom the previous two times they met, taking the Springfield title and his O&B elimination, a race where Big Tom finished fourth and just managed to get into the Langley Final.

However Taser Gun, who did his best racing on the front end, couldn’t get there in the first half mile on Super Night. He was parked out to a bruising 27 first quarter, by Heat On The Street and was in the two-hole to a very quick 54.2 first half.

Meanwhile Anderson bided his time with Big Tom, who was ninth at the quarter and eighth (almost 8 lengths behind), at the half before Joe got his pacer into high gear.

Taser Gun had command down the lane nevertheless, Big Tom caught him in the deep stretch and won by a half-length in in a stake record time of 1:51.4.

On Balmoral Park’s inaugural Super Night Shady Veil, driven by Randy Jacobs, became the first pacing mare to win back-to-back Ann Vonian Championships. (R.E.B. Photo)

On Balmoral Park’s inaugural Super Night Shady Veil, driven by Randy Jacobs, became the first pacing mare to win back-to-back Ann Vonian Championships. (R.E.B. Photo)

“Little Joe” would also rally the Lloyd Daulton Stable’s Fox Valley Admiral up the inside and eke-out a head decision over the 3-5 favorite Ideal Town in the $300,000 Colt Orange & Blue showdown. The 1:53 mile in the post-midnight final race on the card, was the sixth stake record to fall.

Ohyouprettything and Big Tom weren’t the only horses to win a second consecutive Super Night crown that night. The Dave Isaacs Stable’s Shady Veil, captured the $100,000 Ann Vonian Final, just as she did in 1997 at Sportsman’s. This time Randy Jacobs was at her lines when she popped at 12-1 in 1:53.1, another new stakes mark.

Driver Sam Widger gave the Gary Scurlock Stable’s Juxtaposition a winning pocket trip in the $260,000 Filly Orange & Blue Final. The daughter of Cole Muffler finished one length ahead of the pace-setting Skipalong Misty in that 1:53.2 stakes record mile.

Fox Valley Arsenic, from the barn of trainer Tom Stamper, provided an upset in the $100,000 Dan Patch Championship for 3-year-old and upwards ICF colts and geldings.

Going off at his listed at 8-1 in the program, driver Brent Holland had Fox Valley Arsenic inside in fourth throughout most of the race before the Incredible Finale gelding found racing room at the right time and zoomed past for a record 1:51.4 mile and paid $20.40.

The following year, Super Night 1999, Balmoral spiced up its showcase evening of racing, by adding a pair of ICF 3-year-old trotting championships to the program, the Su Mac Lad for the boys and the Lady Ann Reed for the gals. That 14-race Super Night format that would remain in place for the next 17 years.

Springfield Previews Are Scheduled

The Spring Previews for ICF horses have been scheduled.  They will be:

Saturday, April 21, 11:00 am, ICF three year olds and up.

Saturday, June 9th, 11:00 am, ICF two year olds. (It’s possible some three year old races may be added) 

Qualifiers will be run on both dates.  Entry fee will be $50 for all races, including qualifiers.  Be sure to check the website for any updates as they become available.

Should you have any questions about these races, please call Tina Schrock at 217-416-0006.

Hawthorne Summer Stall Apps Available

Click here.

George Dritselis Passes Away

Chicago horsemen and friends, please consider a donation for George. A “gofundme” account has been set up in his name. Click below for more.

Our Chicago Circuit Harness Racing Quiz

By Mike Paradise

How knowledgeable are you on the history of harness racing on the Chicago circuit? We’ve put together 10 questions to test just how proficient you are and there are some tough ones,

It’s a multiple choice test to help you along. Some of the correct answers might even surprise you. You can scroll down to the bottom of the page to see all you have done.

1. Super Night was inaugurated at Sportsman’s Park in what year?
a. 1986
b. 1987
c. 1988
d. 1989
e. None of the above

This horse was the fastest pacer in Balmoral Park history. Can you name him? (USTA Photo)

This horse was the fastest pacer in Balmoral Park history. Can you name him? (USTA Photo)

2. The fastest mile in Balmoral Park history was paced by what horse?
a. Big Tom
b. Quick Pulse Mindale
c. Holborn Hanover
d. Lis Mara
e. Mr. Ed

3. Which of these past illustrious pacers did not win Maywood Park’s Windy City Pace as a 3-year-old?
a. Gala Blue Chip
b. Western Hanover
c. Incredible Finale
d. Three Olives
e. Pacific Rocket

4. The fastest mile paced at Sportsman’s Park when it was a five-eighths oval was by what horse?
a. Beach Towel
b. Cam Fella
c. Jate Lobell
d. Odds Against
e. Trigger

5. The first OTB Parlor in Illinois opened in 1987 at which location?
a. Rockford
b. Peoria
c. Waukegan
d. Danville
e. Chicago (1060 W. Addison St)

Glass Pack, shown here with driver Mike Oosting, shared the all-time track record at Maywood Park with another horse. Who was he? (R.E.B. Photo)

Glass Pack, shown here with driver Mike Oosting, shared the all-time track record at Maywood Park with another horse. Who was he? (R.E.B. Photo)

6. The ICF pacer Glass Pack shares the track record of 1:50.2 at Maywood Park with what other horse?
a. Fox Valley Gallant
b. Thisbigdogwilfight
c. Jo Pa’s Bench Mark
d. Westward Vision
e. Idonthavetaclue

7. Which of these current or former Chicago circuit race tracks was never a half-mile oval?
a. Hawthorne Race Course
b. Sportsman’s Park
c. Balmoral Park
d. Maywood Park
e. They all were

8. No trotter ever went faster than 1:55 in Maywood Park’s long history.
a. True
b. False

9. Who was the last Illinois horseman to win the training title at Sportsman’s Park when it was still a five-eighths mile track? The year was 1991.
a. Joe Anderson
b. Carl Porcelli Jr.
c. Doug Hamilton
d. Mark Fransen
e. George Costanza

10. Dave Magee far and away drove the most Super Night championship horses, but what driver had the second most?
a. Tony Morgan
b. Joe Anderson
c. Andy Miller
d. Mike Oosting
e. Someone else.


1. (d) 1989 was the first year
2. (c) In 2006 Holborn Hanover (George Brennan) with a 1:47.3 mile.
3. (a) The 2000 Harness Horse of the Year Gala Blue Chip lost to Camotion (Dale Hiteman)
4. (a) Beach Towel in 1990 with a 1:52.4 mile
5. (b) Peoria is correct. For those who picked (d), you chose the address of Wrigley Field
6. (d) Westward Vixen with Dave Magee
7. (a) Hawthorne
8. (1) True
9. (b) Carl Porcelli Jr. with 38.
10. (c) Andy Miller) was next.