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IRB licensing hours for this week will be Wednesday and Thursday 10 to 3. Friday 2 to 8.
By Mike Paradise
The long wait for live harness racing to return to Illinois is just a week away and for many of us Hawthorne’s opening night on Friday, May 3 can’t come fast enough.
Is long time Illinois based trainer Steve Searle one of those chumping at the bit for the end of the much-to-long eight months without racing?
“Oh my gosh yes,” answered Searle. “I’m extremely excited for Hawthorne to open. This no racing is for the birds. I am so ready to get going.”
Searle had a remarkable Night of Champions last September when three of his horses won championships. “I may never have a night like that again but that’s okay,” said the Grant Park, Illinois resident. “Having done it that one time is something that will always stay with me.”
Back with Searle this year is Fox Valley Flan stake victor Louzatic, the 2018 the Illinois 2-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year and Spirit O’Mar, the surprise winner of the Plesac Final with Steve at his lines.
Gone is last year’s Illinois 3-year-old filly trotting champion Trotting Grace, the Beulah Dygert titleholder, and the 2017 Springfield champion White Pants Fever.
“Louzatic is coming along well. I’ve got her down to 2:04 on a farm track. This year we’ve picked up Luscipher. He’s a good horse. He had some lameness problems last year and I have him at Odds Odd (Training Center). They’ve got a pool and everything you could need out there.
“We sold Trotting Grace and White Pants Fever. If we were racing eight or nine year (in Illinois) we would have probably kept them but with only five months of racing it made sense to sell them. There just aren’t enough opportunities to make good money with aged trotters in Illinois.
“We got a good price for them and both horses have done well in Ohio. Trotting Grace won there in 54 and 3.” White Pants Fever won 2 of his last 3 starts at Miami Valley.
“I still have Spirit O’Mar and I’ve got a dozen 2–year-olds. It’s too early to say who stands out but they have all gone between 2:20 and 2:04. As you know I don’t like to rush my 2-year-olds. Being the fastest early-on isn’t important to me. It’s how they do at the end of the racing season. The game plan is to have my young horses’ peak from mid-July and through the end of the September. That’s where the money is for Illinois breds.”
The Wisconsin native posted career numbers last year for trainer wins (45) and money won ($485,711).
In 2017 Steve had what he called “an unbelievable meeting” at the Springfield State Fair. Searle sent ten horses postward and five finished first. All 10 of his starters earned a check. Besides his five winners Steve had two seconds, one third and two fourths. They earned over $58,000.
Two of Searle’s horses posted victories in last Monday’s Spring Preview at Springfield. Coming Up, a 3-year-old state bred pacer won in 2:00.4 (28 flat last quarter) with James Molitor. A few races later Searle guided Louzotic to an easy two length triumph (1:58.3) in her sophomore debut.
Brothers Prevail: Perennial Hawthorne driver champion Casey Leonard warmed up for the start of the 2019 meet with no less than seven first place finishes including the last two on the 19-race card, brothers Picky Picky Valor (1:59.2) and Talk About Valor (2:02.3). Both are trained Gerald Hansen for owner Shelley Steele of Monee, Illinois.
Other Spring Preview winners on the card were Perch (by five-plus lengths in 1:58.1), Fox Valley Torrid (by 10 and 1/2 lengths in 2:00.4), Riley The Mosse (1:58), Ryan Racketeer (1:59.3), EL Game On (2:01.1), Frontier Manard (2:01), For Trots Sake (2:03.3), Rollin Coal (1:55.3, the fastest on the card), Fox Valley Catwalk (1:59.1), Lexington Lady (1:59.2), Yank Rendezvous (2:03.1), Sheriff Coffey (1:59), Fox Valley Nemitz (1:56.4), Fox Valley Gemini (by 7 lengths in 1:58.3) and Sunny Sasha (1:58.1)
Monday Draw: Next Friday’s opening night program will be drawn Monday morning at Hawthorne. Horsemen have until 9 o’clock to enter their horses. Entries for the first Saturday and Sundays programs will be taken on Wednesday morning.
By Mike Paradise
With the recent passing of Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Famer Mark Fransen our industry lost one of its true good guys at the much-to-early age of 64.
The old idiom “Nice Guys Finish Last” certainly didn’t apply to the Mendota, Illinois native who trained over 700 winners in his home state including ICF Super Night champions Plum Peachy, Ideal Angel, Broadway Preview Buck and Wing, Andy’s Golden Boy and Dreams Made Real.
Only Erv Miller and Joe Anderson had more Super Night trainer champions than Fransen’s nine winners.
In his five decade career as a horseman Mark rose to become a perennial top trainer on the very tough Chicago circuit and at the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fair meetings. At the same time the soft-spoken, well-respected trainer emerged as one of the genuine good guys in Illinois racing.
The IHHA’s Executive Director Tony Somone was spot-on when he said: “I’ve seen plenty of great trainers come through Chicago but what exemplified Mark was that he was more than a great horsemen, he was also a terrific person. He always had a positive attitude, never sour. He was always quick to smile and say hello. I never heard him complain. He could put a positive spin on the most troubling situation. Illinois harness racing has truly lost a special friend.”
Fransen took out his trainer’s license in the 1970s. His career blossomed in the 80s, and it took off in the 1990s with an assist from his good friend Illinois Hall of Fame driver Walter Paisley.
Super Night was inaugurated at Sportsman’s Park in 1989 and one year later the tandem of Fransen and Paisley gave us an unforgettable September evening of racing when they teamed-up to deliver the only time sister and brother pacers that both captured Super Night crowns on the same program.
First Paisley guided Plum Peachy to her $305,843 Orange and Blue Filly Championship, sewing-up 1990 Illinois Horse of the Year honors with a 1:56.2 mile, the third time that summer she broke the Sportsman’s track record for a 2-year-old filly. The Ideal Society filly out of the Nansemond broodmare Delightful Angel ended her freshman season with a perfect 7-for-7 record for Nettle Creek Standardbred Farm of Morris, Illinois.
Later that night Plum Peachy’s 4-year-old full brother Buck and Wing won the $50,000 Dan Patch Final for Nettle Creek Farm and returned Paisley and Fransen to the Sportsman’s Park winner’s circle in front of a crowd of 15,499 who wagered (on-track) $2,333,038 on a nine-race card.
Plum Peachy would notch a second Super Night victory the following year in the Grandma Ann Championship, the last season Sportsman’s was a five-eighth’s oval.
Ideal Angel and Broadway Preview also delivered two Super Night championships for Fransen while Buck and Wing, Skipalong Misty and Broadway Creation were among Mark’s Springfield State Fair champions.
It was Paisley who smoked-out Plum Peachy as a yearling and convinced the Nettle Creek boys (Brent Johnson, Steve Newcom and Don Stevens) to buy the filly ($27,000) at the Illini Yearling Sale and turn over the training duties to Fransen.
“Back then I didn’t like to do a lot of training with 2-year-olds,” said Paisley. ”They take up a lot of your time. I thought Plum Peachy would be a good fit with Fransen. Mark did a great job with her and I knew early-on she could be a special filly.
“Through the years Mark would ask for my opinion on his 2-year-olds after I qualified them or after their first baby race. There were times I had to tell him what he didn’t want to hear but that wasn’t the case with Plum Peachy.
“In her first baby race she had the eight-hole. She raced really well. She came home the last eighth (of a mile) in 13 seconds and did it easily. I told Mark after the race, you got yourself a good one here.”
Paisley proved to be dead-on with his evaluation of the filly. Plum Peachy went on to prove best in 15 of 18 starts as a 2 and 3-year-old, typically ICF stakes, and hauled in $356,082.
Just a couple of years later, Ideal Angel (Dave Magee) another daughter of Ideal Society, burst onto the local scene for Fransen and captured 8 of 9 races as a 3-year-old, ending with a romping eight-length triumph in the $182,000 Grandma Ann championship for owners Michael Dockendorf, Dave Andalman and Steve Zatkin. At the age of four Ideal Angel made it back-to-back Super Night victories by securing the 1994 Ann Vonian final for ICF pacing mares.
Fransen was back in the winner’s circle on Super Night 1997 and again in 1998 at Balmoral Park when Broadway Preview nailed down both times the Dan Patch championships for older ICF pacers for Hunt Harness Horses of Big Rock, Illinois. Broadway Preview would win 54 races for Fransen and bank over $630,000 in 114 lifetime starts, mostly competing in ICF aged stakes and Balmoral Free For All events.
On Super Night 2000, Andy’s Golden Boy (Tony Morgan) was victorious in the $220,000 Pete Langley Memorial for Fransen, who shared ownership of the 3-year-old Cole Muffler colt with Arch S Golden Stakes of Davenport Iowa.
Two years later Morgan drove the Cole Muffler filly Dreams Made Real to her $255,000 Orange and Blue Filly championship for Fransen and his Illinois owners Michael Dockendorf (Chicago) and Nicholas Triantafel (Naperville).
All together Fransen trained horses would earn nearly $7 million dollars and win 732 races in his Hall of Fame career, confirming again that “nice guys don’t always finish last”.
Mike Paradise’s next column will be on Friday April 28. Mike’s handicapped lines and race comments, along with his stories, will be posted here every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the Hawthorne meeting starting on Thursday, May 2.
Representative Mike Zalewski recently introduced a sports betting bill (HB3308) which also came with five different amendments. These different amendments were designed to get everyone’s position on the record for where they stood. We testified in front of the House Revenue and Finance Committee regarding HB 3308 and its five amendments. Of the five amendments, racetracks were included in four. The fifth one had no one included and was for the state lottery to run it all, with the state taking in all of the profits. Of the four good amendments, amendment number 2 had terrific language that we worked on last year that stated the racetracks must have a contract with horsemen before getting sports betting. That is the amendment we supported strongly. We mentioned that the other three that included the racetracks were good, but would need a tweak or two. This was the first significant discussion this year on sports betting and more are expected. Keep in mind, sports betting on its own, will not turn a big profit for the horse racing industry. The anticipated monies earned will not be enough to completely eliminate recapture or guarantee us a substantial increase in racing days. However, we need to stay relevant and every little bit helps.
Currently, besides sports betting, we are also pushing for the state to reimburse the recapture money (about $2.3m for harness racing) that is owed us. We are working to get those dollars put into the Dept. of Agriculture budget so they can then be put into our purse account at Hawthorne. John Sullivan, the new director of Agriculture has been very supportive and is doing all he can to help. Also, we are hopeful that the extensive gaming bill, which would allow racinos in Illinois, will be reintroduced by the end of April. It is frustrating to watch this process move so slowly but history has shown us that something as controversial and major as a gaming bill will not pick up steam until May.