No Open, No Problem

 They’ll be off and racing tonight at Hawthorne (Four Footed Fotos)

They’ll be off and racing tonight at Hawthorne (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

With the Open Pace failing to draw sufficient entries to be carded, this Saturday’s headliner is the fifth race conditioned pace with a $7,500 purse.

It’s basically for horses without $4,000 in purse earnings in their last four starts but there’s a trio of other conditions attached that enabled the race to have a nine horse field.

Don’t be misled by the race’s conditions or its purse, there are some very good horses that will be going postward. Of its nine starters, only three haven’t raced in a Hawthorne Open this season or last, and one of those, Rock Steady Ron (Ridge Warren), took a mark of 1:50 flat last year at Hoosier Park.

Salvatore (Brandon Bates) and Youmakemyheartsing (Kyle Wilfong) are the two others not to compete yet in a local Open.

The five-year-old ICF pacer Salvatore dropped a nose decision in his first start after being claimed by trainer Eugene Gillman for $7,000. The Feb. 22 loss came in a conditioned pace with a higher purse ($9,200) than Saturday’s but the competition in that race wasn’t as tough as tonight’s, so what seems like a class drop, really isn’t.

However Salvatore has looked sharp, loves Hawthorne’s stretch and has a hot driver who may be able to flush out live cover.

He Gone Jack (pp 2, Ryan Anderson), Sir Mammo (pp 3, Todd Warren), A Bettors Risk (pp 5, Mike Oosting), and Parklane Eagle (pp 2, Juan Franco), all come out of last Saturday’s Open. Park Official (pp 1, Tyler Shehan) raced in the Feb. 15 Open while Northern Angle (pp 7, Casey Leonard) did the same here in 2019.

A Bettor’s Risk, from the barn of trainer Payton Ode, figures to get the most play from the betting public. The now seven-year-old gelding was raced inside in a needed start and did pace a 27 flat last quarter. The horse has had past success at Hawthorne and boasts a 1:48.3 winning mile in 2018 at Hoosier.

“The horse was off for a couple of months,” said Payton Ode, the trainer of A Bettors Risk, “so he needed his race. The winner (Castle Flight) was cutting some fast fractions and was awfully tough last week.”

“My horse’s start should help him for this Saturday’s race. He likes Hawthorne and its long stretch. He likes to run horses down. While we will be going back to Indiana I’ll pick my spots to race him at Hawthorne. The competition at Hoosier is very tough,”

Open Bound: After a week’s absence, the $12,000 Filly and Mare Open returns tomorrow night. (I’ll have more that race in Sunday’s column.) Meanwhile we do have a mare racing tonight who will likely work her way back into a distaff Open in the near future and that would be Sweetshadyshark.

I made the Ronnie Roberts trained mare the 4 to 5 favorite in my tenth race line. Sweetshadyshark is in a low-end conditioned race and her third place finish last week was her first outing since last September.

Sweetshadyshark took part in 12 consecutive Opens last summer at Hawthorne and came away with a pair of victories, two seconds and a trio of thirds. In 2018 she went two-for-four in Hawthorne Opens with a second place finish.

Ex-Super Night Champ Back: Also making his 2020 debut tonight is the former Super Night champion Dinky Dune, owned and trained by Dana May of Newton, Illinois. The now seven-year-old ICF pacer won the $112,000 Pete Langley 3-Year-Old Championship at Balmoral in 2015 and also annexed the Cardinal (Balmoral) and Dudley Hanover (Du Quoin) that year.

Casey Leonard got the catch-drive behind Dinky Dune (151.1, $186,825) in tonight’s eleventh race nightcap.

So Far So Good for Bates

By Mike Paradise

Four words pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as driver Brandon Bates decision to apply his trade at the start of this year’s meeting at Hawthorne: “So far, so good.”

After two weekends of racing on the big mile oval Bates has chalked up eight winning drives. Only Casey Leonard has nine more.



And it’s not like Bates is getting a lot of the betting favorites to drive. Only two of his winners thus far at Hawthorne have been the public’s choice while four others have been upset winners at double digit odds.

Bates has been a regular at Hoosier Park, about a 45 minute dive from his farm in Monroe, Indiana, for several seasons although the past two years the 44-year-old Ohio native has come to town to drive on Sundays when the Indiana track is dark.

I asked Brandon if his plans again this year are to go back to Hoosier when their meet opens on March 27.

“Probably,” he answered . . . “but that’s not definite. If I do I will come in and drive on Sundays at Hawthorne. I’ll be here on Fridays too when that starts up (March 6th). I’m be cutting down my driving at Miami Valley (Ohio) to just Mondays and Tuesdays so I can spend the entire weekends in March at Hawthorne. I also want to do some driving this year on the Grand Circuit.

“This is the first year that only my wife will be a home. No kids.”

“My daughter has graduated from college. I have one son at Wabash College who is a senior and a wrestling champion. My youngest son is at Indiana Tech where he’s a true freshman on the varsity baseball team. With the kids away I’m not exactly sure of my future driving plans. I’ll just take it one week at a time and see how it all plays out.”

Brandon Bates is shown here driving the Jace Sundeen stable’s Queens N Tens to her second straight victory at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Fotos)

Brandon Bates is shown here driving the Jace Sundeen stable’s Queens N Tens to her second straight victory at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Fotos)

“Right now I’m happy to be driving at Hawthorne and being off to a good start. I’m hopeful I’ll pick-up more drives.”

Bates driving numbers have soared the past three racing seasons.
From 2000 through 2016 Brandon had a total of 503 dash winners, an average of about 30 a year. Compare that to 435 first place finishers in 2017, 2018 and 2019, a yearly average of 145.

Undoubtedly more important for Brandon and his family is that horses he’s driven the past three seasons have averaged $1.68 million in purse earnings while he’s competed against some top-notch competition in Indiana and Ohio.

Friday Racing Next: This is the last Friday of the season without live racing at Hawthorne. A week from today the three-day-a-week format begins, running through Sunday, September 20th.

Searle Sizzling: Trainer Steve Searle is off to a hot start at the meet. The veteran Illinois horseman has sent out 18 starters over the past two weekends and they’ve given Searle six wins and six seconds and a third place finisher.

Castle Flight Impressive in Open Win

By Mike Paradise

Castle Flight, nicely handled by Kyle Wilfong, showed last night he’s going to be a force this season in the Hawthorne Open Pace. The Derek Burklund trained gelding didn’t just beat a solid field in Saturday’s headliner he crushed it in front-stepping style.

The 7-2 second choice in the betting showed a start over the mile track was just what he needed, drawing off by five widening lengths with a quick 1:51.1 mile.

Wilfong sent Castle Flight ($9.00) out from the seven-post in the nine horse field, as did Todd Warren with last week’s Open winner Account Rollover (pp 8). After the latter took the field to a :28.1 first panel, Wilfong popped Castle Flight out of the pocket, took command, and sped to a 56.1 half.

 Castle Flight and driver Kyle Wilfong were all by themselves at the finish of last night’s $12,000 Open Pace. (Four Footed Fotos)

Castle Flight and driver Kyle Wilfong were all by themselves at the finish of last night’s $12,000 Open Pace. (Four Footed Fotos)

Wilfong kept his foot on the gas pedal and the eight-year-old Indiana bred went to the three-quarters in 1:23.4. The eventual second place finisher Account Rollover tried to keep but was no match to Castle Flight last night. The 3-5 favorite Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) raced ninth and last to the head of the stretch and did well to be third, pacing a 26.2 last quarter.

The victory was Castle Flight’s 29th of his career and that includes a speedy 1:47.2 mile at Hoosier Park last year for Growth Opportunities LLC of North Canton, Ohio.

Double Your Pleasure: It didn’t take long for the first two-time winner at Hawthorne. It came in the first race when the Steve Searle trained Louscardamon ($2.40) breezed with Casey Leonard in a conditioned trot.

Casey had the heavy 1-5 public’s choice in third throughout most of the race as Gregory John (Todd Warren) battled for the lead with Trixies Turbo (Ridge Warren). Meanwhile Leonard bid his time with Louscardamon when Todd Warren was keeping his son Ridge, and the mare Trixie’s Turbo, parked out to a 59.3 first half.

Louscardamon came out of third in last turn, powered past with a three-wide move, and was well in hand at the end of the 1:58 flat mile. All-Star John was second, beaten four lengths and the 23-1 longshot Loussolataire rallied for third.

Louscardamon , a son of Lou’s Legacy, is owned by Flacco Family Farms (Alexis) and Dr. Patrick Graham (Pittsfield)

A race later the 4-5 favorite Louzotic ($3.60) coasted to her seventh consecutive victory in the second half of the Daily Double and again for the combination of driver Casey Leonard, trainer Steve Searle, and owner Flacco Family Farms.

The 2019 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year won for the 20th time in 27 starts, making it back-to-back triumphs as a four-year-old. Louzotic has now banked over $240,000 in less than 30 lifetime trips post ward.

Casey changed tactics in the second race, gunning his filly out and making the top before the first turn. A 29.2 first panel and casual 29.4 second panel pretty much insured another stop at the winner’s circle for Louzotic. Stable-mate Lousraptor (Ridge Warren) came on for second, holding off a fast closing Muscular Babe (Kyle Wilfong).

Casey Leonard had four winning drives on the night and Kyle Wilfong had three.

It’s a Tough Time for Picking Winners

 Back for to tonight’s $12,000 Open Pace is last week’s top three finishers—Account Rollover (center), Fox Valley Gemini (outside) and Castle Flight (not pictured, Kyle Wilfong). Four Footed Fotos

Back for to tonight’s $12,000 Open Pace is last week’s top three finishers—Account Rollover (center), Fox Valley Gemini (outside) and Castle Flight (not pictured, Kyle Wilfong). Four Footed Fotos

By Mike Paradise

The most difficult time for handicapping a horse race on the Chicago circuit comes at the start of a meeting, especially in the winter time.

Many horses are competing after a layoff, some after weeks others following months without a start. Horses that have been racing were doing so elsewhere, mostly on smaller ovals and in some cases in warmer weather.

Last week’s Open saw three horses at the finish within a half-length of each other, all given a race time of 1:51.2—the 6-1 winner Account Rollover, the 4-5 beaten favorite Fox Valley Gemini and the public’s second choice Castle Flight.

Those three will tangle again in tonight’s $12,000 Open but with different circumstances.

Account Rollover goes from the three-post to the eight, and with a new driver, Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) has a start under his belt after missing three months prior to last Saturday’s race, and Castle Flight (Kyle Wilfong) benefits from an outing over the Hawthorne track.

“Fox Valley Gemini was way short last week,” said driver Casey Leonard an indication the star of the Terry Leonard stable will most likely profit from last week’s effort. However the two-time ICF Harness Horse of the Year does shift from the four-slot to the outside nine-hole tonight.

Mike Oosting gave Account Rollover a great winning trip for trainer Jim Eaton a week ago but tonight he’ll be behind the Payton Ode trainee A Bettors Risk (post 6) and that’s not because of a knock on the nine-year-old pacer who will be handled by Todd Warren.

Oosting drove Account Rollover once in 2017 in Ohio and once in Indiana in 2018. Meanwhile 22 other drivers have been at the lines of the gelding the past three years.

On the other hand, Oosting drove A Bettors Risk in all of the horse’s 27 starts in 2019, each at Hoosier Park. In fact Mike has been the pacer’s regular driver since early May of 2018 and guided A Bettor’s Risk to his 1:48.3 mark in 2018 and a 1:49.2 win last season.

While A Bettor’s Risk has made the vast majority of his starts in Indiana, the horse is no stranger to Hawthorne. The Bettor’s Delight gelding finished second with Oosting in a $25,000 Invite on the 2018 Night of Champions after winning in 1:50.2 a week earlier.

Starting inside of A Bettors Risk are He Gone Jack (Ridge Warren), Sir Mammo (Bobby Smolin), Parklane Eagle (Juan Franco), Best Man Hanover (Brandon Bates) and Bold And Brassy (Travis Seekman).

A Bettors Risk hasn’t raced since the first week of December. Does he need tonight’s start?

You make the call.

On a Roll: The Steve Searle Stable’s prize trotter Louzotic (Casey Leonard) puts her six race winning streak on the line in Saturday’s second race. Now four, the 2019 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year has won 11 of her last 13 outings and was second in both losses.

Searle also has the 8-5 favorite in tonight’s opener with his four-year-old trotter Louscardamon, an easy victor a week ago the first time on Lasix with Steve in the bike. Casey Leonard gets the catch drive tonight.

Our Racing Related Updates Have Returned

As our racing season gets underway this year, don’t forget to check out Mike Paradise’s weekly stories as well as his morning line and comments on race days. They can be found by clicking on the box on the right hand side of this website. Also, as a reminder for those of you interested, The Hawthorne entries for each week can be found by clicking on the “Race Day” tab above and then “Hawthorne Entry Sheet.”

Ridge Doing Double Duty

By Mike Paradise

When Balmoral Park and Maywood Park went belly-up and left Hawthorne as the state’s only facility remaining to host harness racing, it caused many Illinois horsemen scrambling for other sources of income.

After all, the Illinois Standardbred race dates took substantial cuts, from 192 days of racing in 2015, to 128 days in 2016 and only 80 in 2017.

With the drastic reduction of racing days and purses considerably lower than those of casino money aided tracks in other states numerous horsemen left Illinois to try and make a living elsewhere. Others stuck it out here, but had to find another line of work to pay their bills and get by.

RIDGE WARREN. . . a busy man.

RIDGE WARREN. . . a busy man.

“When things got more uncertain about racing here after the closing of Balmoral and Maywood, people like myself had to look for other work,” said driver Ridge Warren.

“Five years ago I became a personal trainer for Premier Fitness and three years ago I became the franchise owner of their facilities in Bourbonnais and Manteno (Illinois). I put in 55 to 60 hours a week there.

“It’s a growing industry and I’m glad to be a part of it. But my passion is harness racing. I love it. Once it gets in your blood, it stays there. And now there’s optimism on our situation in Illinois.”

Ridge yearns for the days of year-around racing and competing against his dad Todd Warren on a regular basis.

While year-round Illinois racing is probably still a few years off, this year Ridge will have his opportunity to race against his farther for the next eight months.

“Dad isn’t going back to Hoosier Park,” revealed Ridge. “He’s driving full-time in Chicago this year right through the entire Hawthorne meet. He says he’s tired of living out of a camper in Indiana. Dad and his wife have a house in Manhattan and they want to enjoy it.

TODD WARREN. . . he’s staying

TODD WARREN. . . he’s staying

“My father and I play basketball twice a week,” continued the 31-year-old Warren who resides in Manteno. “When we play I always want to be on his side. But on the race track I badly want to beat him. There’s nothing I enjoy more than passing him in a race. And this year there is going to be a lot more chances for me to do so.”

The 55-year-old Warren is closing in on 5,000 career driving victories. He’ll go into Saturday’s Hawthorne with 4,936 dash winners. Horses that Todd has driven have earned more than $25 million over the past 37 years, including over $1 million for the past 11 seasons.

Rematch on Tap: Saturday’s headliner will be the $12,000 Open Pace with last week’s top three finishers—Account Rollover, Fox Valley Gemini and Castle Flight all back for a rematch.

They’ll be challenged by He Gone Jack, Sir Mammo, Parklane Eagle, Best Man Hanover, Bold And Brassy and A Bettors Risk, with posts one through six, in that order.

A Pretty Outlook for Distaff Mare Open

By Mike Paradise

The gals take over the Hawthorne spotlight on the first Sunday card of this year’s long lengthy meeting. The featured Open Pace for fillies and mares drew a seven-horse field with a pair of Indiana breds—Pretty Image and Dee Rocks—likely to generate a good portion of the seventh race handle.

Casey Leonard will drive the six-year-old mare Pretty Image for the first time and she’s the 2-1 morning favorite. Ridge Warren takes over the lines behind the Jamaica Patton trained five-year-old mare Dee Rocks, listed next at 3-1.

Both mares have spent most of their racing careers competing at Hoosier Park but with the Indiana track dark until March 27th, they’ll most likely stick around here until then.

Dee Rocks did begin her career at Hawthorne in 2017, winning her first three career starts on the Chicago circuit. The Rockin Image mare went on to have had a brilliant 2-year-old campaign for Illinois owners Ron Phillips (Athens) and John Carver (Rock Island), capturing 11 of 14 races and banking a hefty $156,750.

Sunday’s race will be Dee Rock’s first since early November when she competed at the new Kentucky racetrack Oak Grove. The mare did have a 1:56 winning qualifier on Feb. 5 at Hawthorne.

 Pretty Image was a double Open Pace winner at Hawthorne in 2018 with the late Tim Curtin at her lines (Four Footed Photos)

Pretty Image was a double Open Pace winner at Hawthorne in 2018 with the late Tim Curtin at her lines (Four Footed Photos)

Pretty Image finished her 2019 season for owner and trainer Rodney Freese at Saratoga in upstate New York. “She raced very well there,” said Rodney. The mare’s only disappointing finish in December came in the last race there when she got pushed back by a horse that stopped at the three-quarters.

So if you’re looking at the lines of Pretty Image’s December 12th race, that’s why she only closed in 30.4 and ended up a non-threatening fourth after a pocket trip.

Pretty Image won a qualifier six days ago in a mile time of only 2:04 with Rodney on a Hawthorne track rated “slow” by the stewards and rightly so.

“The track was terrible,” said Rodney. “It was about three inches deep. A lot of horses just couldn’t get a hold of it.”

Except for the 2018 season, Pretty Image hasn’t made many trips to the gate at Hawthorne in her career but when she has, the mare has done very well.

“She likes the track,” said Rodney. “And she likes Hoosier’s too. The one year she did race the summer at Hawthorne she had a very good meet.”

Pretty Image made 13 starts at Hawthorne in 2018, all in Opens, and came up with 2 wins, 5 seconds and 2 thirds. Altogether she’s 6 for 19 on the big mile oval, to go along with five seconds and a pair of third place finishes.

Taking on Dee Rocks and Pretty Image tonight are Tarport Belle (Mike Oosting), Rollin Coal (Juan Franco), Boogie On Down (Kyle Wilfong), Mirasol (Brandon Bates) and Model (Travis Seekman).

“Gemini” Beaten: Account Rollover (Mike Oosting) held off the late surge of Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) to take Saturday’s co-featured $12,000 Open Pace by a neck in 1:51.2.

Account Rollover ($14.20) enjoyed a two-hole journey behind the pace-setting Castle Flight while Fox Valley Gemini was fourth through the 55.1 half. Casey had “Gemini” on the move in the last turn, flushing out Account Hanover but fell a neck short of overtaking the Jim Eaton trained winner owned by Robert Silberberg of Farmington Hills, Michigan and Jim Schwarz Jr of Wood Dale, Illinois.

Castle Flight was third, beaten a half-length.

Explosive Debut: A few races earlier in the co-featured $12,000 Open Trot Lindy’s Big Bang, a new addition to the Terry Leonard stable, came flying down the lane to sweep past the co-favorite Pine Dream (Brandon Bates) in the winner’s Hawthorne debut.

Driver Casey Leonard was content to take a two-hole trip with Lindy’s Big Bang ($4.20) behind Pine Dream, who cut fractions of 30.3, 59.2 and 1:28.3. In mid-stretch Casey got the five-year-old Explosive Matter trotter in high gear and the gelding to roll past with a 1:55.4 clocking for Michigan owner Nathan Cockerham and Scott Tyler George.