A New Defending Champ in the Open Pace

Fox Valley Gemini’s driver Casey Leonard can only look over and see that Ponda’s Prospect (Ridge Warren) is about to win the July 10th Open Pace. The two Terry Leonard trained stablemates will tangle again in tonight’s feature race. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Gemini’s driver Casey Leonard can only look over and see that Ponda’s Prospect (Ridge Warren) is about to win the July 10th Open Pace. The two Terry Leonard trained stablemates will tangle again in tonight’s feature race. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

For the first time since the start of the 2020 Hawthorne Standardbred meeting back in February a horse not named Fox Valley Gemini or Castle Flight tonight will defend the role as the kingpin of the aged pacing division.

That honor belongs to Ponda’s Prospect and his driver Ridge Warren. In the last Open Pace at the meet contested two weeks ago, the sometimes overlooked Terry Leonard trained gelding showed his heels to his more renowned stable-mate Fox Valley Gemini with a neck triumph at 15-1 odds.

Ponda’s Prospect’s 1:51 flat clocking ended the four race Open winning streak of the two-time ICF Harness Horse of the Year. While Ponda’s Prospect isn’t anywhere near Fox Valley Gemini’s amazing 82.5 per cent lifetime winning percentage at Hawthorne, the five-year-old Shadyshark Hanover gelding definitely has a fondness for Hawthorne’s big track

Since acquired by the Illinois quartet of Dandy Racing Stable (Glenview), FT Racing Stable (Glenview), Peter Kouchis, Palos Hills) and Terry Leonard (Harvard), in 2018, Ponda’s Prospect has made an even dozen visits at the Hawthorne’s Winner’s Circle and five have come after Open victories

Ponda’s Prospect July 17th victory wasn’t his first Open win with Ridge Warren in the sulky. Warren won a Hawthorne Open Ponda’s Prospect in the summer of 2018 when Ridge was driving the horse on pretty much on a semi-regular basis.

Ponda’s Prospect usually comes from out of it, and sometimes he’s too far out of it to be success. That wasn’t the case last week when the horse enjoyed a two-hole trip when left from the six-post.

A smiling Brando Bates gave the track photographer a “thumbs up” after notching his 1,000 career driving victory last Sunday with the ICF 3-year-old trotting filly Fox Valley Extacy in a leg of the Beulah Dygert stake series. (Four Footed Fotos)

A smiling Brando Bates gave the track photographer a “thumbs up” after notching his 1,000 career driving victory last Sunday with the ICF 3-year-old trotting filly Fox Valley Extacy in a leg of the Beulah Dygert stake series. (Four Footed Fotos)

“The horse always tries hard in the last eighth (of the mile) but he hasn’t been very versatile so sometimes we would have too much ground to try and make up,” said his 31-year-old driver.

“The horse never leaves but I thought last week if I could get ahead of the one and two horses early on we might get to race up close. As it turned out we sat in the pocket throughout and he was still pacing hard in the late going like he always does.

“Ponda’s Prospect is a good horse and I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to drive him. He’s sharp now,” added Ridge, who is now also driving at The Meadows in Pennsylvania Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesday.

A victory in a Hawthorne Open on the pace or the trot regularly means the winning horse will draw for the outside looking in the next time he or she goes to the gate in the $10,500 uppermost overnight event, and that’s the situation again tonight.

Ponda’s Prospect landed the seven post in the eight horse feature field with “Gemini” getting the eight after being handicapped with the10-hole in his last pair of Hawthorne Open outings.

Shark Play (Kyle Wilfong), Toxic Rock (Cornarius Stewart) and Better Watch Out (Tyler Shehan), three pacers new to the local Open, were drawn into the 1, 2 and 3 posts, in that order. The 4, 5 and 6 went to On Duty (Jim Lackey), When You Dance (Todd Warren) and Jet Airway (Bobby Smolin), respectively.

Milestone for Bates: Congratulations to driver Brandon Bates who recorded his 1,000th career dash winner on Sunday at the lines of the ICF trotting filly Fox Valley Extacy in a third leg of the $15,000 Beulah Dygert trotting series.

The a 44-year-old Bates, known for his patience in a racing bike, rallied the Hector Herrera trained filly past the even-money favorited Lous Abigail, propelling Fox Valley Extacy to the top spot in the current Beulah Dygert point standings.

Bates began this season competing at Hawthorne before the Covid-19 outbreak put a halt to harness racing throughout the country. After the nationwide restart Brandon went to Hoosier Park, competing in Indiana on Tuesdays through Saturdays and coming back to drive at Hawthorne on Sundays.

Brandon has driven more than 100 winners the past four seasons and is a cinch to so again in 2020.

Summer Schedule Updated

Schedule Update:

The Department of Agriculture has relocated the IL county fair/Topline and IHHA races scheduled for August 10th and September 1 to the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds. Also-the IHHA trot that was rained out on July 21 will be held on Sept. 1. There were no additional days available for the IHHA pace that was rained out-therefore this purse money will be equally added into the remaining 3 IHHA pace races.

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Sophomore Trot Picture Will Clearer

Fox Valley Ren (Kyle Wilfong, inside) got the best of He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) the last time they meet in the June 20th Cardinal. Tonight they’ll compete in separate $15,000 divisions of the Robert F. Carey stake series. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Ren (Kyle Wilfong, inside) got the best of He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) the last time they meet in the June 20th Cardinal. Tonight they’ll compete in separate $15,000 divisions of the Robert F. Carey stake series. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

The ICF three-year-old colony of pacer and trotters this weekend will past the midway point on their march to what their owners and trainers hope will be a starting berth in a Night of Champions final on September 19th.

The state’s top sophomore pacing colts and geldings squared off Friday evening in round three of the Robert F. Carey Memorial series with He’zzz A Wise Sky and Bagman coming out on top. Last night the third round winners of the Plum Peachy were crowned as the heavy favorites Fox Valley Exploit (Casey Leonard) and Double Parked (Travis Seekman) each prevailed in comfortable fashion.

The still murky picture of the second season ICF trotters should get more into focus after the competition of Sunday’s Dygert Memorial’s, the Beulah for the gals and the Erwin F. for the guys. Both three-year-olds stakes were separated into a pair of $15,000 contests.

In the case of the Beulah Dygert, the first three stake winners—Fox Valley Extacy (Brandon Bates), Bee See (Kyle Wilfong for the sidelined Kyle Husted) and Lous Abigail (Casey Leonard) all drew into the same seventh race division. That first split also landed Celone Hall (Mike Oosting), winner of one of the recent Violet trot championships. Bee Cee captured the other $21,650 Illinois Department of Agriculture state-bred stake.

Needless to say, the first Beulah Dygert should be quite a horse race and the winner will move to the head of this year’s class of three-year-old Illinois bred filly trotters.

El Oh Govner (Mike Rogers) and Reign And Shine (Juan Franco) are the longshot hopefuls.

Take-Your-Pick: With the first Beulah Dygert packed with all the early leaders in the stake’s point standings, it leaves the ninth race second split a wide-open event with the winner’s 50 points shooting that particular trotting mare into a virtual lock to gain the Night of Champions final.

From the pole position out you’ll find Lous Cover Girl (Brandon Bates), Lous Flashy Dancer (Bobby Smolin), Tropical Rosie (Cordarius Stewart), High Queen Annie (Mike Oosting), Really Railee (Tyler Shehan), Fox Valley Lush (Todd Warren) She’s Got Moxy (Scott Robbins).

Recent Cardinal trot champion Crooked Creek (Mike Oosting) guns for his fourth consecutive Hawthorne victory tonight in a third leg of the Erwin  F. Dygert stake series for state-bred 3-year-old male trotters. (Four Footed Fotos)

Recent Cardinal trot champion Crooked Creek (Mike Oosting) guns for his fourth consecutive Hawthorne victory tonight in a third leg of the Erwin F. Dygert stake series for state-bred 3-year-old male trotters. (Four Footed Fotos)

Stablemates Tangle: The luck of the draw saw the Mike Brink stable’s current top two sophomore male trotters Crooked Creek (Mike Oosting) and Desert Sheik (Brandon Bates) both end-up in the first $15,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial stake series while last season’s ICF Two-Year-Year-Old Colt Trotter of the Year Fox Valley Quest found a softer spot in the eighth race second split for trainer Tom Simmons.

Trainer Steve Searle will send out pair of his three-year-old male trotters to take on Crooked Creek (programmed at 4-5) and Desert Sheik (listed at 5-1Bates), the longshot Cassy Chip (Casey Leonard) and Lou Paisano (Scott Robbins), a three-time winner at the meet. The first Erwin Dygert division is rounded out with Lou Paschal (Cordarius Stewart) and Easy EO (Tyler Shehan),

In Quest of Another: Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard) has been victorious in 12 of his first 18 career starts and will be a heavy favorite to make another winner’ circle stop after the second Erwin Dygert is over. He’ll open at odds of 4-5.

Two more Mike Brick trained sophomore trotting geldings, Fox Valley Briton (Todd Warren) and On Higher Ground (Kyle Wilfong) are among the six second division challengers. On Higher Ground was a runner-up in his first two legs of the Erwin Dygert.

Fox Valley Kobe (Mike Oosting), from the Jim Eaton Stable, has had some encouraging efforts when he’s stayed flat. Only a neck separated “Kobe” from the winner Desert Sheik in a first round Erwin Dygert contest back in mid-June.

Frazier (Jerome Daniels), Louisintuit (Juan Franco) and Mr Red Thunder (Richard S Finn) complete the eighth race field and each is looking for their first victory as a three-year-old.

Fox Valley Quest sits atop the “Erwin” standings with 100 points, accumulated with series division victories in the first two series legs.

“Lily” on a Roll: The circuit’s Open Pace for fillies and mares returns Sunday night after a week’s absence. The Frank Petrelli stable’s Lily Grace (pp 7, Casey Leonard) puts a four race winning streak on the line against seven other distaffers, including Tempus Seelster (pp 8, Travis Seekman), a two-time Hawthorne Open victor.

The tenth race Open was drawn by groups with the first three posts going to Delightfully Wild (Ryan Anderson), Hoosier Park invader Velocity McSweets (Mike Oosting) and Dee Rocks (Jamaica Patton). Pretty Image (Brandon Bates) landed the four while Black Jack Pat (Tyler Shehan) received the five. Over Speeding (Todd Warren) will leave from the six in search of her fifth Hawthorne win.

Husted Sidelined, Casey Behind “Exploit”

By Mike Paradise

It’s round three of the Plum Peachy stake series tonight and the first thing you’ll notice when the sixth race first $15,000 event rolls around is that Casey Leonard is driving the very likely post time favorite Fox Valley Exploit, replacing the talented filly’s trainer and co-owner Kyle Husted.

The 28-year-old Husted was one of three drivers who were sent tumbling down on the racetrack when a spill occurred last Friday night. The other two unseated drivers Casey Leonard and Tyler Shehan suffered bumps and bruises but were back driving the next evening.

However, Husted is still sidelined but says “I’m feeling better every day.”

“I landed on my left knee when I went down and it’s the same knee I had reconstructed surgery on over the winter. It’s still pretty sore. The hospital people told me to see a specialist to determine if it’s just banged up or if another surgery is needed. I plan on see one Monday. Hopefully it’s just a sprain and I’ll be back driving soon.”

 Fox Valley Exploit will be back in action Saturday night when she tries to stay unbeaten as a three-year-old in a $15,000 division of the Plum Peachy stake. Her regular driver(and trainer) Kyle Husted has been sidelined and Casey Leonard be at the lines of the filly tonight. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Exploit will be back in action Saturday night when she tries to stay unbeaten as a three-year-old in a $15,000 division of the Plum Peachy stake. Her regular driver(and trainer) Kyle Husted has been sidelined and Casey Leonard be at the lines of the filly tonight. (Four Footed Fotos)

Meanwhile Husted’s talented sophomore filly is in the capable hands tonight of the meet’s leading driver Casey Leonard, a spot the Harvard Illinois horseman has secured at Hawthorne the last four seasons.

While Husted’s fitness currently is not where he would like it to be his filly Fox Valley Exploit has been healthy and hearty, going three-for-three at the meet with a trio of state-bred stake triumphs.

No Peachy Surprises: Thus far at the meet the first two rounds of the Plum Peachy have gone as anticipated.

Last season’s ICF Filly Pacer of the Year Fox Valley Exploit was anticipated to be a strong candidate to her march to the Night of Champions and she’s been just that for the Kyle Husted stable and in some observers eyes, even better than excepted.

The Sportsmaster filly has been perfect, a confident winner in the Violet pace and both rounds of the Plum Peachy. Fox Valley Exploit has hauled in over $35,000 in her first trio of outings for Husted, who shares ownership of the filly with Michigander Dave Bringham. “Exploit” was sent off at overwhelming 1 to 9 odds in the June 27th Plum Peachy and returned a meager $2.10 mutuel.

The filly’s rivals Sleazy Gal and Sign Her Up had solid freshman campaigns and were projected to be Fox Valley Exploit’s strongest challengers in 2020 and they are living up to that billing.

Sleazy Gal has racked up 60 series points, the second best total among Plum Peachy eligible fillies with a victory and a third place finish. Sign Her Up, second best in last year’s Incredible Tillie Night of Champions showdown, follows with 50 points after consecutive stake series second place finishes.

Amazon Princess with 25 points and Style And Spirit with 20 currently occupy the fourth and fifth spots, respectively and a purse check finish tonight would solidify one, or both, to a starting berth on the Night of Champions. You’ll need a crystal ball to determine the possible remaining Plum Peachy finalists.

Top Three Square Off: Saturday’s first $15,000 Plum Peachy will see the three leading point earners in the standings square-off in the sixth race. They’ll leave from the three middle posts in the seven-horse field with Sleazy Gal (Kyle Wilfong) getting the three, Sign Her Up (Juan Franco) the four, and Fox Valley Exploit (Casey Leonard) starting from the five.

Umakeit Utakeit (pp1, Todd Warren), June Dale Gram (pp 2, Cordarius Stewart), Johnny’s Gal June (pp 6, Travis Seekman) and Style And Spirit (pp 7, Ridge Warren) are the longshot hopes.

While the eighth race second Plum Peachy doesn’t have the charisma of the first, there’s another $15,000 pot on the line and a chance for some fillies to make a lot of hay, and I don’t mean the kind they eat.

With 50 points going to the division’s first place finisher, 25 to the runner-up and an even dozen for the third horse, and so on, there is an opportunity for some gals to zoom up the point standings and maybe secure a starting berth in the Night of Champions final.

Here’s how the eighth race Plum Peachy will line-up: Dancin Eyes (Cornelius Cavett), Fox Valley Nia (Kyle Wilfong), Double Parked (Travis Seekman), Ashlees Fine Girl (Todd Warren), Amazon (Ridge Warren), Castielle (Casey Leonard) and Molly Hotspur (Cordarius Stewart).

Carey Results: He’zzz A Wise Sky $2.10) had no trouble winning last night’s first $15,000 Robert F. Carey stake series with a 1:53latc locking. Driver Bobby Smolin had the heavy favorite in fifth and last through the 57.2 first half and when asked for another gear, the Don Filomeno went from last to first in a quarter of a mile and was hand driven to the finish wire.

Western Perch (Kyle Wilfong) was second best, ending up one and one-half lengths behind the winner. Illini Force took third.

When the pre-stake favorite Fox Valley Ren was scratched due to sickness, the second Carey split suddenly became a wide-open affair. The Kimberly Roth trained Bagman ($10.40) came off the pace with driver Todd Warren and won the $15,000 event in 1:54.2, two full lengths ahead of runner-up Ryans Ambassador (Jim Molitor). The favorite RG’s Tracer was third, almost another two lengths behind.