By Mike Paradise
You’ve heard the phrase “fly on the wall” on numerous occasions nevertheless I want to borrow it one last time for my final column of the year.
In my case I would have loved to be “the fly on the wall” at last weekend’s annual Night of Champions get together at the Flacco Family Farms residence in Alexis, Illinois.
Not to eavesdrop on anyone’s conversations but instead to soak up the yelling and screaming going on as family and friends watched the Hawthorne races and the fist-pumping and hugs that followed when one of the farms home-bred horses crossed the finish line first . . . and that happen on three occasions.
First it was their Loulita taking the $88,000 Fox Valley Flan championship, the freshman filly’s sixth straight win, making her a very viable candidate for 2020 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors. The farm shares ownership of the talented filly with Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois.
A little later their Lousraptor proved best in the $67,000 Plesac older trotter final and another of the farm’s owned trotters, Louscardamon, finished second.
The Lou’s Legacy yearling that they did sell (for $52,000) when his moniker was Lou’s Obsession, later renamed Fistfullofsollars, and he came away with the $118,000 Kadabra championship.
“Every year we invite 20 to 25 people over to our place on the big racing night,” said Dr. Richard Flacco, the breeding farms owner and decision maker. “We put on a big spread and always have a great time.”
Did he say spread?
Heck, any fly would love to spend the evening being a pest and keep dive-bombing into the piles of scrumptious food.
“My wife (Arlene) makes the best meatballs,” continued the long-time family specialist doctor in the Galesburg, Illinois area. “I rather eat meatballs than cake.”
Now that’s my kind of guy.
From a modest beginning early on in this century, Flacco Family Farms has become a major stalwart of this state’s breeding industry, producing one Illinois champion after another with the emphasis on trotters.
The star of the Flacco Family Farms is their trotting stallion Lou’s Legacy, who has given the family enterprise, and Illinois harness racing, in recent years the likes of Louzotic, Loulita, Lous Abigail, Lousraptor, Lougazi, White Pants Fever, all under the care of trainer Steve Searle, while the son of Windsong’s Legacy, out of the Meadow Road broodmare Lady Love mare was being honored as the Illinois Trotting Stallion of the Year in 2016, 2018 and 2019 and would get my vote, if I had one, for 2020 as well.
Lous Legacy was acquired by Flacco Family Farms in early 2013 and he was a bit of a gamble to be an effective money-maker as a trotting stallion.
“The previous owners asked me if I knew the horse had a low fertility rate and I told them that I did. I thought I could do a few things that might help the trotter and he’s turned out to be just unbelievable for us. His fertility rate is like 10 times better than it was when we got him.
“Lou’s Legacy was bred to 65 mares last year and 50 got into foal. He’s just done unbelievably well as a stallion for us. In my family practice as a doctor I’ve been involved in the fertility of humans and I have used some of that knowledge in my horse breeding business.”
In the three years prior to joining Flacco Family Farms, Lous Legacy was bred to a total of only 32 mares. In 2020 that number has zoomed to up 73 for the Flacco family. In 2019 Lou’s Legacy’s offspring earned $983,173. Last year it was $834,747 with two-year-old trotters bringing in almost $425,000 of that amount.
Dr. Flacco also says much of the breeding farms success comes from “teamwork.”
“Everyone here has a role to play for the farm to do well. I make it a point to listen to everyone who has a thought about the farm or an opinion that they think could make things better, and that includes our employees. I welcome everybody’s input. In the end I do make the final decision.”
The Philadelphia native knows all too well the importance of communication. After all, he’s been a successful family doctor for over 50 years.
Dr. Flacco graduated from the Drexel (Pennsylvania) University College of Medicine in 1969. He served his residency in the Air Force at the now decommissioned (1993) Chanute base in Rantoul, Illinois and he continues this practice in Galesburg, Illinois while specializing in Family Medicine.
This will be my final article for this year. God willing I’ll be back in 2021 covering the next Hawthorne harness racing meet. Until then, my sincere thanks for being an IHHA web-site reader.
By Mike Paradise
For many ICF pacers and trotters this year’s Illinois racing season isn’t quite over yet. Instead they’ll compete in Saturday’s Fall Classic raced on the State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture Horse Racing Division had allocated $50,000 in purse money for today’s Fall Classic, attracting many of the top state-bred horses in their respective state-bred divisions. All together 20 races will be run off starting at 11:30 Saturday morning, each with a $2,500 pot.
The first race opener for two-year-old Illinois bred pacers looks like a good one.
In the six horse field are the Nick Prather trained Bootsy Bombay, winner of last weekend’s $80,000 Incredible Tillie Championship and the Mike Brink stable’s Hart’s Heart who finished August off with back-to-back victories in the $32,000 State Fair final and the $29,000 Director’s Award stake. Both freshmen are daughters of Major Bombay.
Regular driver Juan Franco will take Hart’s Heart away from the six-slot while Casey :Leonard (pp 2), gets the catch drive behind Bootsy Bombay with the filly’s usual pilot Travis Seekman not available today.
Another Night of Champion winner goes to the gate in race six when the Plum Peachy champ Fox Valley Exploit tries to solidify her chances for 2020 Horse of the Year for Kyle Husted, the driver, trainer and co-owner of the Sportsmaster filly.
Fox Valley Husted is 8-for-9 in her sophomore season with over $130,000 banked for Husted and Michigander David Brigham. The ICF filly has won 13 of 18 in her first two seasons and hauled in over $215,000.
Don Filomeno’s He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) goes after his fifth consecutive win in the three-year-old male pacing division in race eight. The colt won the recent Carey stake in 1:51.3, equaling his lifetime mark set a few weeks earlier in the $29,000 Governor’s Cup.
The Flacco Family Farms home-bred Lous Abigail (Casey Leonard) will try to avenge her loss to the Mike Rogers trained Beulah Dygert champion El Oh Govner in the first division of the 3-year-old filly trot (race nine). Lous Abigail had won five straight before being upset on the Night of Champions.
The top two sophomore trotting geldings, Erwin Dygert titleholder Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard) and runner-up Crooked Creek (Todd Warren) go their separate ways today. Fox Valley Quest competes in the first division while Crooked Creek heads up the second split.
The 18th race Fall Classic ICF four-year-old and up mare trot may be short on quantity with four starters bur certainly not on quality with the gifted distaffers Louzotic (Kyle Husted) and Annas Lucky Star both entered.
The Steve Searle trained Louzotic, now four, sports a lifetime record of 24 wins in 42 lifetime starts and over $275,000 earned while the six-year-old Annas Lucky Star goes after career win No. 40 in this, her 74th lifetime outing for the Nelson Willis stable. She’s made over $400,000.
Between them these two Illinois Harness Hall of Fame candidates have combined to win 63 races in 115 trips postward, an remarkable 55 per cent winning clip.
In a recent conversation with Annas Lucky Star’s owner and breeder Danny Graham, the longtime southern Illinois horseman said he plans to race his star trotter at Hoosier Park now that Illinois racing season is over.
“I plan on breeding “Anna” in 2021 but that was the plan this year and I changed my mind,” said Danny. “And I thought she raced just as good this season as she ever did.”
So, let’s not etch Danny’s future plans for Annas Lucky Star in stone just yet.
By Mike Paradise
The leading trainer at the recently concluded Hawthorne meet wasn’t determined until the last race, the 15th, on the final program this past Sunday night.
When it was all over Springfield based horseman Mike Brink came away with the trainer title by one scant winner over Steve Searle, 48 to 47. Brink also won the Hawthorne trainer crown in 2017.
Brink had a 20.6 winning clip a Hawthorne while Searle won with 19.6 per cent of the horses he sent out. Interestingly, the bread and butter of both barns are trotters.
“I get more satisfaction developing and racing trotters,” said Brink. “They’re more of a challenge and now days in Illinois you have a better chance to make money with a trotter than a pacer.”
It was Brink’s two-year-old Kadabra champion winner Fistfullofdollars on the Night of Champions that proved to be the difference in winning the training title or ending up in a first place tie.
Fistfullofdollars was the sale topper at the 2019 Illinois Classic Sale with a $52,000 price tag when his name was Lou’s Obsession, a lot of money for an ICF trotter. However it was a gamble that paid off when the son of Lou’s Legacys came away with the Kadabra’s a first place check of $53,100 for his Illinois owners Brink (Springfield), Darin Taurmear (Liberty) and Jeffrey Clauson (Macomb) and Mark Brown (Chatham).
“He’s a talented young trotter,” said Brink in the winner’s circle after the Kadabra championship.
“I think this year we just had a bunch of good horses in the barn and that helped a lot getting the number of wins that we did. When you have a good horse (Crooked Creek) that wins 4 or 5 in a row that also makes a big difference.”
On the Night of Champions Brink sent out six horses, all trotters, and five delivered lucrative purse checks. Besides Firstfullofdollars victory, the 50-1 longshot Celone Hall was second in the Beulah Dygert final, and Crocked Creek, On Higher Ground and Desert Sheik, finished second third and fourth, in that order, to the Erwin Dygert winner Fox Valley Quest.
Mike took his time bringing along Fistfullofdollars, all the while with the Kadabra championship the goal. The Flacco Family Farms bred youngster made only five starts in his freshman season and his first didn’t come about until of the middle of August.
Brink is in the midst of a very nice run as far as his horse’s purse revenue. This is the eighth consecutive year horses from his barn has gone over the $400,000 mark in money won for a season. Mike’s best year was in 2017 with $717,414 in earnings.
Casey Keeps Rolling Along: Since Hawthorne took over in 2016 as the state’s only track with an extended harness racing meeting, Casey Leonard has been its leading driver every year.
Even a math flunky like myself can figure out that’s five straight seasons with Casey on top of the driver standings. And since the Harvard, Illinois native also captured last three driver titles at Maywood Park before it went under, that’s eight consecutive Chicago circuit driving championship campaigns for the now 43-year-old who at one time was reluctant to be a full-time Illinois driver.
I remember about 10 or 11 years ago chatting with Casey at Maywood Park when he made the rather reluctant decision to become a full time harness racing driver on the Chicago circuit. He has since developed into one of the most sought after drivers by Illinois owners and trainers.
“I preferred training horses than driving them because I like being home at night with my wife Maureen and our son Cayden. But when so many of our top drivers left for the east coast there were more and more opportunities to make some good money so I decided to do it.”
Needless to say all of us in the Illinois Standardbred industry Casey are extremely delighted that he did.
Casey is a third-generation horseman. His grandfather, the late Bud Leonard is in the Illinois Harness Hall of Fame, and his father Terry is a long-time successful driver and trainer.