By Mike Paradise
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.
“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.