Casey, Flacco Family Farms Shine on NOC

By Mike Paradise

 

Hawthorne’s perennial leading driver Casey Leonard was the star of the 2021 Night of Champions, bringing home four winning horses on Illinois’ premier evening of harness racing.

 

It was also another memorable gala night for Flacco Family Farms, the breeder of a quartet of Night of Champion winners—Funky Wiggle, Ryans Loan Shark, Rndmnunpredictable and Lousdobb.

 

Here’s how it all folded on Saturday night.

 

  Count On It: When the money is on the line, count on the gritty Fox Valley Gemini to arrive in time. Yea, I just made that goodie up, but it’s certainly has been true when Hawthorne’s Night of Champion rolls around.

 

Driver Casey Leonard gave the ICF six-year-old pacer a perfect two-hole trip behind the 3-5 favorite He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong) and when Casey pulled the ear plugs in the lane on the star of the Terry Leonard stable, the popular state-bred pacer uncorked a strong move to notch the $84,000 Robert S. Molero Memorial championship for the third consecutive year.

 

Saturday night’s game victory was the fifth straight on the Night of Champions for Fox Valley Gemini. The Jim Ballinger owned pacer also won as a two-year-old in the Incredible Finale final in 2017 and the 2018 Robert F. Carey championship at three.

 

As expected He’zzz A Wise Guy cut all the fractions, going to a 27.2 first quarter, a 55 flat half and zipping past the three-quarter pole in 1:22.1 with Fox Valley Gemini ($5.00) right behind him, maybe licking his chops.

 

“Gemini” 45th career victory, by 2 and 1/2 lengths, came in 1:50 flat for his Atwater, Illinois owner and lifted the son of Yankee Skyscraper’s lifetime earnings to over $580,000. Fox Valley Ren (Juan Franco) finished full of pace to edge He’zzz A Wise Sky for the second place money.

 

In Record Time: The Curt Grummel stable’s Funky Wiggle not only blew away the competition in the $120,5000 Fox Valley Flan Final but she did it in track record time for a 2-year-old trotting filly with her 1:57.2 clocking.

 

Driver Kyle Wilfong hustled the Lou’s Legacy progeny out from the six-slot, won the early battle for the lead, and it turned out, secured the ICF championship as well after trotting leisurely fractions of 29.4 and 59 flat to the half.

 

Armbro Lark (Charles Arthur) raced in third much of the way and came at Funky Wiggle in the stretch, however the $3.00 winner had plenty left, pulling away by three lengths at the end of the mile for her owner and breeder Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois.

 

Digging In: A determined Ryans Loan Shark, nicely handled by driver Travis Seekman, got his neck in front at the finish wire ahead of the pacesetting 1-2 favorite Ideal Big Guy (Case Leonard) and captured the $79,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Final for trainer Jim Molitor.

 

There was no doubt Saturday’s much better draw to the pole position, unlike the 9-hole in last week’s leg four of the series, was a huge plus for the son of the sire Ryan N Hanover.

 

Seekman urged the 3-year-old state-bred pacer out at the start, as did Casey with Ideal Big Guy (pp 7,) and likewise Ridge Warren with his Terry Leonard stablemate Partyatmosasplace (pp 8).

 

Ideal Big Guy paced the first panel in 28.3 and with Seekman closing the gap between his horse and the leader, Partyatmosasplace was hung out on the backside and started to retreat before the half (57 flat).

 

In the last sixteenth of the mile, it appeared Ideal Big Guy was going to hold on nevertheless Ryans Loan Shark and Seekman had another outcome in mind.

 

The 1:56.2 victory in the ICF sophomore male showdown was the fourth of the season for Ryans Big Guy and his Illinois owners Flacco Family Farms (Alexis), Dave Falzone, and conditioner Jim Molitor, both of Chicago.

 

Picking His Spots: The 31-year-old Michigan native Travis Seekman drove his second consecutive Night of Champs winner when Talk About Valor turned the tables on last week’s Plesac elimination victor Annas Luck Star.

 

The Gerald Hansen trained six-year-old gelding received a pocket trip, just as he did eight nights earlier when he was second best to Annas Lucky Star, but this time he proved faster in the lane than his ICF rival, winning by about one length in 1:55.3 owner Shelley Steele.

 

Health issues kept Talk About Valor out of the 2020 Please championship and the gelding’s horses were spaced out this year in hopes of having the full brother to the 2017 Erwin F. Dygert champion Picky Picky Valor ready this time around.

 

Talk About Valor concluded his racing season with six wins in nine starts with over $70,000 in money won for his Monee, Illinois owner.

 

When It Counts: The three-year-old filly trotter Breeze At Sunset is a prime example of the old adage “It’s not how you start that counts, it’s how you finish.”

 

The Southwind Breeze filly went unplaced in her first four outings of her sophomore campaign and then proceeded to win 8 of her last 10 starts, including Saturday’s $68,500 Beulah Dygert Memorial for Illinois bred filly trotters with regular driver Atlee Bender at her lines.

 

The Erv Miller trained filly shot out from the outside seven-slot as did BC’s Rose (pp 1, Kyle Wilfong) and Loulita (pp 3). Bender had to take the three-hole as Loulita had command and trotted to a 59.2 half with BC’s Rose right behind her.

 

Loulita started to shorten her stride in the late going and BC’s Rose went past her, however Breeze At Sunset poured it on in the late going for a 2 and 1/2 length victory in 1:58 flat.

 

Breeze At Sunset is owned by Bowie Racing LLC (Douglas Overhiser) of Shorewood, Illinois.

 

Easy Does It: The $97,500 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Championship figured to be a close contest just as last week’s series legs and both State Fair championships were . . . nonetheless it didn’t turn out that way.

 

The Flacco Family Farms owned Rndmnunpredictable and driver Casey Leonard were all by themselves at the end of the 1:59.2 mile, winning by almost nine lengths.

 

The Steve Searle trained winner saw his chief rivals Coco D’Lascito and Sunbodygetdisfool take turns with the lead through the first half (58.3) of the three-year-old trotting stake for colts and geldings.

 

Meanwhile Casey Leonard bided his time in the early going and had a horse full of trot for the last half of the mile, rolling past in what became a cakewalk for the son of Lou’s Legacy.

 

Longshots Loyz Say When (Marcus Miller) and Shady Maple Spirit (Juan Franco) finished a non-threatening second and third, respectively.

 

  It’s Another Lou Lou: It was another patience drive by Casey Leonard that produced the first double-digit winner on the program when he guided the 10-1 longshot Lousdobb ($23.40) to the two-year-old gelding’s triumph in the $114,000 Kadabra championship.

 

It was the second consecutive Night of Champions winner for the Illinois trio of driver Casey Leonard (Harvard), trainer Steve Searle (Grant Park) and breeders Flacco Family Farms (Alexis).

 

Lou’s Di Nominte (Kyle Wilfong) had command through most of the race with the betting favorite Fox Valley Cairo (Ridge Warren) right behind him while Casey was content to have Lousdobb) racing in  sixth, some nine lengths off the pace.

 

Fox Valley Cairo collared Lou’s Di Nomite by mid-stretch while Lousdobb was gobbling up the ground. Another Lou’s Legacy offspring, Lousdobb powered past with a new career mark of 1:58.4 for owners Flacco Family Farms and All-Wright Racing LLC of Morton, Illinois.

 

Lou’s Di Nomite finished second and Romantic Warrior (Gary Rath) came on for third.

 

 

Fox Valley Gemini made ii five consecutive championship victories Saturday on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions. (Four Footed Foto)

Doing It the Hard Way: Despite a grueling wide mile and having to race three-wide in the last turn the Gary Rath stable’s Fox Valley Ozzy got the job done in the $138,000 Incredible Finale championship for freshman pacing colts and geldings.

 

The World Of Rocknroll gelding was Casey Lenard’s fourth Night of Champions winner on the card. Fox Valley Ozzy covered the mile in 1:54 flat and worn down the early leaders Get E Up (Kyle Husted) and Kingofmyheart (Marcus), who finished third and second, in that order.

 

It looked like a cavalry charge in the early going with several horses sprinting out and from the eight slot Fox Valley Ozzy found himself parked out from the get-go. Nevertheless “Ozzy” persevered for his eighth victory in 10 season starts for Marengo, Illinois owners Stephan Mc Mackin and David Lee Samuelson.

 

Sweet Victory: Trainer Jim Molitor made a return visit to the winner’s circle when his 2-year-old filly pacer Apple Valley took the Incredible Tillie championship in 1:55.1 by one and one-half lengths.

 

Driver Kyle Wilfong dropped the Major Bombay filly into sixth in the early going as Fox Valley Captiva (Marcus Miller) and Dandy’s MBM (Kyle Husted) took turns on the front end.

 

Wilfong moved the $3.40 winner out of sixth on the backside and Apple Valley took air from that point on and still made a strong surge inside the sixteenth pole for her fourth win in seven first season starts for owner Michael Perrin of Glenwood, Illinois.

 

Bombs Away: The biggest upset of the evening came when Bootsy Bombay, driven by Kyle Husted, popped at almost 12-1 odds in the $76,000 Plum Peachy final for sophomore pacing fillies.

 

It was the first win of the year for the Nick Prather trainee who was almost five lengths the best for Peoria, Illinois owner James Greer. Bootsy Bombay was also the Night of Champions victor as a 2-year-old.

 

Bootsy Bombay ($25.40) was parked past the first quarter pole (28.3) before Husted was able to drop the Major Bombay filly into third. Kyle was able to squeeze his filly out in the last turn and once the field straightened out, Bootsy Bombay rolled past with authority.

 

The overwhelming favorite Hart’s Heart (Kyle Wilfong) was the bridesmaid on this night while Clearly The Bomb (Travis Seekman) took third.

 

Clearly the Best: Kyle Husted’s Fox Valley Exploit continued her dominance against other ICF fillies or mares by drawing off to a five-length romp in the $66,000 Tony Maurello Memorial championship.

 

The 1:53.1 mile gave the four-year-old Sportsmaster mare her third consecutive win on the Night of Champions, having captured the Incredible Tillie at two and the Plum Peachy at three for Husted and co-owner David Brigham of Litchfield, Michigan.

 

Fox Valley Exploit grabbed the early lead, gave it up to Allbeastnobeauty (Todd Warren) and then came out of second before the 57.2 half and left her nine rivals in 7he dust for win No. 7 of the year and increased her career bankroll to $292,107.

 

   It’s closing night Sunday for the 2021 Hawthorne meeting. God willing, I’ll be back writing about Illinois harness racing for my 49th consecutive year when the 2022 winter meet begins the first week of January.  Until then, stay healthy, and thanks for being a IHHA web-site reader.

Who’s Going Home a Champion?

By Mike Paradise

 

It’s hard to believe that nearly five months of harness racing is already behind us but here we are with Hawthorne’s Night of Champions upon us.

 

It’s already the 25th of September and thankfully, unlike last year when we had to endure rain and a sloppy racetrack for much of the evening, the weatherman says he’ll be much more cooperative this time around.

 

Eleven championships for ICF pacers or trotters of both sexes will be decided and right from the get-go we’ll see if the 2020 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky (pp 7, Kyle Wilfong) can take a major step to successfully defend that illustrious title.

 

The $64, 500 Robert S. Molaro Memorial championship jump starts the much-anticipated racing program. He’zzz A Wise Sky easily won last week’s Molaro prep. You can expect tonight’s pace to be much quicker, but the result could very well be the same.

 

Three-time Illinois Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini (pp 6, Casey Leonard) is the obvious danger. He does own a couple of wins over the star of the John Filomeno stable and the right kind of trip might see him get the job done tonight.

 

Fox Valley Reno (pp 2, Juan Franco) could offer fair wagering value from the inside.

 

Mike Pick: He’zzz A Wise Sky

 

The Curt Grummel trained 2-year-old filly totter Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wilfong) goes after fifth consecutive victory in the $120,500 Fox Valley Flan Championship tonight. (Four Footed Fotos)

The $120,000 Fox Valley Flan final should see much of the play going to the speedball Armbro Lark (pp 1, Charles Arthur) and Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wilfong), currently on a four-race winning streak for trainer Curt Grummel.

 

Armbro Lark got nipped in the final strides last week by Funky Wiggle. Can she get revenge tonight? There’s 10 times the purse money on the line. She’s certainly capable.

 

And what about the Herman Wheeler trained Creations Dream MV who appears to have gotten sharp at the correct time? Then there’s Louzotic’s younger sister Lous Xanadu (pp 3, Casey Leonard) who has the pedigree to pull off an upset tonight.

 

Mike’s Pick: Funky Wiggle  

 

For the last two months Ideal Big (Casey Leonard) and Ryans Loan Shark (Travis Seekman) have been trading victories in ICF stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings.

 

Last week Ideal Big Guy got an easy lead from the pole position and was never pressured, coasting to a comfortable victory over his rival.

 

However, Ryan’s Loan Shark last week went from an inside slot to the nine-hole after a “revised” draw, a day after the initial card was posted, and the ICF pacer did well to be second best.

 

Call it “Karma” is you wish but for tonight’s Robert F. Carey Memorial final it’s Ryans Loan Shark starting from the inside post one and Ideal Big Guy landing the seven.

 

I expect Ideal Big Guy to go out and maybe even get command again. Nevertheless, this time Ryans Loan Shark should be in better position for the stretch drive.

 

The question mark horse is Frontier Charley (pp 2, Todd Warren). The 2020 freshman colt Night of Champions winner has had health issues this year and didn’t make his first start until the State Fair meetings. Last week he was bet down to 5-2 after making a break at Du Quoin and raced poorly. Will he be a “stud” tonight or a “dud?”

 

It’s your call.

 

Mike’s Pick: Ryans Loan Shark

 

The fourth race Plesac championship for ICF trotters ages three and up looks to be a very competitive race.

 

Annas Lucky Star (pp 6, Kyle Wilfong) was a strong front-end winner in her elimination and could have command again. Talk About Valor (pp 2, Travis Seekman) didn’t have the same big effort as he did earlier in September with an Open win from the 10-hole but that can change tonight.

 

Louzotic (pp 1, Casey Leonard) has another nice endeavor but found the eastern invader Cruzen Cass (pp 5, Todd Warren) too tough in her elimination heat,

 

Meanwhile both veterans Primed N Powerful (pp 3, Cordarius Stewart) and Louscaramon (Kyle Husted) performed well in defeat.

 

  Mike’s Pick: Talk About Valor

 

With five consecutive triumphs and doing it both on and off the pace, the Erv Miller stable’s Breeze At Sunset (Atlee Bender) will be hard to defeat even with the outside seven slot in the Beulah Dygert Memorial $68,500 contest.

 

A daughter of Southwind Breeze, the very likely heavy favorite faces a half-dozen three-year-old daughters of the ICF champion broodmare Lou’s Legacy, headed up by the Steve Searle trainee Loulita, beaten by only a neck by Breeze At Sunday in their Beulah Dygert elimination.

 

Mike’s Pick: Breeze At Sunset

 

The trio of last week’s first three finishers in final leg of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial—Sombodygetdisfool, Rndmnunoredictable and  Coco’s D’ Lascito—weren’t separated by much at the end of a 2:00.2 mile and that could be the case again in tonight’s $97,500 championship for 3-year-old state bred male sophomore trotters.

 

Interestingly, the same three trotters will line up tonight alongside each other with the 3, 4 and 5 posts, with Sumbodygetdisfool (Todd Warren) in the middle between the tonight’s likely pacesetter Coco D’ Lascito (J D Finn) and Rndmnunpredictable (Casey Leonard).

 

Tonight, expect a faster pace and a quicker final mile time.

 

  Mike’s Pick: Rndmnunpredictable

 

Fox Valley Cairo (Ridge Warren) from the Mike Brink stable is the pre-stake favorite in tonight’s $114,000 Kadabra Championship for state-bred three-year-old trotting colts and geldings. (Four Footed Fotos)

With championship victories at both Du Quoin and Springfield as well as triumphs in his last two legs of the Kadabra, the Mike Brick stable’s Fox Valley Cairo (pp 4, Ridge Warrior) should receive most of the backing from the betting public in the $114,00 final for ICF two-year-old colt and gelding trotters,

 

The Herman Wheeler freshman colt First And Goal (pp 5, Kyle Husted) does come off a convincing victory in his series leg a week ago and might be in peaking at the right time.

 

Trainer Curt Grummel sends out a pair of consistent youngers in Lou’s Di Nomite (Kyle Wilfong), third or better in 9 of 11 season starts, and Lousdobb (pp 8, Casey Leonard) who has hit the board in 7 of his 9 career outings.

Between them they’ve only missed one purse check each.

 

Mike’s Pick: Fox Valley Cairo

 

The $138,000 Incredible Finale championship for ICF juvenile pacing males brings out the two youngsters that between them have dominated the state-bred freshman ranks—Fox Valley Ozzy (pp 8, Casey Leonard) and Get E Up (pp 6, Kyle Husted).

 

The Gary Rath stable’s Fox Valley Ozzy went undefeated in his first six starts before the Kyle Husted trained Get E Up beat him twice at Springfield.

 

However, after Get E Up made it four straight wins with championships at both the Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fairs, Fox Valley Ozzy returned the favor in last week’s last Incredible Series leg with his seventh trip to a winner’s circle.

 

It’s a given those two will receive the bulk of the play but let’s not discount their opposition of Cole Thornton, Frontier Bombay, Major Grin, Magazine Theme, Pericles, Kingofmyheart, Bigday Bombay and Fox Valley Crete,

 

  Mike Pick: Fox Valley Ozzy

 

Lady Bombay (Atlee Bender), shown here winning a division of the Director’s Award stake a Du Quoin, goes postward tonight in the $117,000 Incredible Tillie championship. (Four Footed Fotos)

The two-year-old Illinois bred pacing filly division has been the most topsy turvy of any of the Night of Champions groupings.

 

Rmissashlee (pp 10, Ridge Warren) earned the post series points (125) of the 10 finalists. Dandy’s DMN (pp 7, Kyle Husted) was an earlier series leg winner and took a division of the Director’s Award at Du Quoin. Lady Bombay (pp 4, Atlee Bender) proved best in the other Director’s Award split for trainer Ertv Miller and might offer fair wagering value.

 

Then there’s Rollnroz, (pp 9, Archie Buford) winner of leg two of the Incredible Tillie series and this season’s Springfield champion. Let’s not forget about Apple Valley (pp 5, Kyle Wilfong) with only five career starts but victories in two “Tillie” series legs. She has a big shot too.

 

Also, Swanky Diamond (pp 1, Casey Leonard) notched her maiden victory last week in her Incredible Tillie series leg, Eris, Pattycake Mooss, Fox Valley Captiva and Iwannarocknroll all have hopes of a surprise victory tonight.

 

Mike’s Pick: Apple Valley

 

The center of attention in the $75,000 Plum Peachy championships for sophomore filly pacers is Hart’s Heart who won all four legs of her Night of Champions series and the Du Quoin’s Time Dancer final as well for trainer Mike Brink.

 

However, Hart’s Heart (Kyle Wilfong) didn’t draw well for tonight’s Plum Peachy showdown with the nine-post, and she did lose to Scorecard Dandy (pp 2, Juan Franco) at Springfield.

 

Hart’s Heart has been hammered at the betting widows in her last four trips postward and that may be the case again. But is she a shoo-in tonight?

 

  Mike’s Pick: Hart’s Heart

 

The crème of the Illinois bred aged pacing mares put on the show in the championship of the night. It’s the $68,500 Tony Marello Memorial final with a 10-horse field.

 

As we pointed out in yesterday’s story, it gives us the unusual situation of watching full sisters, Fox Valley Exploit (pp 3, Kyle Husted) and Allbeastnobeauty (pp 10, Todd Warren) slugging it out.

 

Both distaffers won 2020 Night of Champions stake events. Allbeastnobeauty is the defending Maurello champion. Fox Valley Exploit took the 3-year-old Plum Peachy championship. Tonight’s draw certainly favors the 4-year-old sister over her older 6-year-old sibling.

 

We probably will see some swift early fractions and that could set things up for perhaps a surprise ending from Maurello hopefuls Ashlee’s Joy, Dune Dame, My Uptown Girl, Shelly In My Mind, the 2019 Maurello winner Skeeter Machine, or Fox Valley Lolo, Harper, or Rollin Coal.

 

  Mike’s Pick: Fox Valley Exploit

 

Sit back and enjoy this very special night of Illinois harness racing.

 

Casey on a Roll: Primo Giovanni, owned by the Engel Stable of Illinois (Northbrook) came from eight lengths off the pace at the half and powered past to capture last night’s third race $12,000 Open Pace in 1:51.1.

 

The six-year-old gelding is trained by Terry Leonard and was one of four consecutive driving wins for his son Casey on the nine-race program.

Sisters Tangle on Night of Champions

By Mike Paradise

 

It was a year ago when the distaff pacers Fox Valley Exploit and Allbeastnobeauty made Illinois history by each winning championships on the same Super Night program.

 

The then three-year-old Fox Valley Exploit completed her sweep of the Plum Peachy stake series for driver-trainer Kyle Husted on Hawthorne’s 2020 Night of Championships and later that evening her older sister Allbeastnobeauty captured the Tony Maurello Memorial crown for aged mares with conditioner Todd Warren at her lines.

 

This time around those two siblings will instead go head-to-head with eight other state bred fillies or mares in this year’s $65,000 Tony Maurello Memorial championship.

 

The family showdown comes about in Saturday’s last race on the 2021 Night of Champions, one of 11 ICF championships to be decided.

 

Both Fox Valley Exploit and Allbeastnobeauty were sired by Sportsmaster and are the daughters of The Big Dog broodmare She Likes It All, the 2005 winner of Balmoral’s three-year-old Hanover stake back in 2005 for Joe Anderson.

 

 

Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted) shows her winning form in a Tony Maurello Memorial stake elimination last week. She’ll open as the favorite in tonight’s $66,500 Final. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Exploit, owned jointly by Husted and David Brigham of Litchfield, Michigan, won her Maurello elimination last week in 1:53.1 by two and one-half lengths while well in hand to her Altamont, Illinois driver and trainer.

 

Fox Valley Exploit will go to the post Saturday night with a $259,607 career bankroll in less than three years of racing. The now four-year-old mare has won 20 of 37 lifetime starts and boasts a remarkable 68.1 per cent winning clip when in strictly ICF races.

 

 

Allbeastnobeauty also was a comfortable winner in her $15,000 Maurello elimination, pacing her mile in 1:53.1 in front-steeping fashion for Warren.

 

The Illinois bred older sister was good as a two- and three-year-old but has been even better as an aged pacing mare.

 

In her freshman campaign Allbeastnobeauty made close to $49,000 when she raced out of the barn of Springfield horseman Mike Brink. Almost $19,000 of that total came with her third-place finish in the Incredible Tillie.

 

In her second season she hauled in $101,947 while winning both $25,000 State Fair finals at Springfield and Du Quoin. Allbeastnobeauty went into a sale in November of that year and was purchased by the Virgil Morgan stable.

 

Allbeastnobeauty notched victories in three Ohio Opens in 2020 at the Daytona Raceway, raking in more than $109,000 as a four-year-old.

 

Defending Tony Maurello champion Allbeastnobeauty (Todd Warren) showed a week ago she’s ready for tonight’s showdown against her younger sister Fox Valley Exploit. (Four Footed Fotos)

Last year at the age of five she competed the first half of the season in Ohio before joining the Todd Warren stable in May when her racing fortunes really took off.

 

After a third-place finish in a Hawthorne Open Allbeastnobeauty uncorked a five-race winning streak for her Indiana owners Brookside Stable (Grabill) and Keith Ravis (Leo) that included a pair of Chicago circuit Opens and victories in both her Maurello elimination and its $68,000 final.

 

The draw certainly went better for the younger sister in Saturday’s showdown.  Fox Valley Exploit landed the three slot while Allbeastnobeauty is on the outside looking in with the 10-hole.

 

Even though the two sisters will get plenty of play at the betting windows, the Maurello championship is by no means a two-horse race.

 

A solid field of mares await the siblings by way of Ashlee’s Joy, Dune Dane, My Uptowne Girl, Shelly On My Mind, Skeeter Machine, Fox Valley Lolo, Harper, and Rollin Coal.

 

As we all know anything can happen once the starting card draws away. That’s why we call it gambling.

 

Marcus In Town: Former Chicago circuit driving champion Marcus Miller is back in his home state Saturday to handle some horses in Night of Champions events.

 

The now 32-year-old Olney, Illinois native has driven more than 2,000 horses in a season for eight consecutive years, winning more than 200 times in seven of those campaigns, dipping below 200 only during last year’s Covid shortened racing season.

 

Marcus will finish this year with more than $3 million in purse money won for the eighth straight year.

 

Saturday’s matchups between Marcus and Atlee Bender may very well be the first time they’ve competed against each other in a pari-mutuel race as brother-in-laws.

 

Here’s An Oddity: Saturday’s fifth race Beulah Dygert Memorial championship will see the likely betting favorite Breeze At Sunset (Atlee Bender) as the only three-year-old filly in the seven horse field not a daughter of the Flacco Family Farm’s highly successful Illinois sire Lou’s Legacy.

 

Breeze At Sunset is by the Prairie State stallion Southwind Breeze. BC’s Rose, Ting Ting, Loulita, Lous Livia, Lou Lou Lamour, and Lous Voodoo Woman are all by Lou’s Legacy.

Three-Year-Old NOC Fields Settled

By Mike Paradise

 

The finalists for next Saturday’s three-year-old Night of Champion events were determined last night after a quartet of $15,000 final series legs were completed, each with a $15,000 pot on the line.

 

First up was the Robert F. Carey Memorial stake series for sophomore pacing colts and geldings where Ideal Big Guy (Casey Leonard) led from start to finish with a new lifetime mark of 1:54.4. The 14-1 longshot BC’s Tufftiger (Archie Buford) enjoyed a pocket trip and finished second, beaten two lengths.

 

Ideal Big Guy’s victory was his fourth of the year for Illinois owners Dandy Farms Racing (Glenview), Peter Kouchis (Palos Hills), Martin Buckley (Plainfield) and trainer Terry Leonard (Harvard).

 

Ideal Big Guy ($6.40) finished on top of the final Carey standings with 136 points earned. Unofficially, also qualifying for Saturday’s $85,000 championship were Ryans Loan Shark, Partyamosasplace, Bombay Bobby, BC’s Tufftiger, Diamond Diesel, Sportsnadness, Prince Of Style and Mekkas Big Guy.

 

Three other pacers, Frontier Charley, Sagebrush Skip, and Ashlee’s Fine Guy tied for the 10th and final spot with a single point each.

 

Sumbodygetdisfool (Todd Warren) is shown ready to get his head in front of Rndmnunpredictable (Casey Leonard) at the finish of last night’s Erwin F. Dygert Memorial stake series leg. (Four Footed Foto)

  No Contest: Next up on Saturday evening was the Plum Peachy for second season ICF pacing fillies and it was strictly no contest as the overwhelming 1 to 5 favorite Hart’s Heart won for fun with regular driver Kyle Wilfong at her lines.

 

Princess Moose (Ridge Warren) was a non-threatening second, beaten five lengths, while Scorecard Dandy (Juan Franco) came on for third.

 

Owned and bred by Donna Crebs (Cantral, Illinois) and her sister Judy Conzo (Lincoln, Illinois), the front-stepping Hart’s Heart won for the sixth time this season.

 

The Mike Brink trained Hart’s Hart swept all four legs of the Plum Peachy series for a total of 200 points. By my math, also eligible for the Night of Champions final are Princess Moose, Scorecard Dandy, Kandi’s Fortune, Bootsy Bombay, Ryans Secret, Asad Da Pacea, Dandy’s Duchess, Clearly The Bomb and Pure Sin.

 

What a Finish: The $15,000 last leg of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial stake series turned out to be a heck of a finish as Sumbodygetdisfool (Todd Warren) got up in the final stride to gain a head decision over a game Rndmudpredictable (Casey Leonard).

 

The 4-5 pacesetting favorite Coco D’ Lascito (J D Finn) was third best in the 2:00.2 mile.

 

The Steve Searle trained Rndmnunpredictable was seventh, almost 10 lengths behind at the 30 second first quarter, before he was sent after the leader, racing without cover from backside on, getting past Coco D’Lascito in the late going.

 

However, in the late going Todd, Warren pulled the pocket trotter Sumbodygetdisfool off the inside lane, swung the Roshun Trigg trained gelding to the outside where he won for the third time in his last four outings for Laquinton Shavers of Brandon, Mississippi.

 

By my calculations Coco D’ Lascito, Rndmnunpredictable and Sumbodygetthisfool can be joined in the three-year-old male trot championship by Emsroscopcoletrain, Loyn Say When, Salute The Hero, Sudden Approach, Imnotalocaldude and Shady Maple Valor. Tenth place was a tie between Fistfullofdollars and Shady Maple Spirit, both with 23 points.

 

Breeze At Sunset (inside, Atlee Bender) held off the late charge of Loulita (No. 2, Casey Leonard) in last night’s last leg of the Beulah Dygert Night of Champions stake series for filly trotters. (Four Footed Fotos)

A Pair of Dandy’s: It was strictly a two-horse race in the final leg of the Beulah Dygert Memorial stake series with Breeze At Sunset (Atlee Bender) holding off a late charge by Loulita (Casey Leonard).

 

Owed by Bowie Racing (Douglas Overhiser) LLC of Shorewood, Illinois, the Erv Miller trained Breeze At Sunset cut the leisurely fractions of 30 flat, 59.3 and 1:29.4 with Loulita racing fourth through the half-mile pole.

 

It was more than 11 lengths back in the 1:58 mile to the third-place horse Lous Voodoo Woman

 

Off the record Loulita (175) and Breeze At Sunset (153) were one-two in the filly trotting division standings followed by BC’s Rose, Lucky Valerie, Rock N Sandra Lou, Lous Voodoo Woman, Ting Ting, Lous Livia. Tied for tenth with four pint0s each are Lou Lou Lamour and My Only Sin.

 

Wilfong and Wheeler Shine

Annas Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong) is shown holding off Talk About Valor (Travis Seekman) in Friday’s first Plesac elimination trot. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

 

Driver Kyle Wilfong and trainer Herman Wheeler were the stars of Friday night’s bevy of ICF stake eliminations or series legs that determined next week’s finalists on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.

 

Wilfong drove five winning horses on the 13-race program while Wheeler sent out four youngsters from his barn and three were first place finishers,

 

Here’s how it all unfolded last night.

 

    Still the Queen: The ten combatants for next Saturday’s Plesac championship were decided and the first $15,000 elimination for ICF trotters aged three and up didn’t go quite as expected.

 

Talk About Valor (Travis Seekman) was hammered down to 2-5 odds after an easy win last weekend in the Open but he found Illinois trotting queen Annas Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong) too tough.

 

Trained y Nelson Willis for Salem, Illinois owner Daddy Graham, the seven-year-old mare took command out of the first turn and was never headed, trotting the mile in 1:55 flat for her 47th career triumph in 98 trips postward.

 

Talk About Valor got an advantageous two-hole journey from Seekman however he finished almost two lengths behind Annas Lucky Star. Also moving om to next week’s Please Final from the first Plesac elimination were Louscardamon, Heath Bar and Lousraptor.

 

Later in the evening odd Warren drove Cruzen Cassi ($12.00) to a 1:56.4 victory in the second Plesa elimination. Also advancing to the championship were Primed N Powerful, Louzotic, Reign And Shine and Fox Valley Extacy.

 

   Sisters Act: It was the two sisters Allbeastnobeauty (Todd Warren) and Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted) that showed the way in The Tony Maurello Memorial eliminations.

 

The seven-year-old Allbeastnobeaty breezed in 1:53.3 while her younger four-year-old sibling Fox Valley Exploit was much the best with a 1:53.1 clocking.

 

They’ll be joined in the Maurello championships by Dune Dame, Shelly On My Mind, Rollin Coal, and My Uptown Girl, along with Skeeter Machine, Fox Valley Lolo, Harper, and Ashlee’s Joy, the second through five finishers in their respective elims.

 

Lofty Opportunities Next: The last legs of the Night of Champion series for two-year-olds of both gaits and sexes made up most of the Friday program.

 

The first $20,000 Incredible Finale division for first season state-bred colt and gelding pacers was the much-anticipated rematch between Fox Valley Ozzy (Casey Leonard) from the barn of Gary Rath and Kyle Husted’s Get E Up, who snapped “Ozzy’s” six-race unbeaten streak at Springfield.

 

The 1 to 5 prohibitive favorite Fox Valley Ozzy got his revenge with a two-length victory in front-stepping fashion over Get E Up in a time of 1:54 flat with a 26.3 last quarter,

 

Fox Valley Crete picked a good time to notch his maiden victory by powering past in the late going for driver Kyle Wilfong in the second Incredible Finale division. The 7-2 second choice zipped past the 2-5 public’s choice Kingofmyheart (Atlee Bender) with a 1:56/1 mile.

 

The $20,000 Fox Valley Flan divisions for freshman filly trotters went to the Herman Wheeler stable’s Creations Dream MV (Kyle Husted) in the first split with a 2:00.2 clocking while Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wiilfong) nosed-out Armbro Lark (Charles Arthur) at the end of a 1:58.2 mile in the second “Flan” grouping. It was the fourth consecutive win for the Curt Grummel trained filly and the Dr. Patrick Graham homebred’s seventh in 11 first season starts.

 

Another Herman Wheeler trainee First And Goal (Kyle Husted) was bet down to 1 to 5 in the first $20,000 Kadabra split and coasted to a 2:01.4 win against four other ICF juvenile male trotters. The Mike Brink stable’s Fox Valley Cairo (Ridge Warren) prevailed by two and one-half lengths in the second Kadabra group in a time of 1:59 flat.

 

Apple Valley’s victory in the first Incredible Tillie series division was one of five winning drives for Kyle Wilfong on Friday’s program. (Four Footed Fotos)

Apple Valley (Kyle Wilfong), coming from sixth at the three-quarter pole, flew down the lane at 5-1 odds for trainer Jim Molitor and overtook the 2-5 Incredible Tillie favorite Dandy’s MNM (Kyle Husted) in the Incredible Tillie first division for juvenile filly pacers. The winner’s time was 1:57.1.

 

Swanky Diamond (Casey Leonard) gave conditioner Herman Wheeler is third winner on the card when he upset the heavy favorite Rollnroz (Archie Buford) in the second “Tillie” division that went in 1:57.3. It was the World Of Rocknroll’s maiden victory.

 

The Robert S. Molaro prep for aged state-bred male pacers turned out to be an easy win for He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong) after the John Filomeno speedball was able to go to a comfortable 28.1 second quarter in his 1:50.2 mile.

 

Stick Around: It’s the $15,000 final round Saturday evening for all four Night of Champions stake series for three-year-olds of both gaits and sexes.

 

Plum Peachy (Kyle Wilfong) will open as the 7-5 favorite in the sixth race Plum Peachy for pacing fillies and one event earlier Springfield champion Ideal Big Guy (Casey Leonard) and Du Quoin titleholder Ryans Loan Shark (Travis Seekman) square off against eight other ICF pacing colts and geldings in the Robert F. Carey Memorial series.

 

The last two contests on the nine-race Saturday program are the last legs of the sophomore trotting series. The 10-horse Erwin F. Dygert Memorial for males is headed up by earlier stake winners Sumbodygetdisfool (pp 4, Todd Warren), Rndmnupredictable (pp 8, Casey Leonard), and Coco D’ Lascito (pp 9, J D Finn).

 

The eight-horse Beulah Dygert Memorial for fillies is another rematch between Loulita (pp 2, Casey Leonard) and Breeze At Sunset (pp 5, Atlee Bender). Between them they’ve dominated this season’s ICF three-year-old distaff trotting division.

Plenty on Line in Friday’s Events

By Mike Paradise

 

Except for the September 25th Night of Champions, this is the evening that we will see the best ICF pacers and trotters in action more than at any other time of the Hawthorne meeting. The entire 13-race card is made up of either Night of Champion series events, eliminations, or preps with various degrees of importance, along with some respectable purse money.

In some instances where a horse finishes in one of tonight’s final series legs will determine if his or her next start will be in a lucrative state-bred championship, or a consolation race for much less dough.

 

 

The Gerald Hansen stable’s Talk About Valor (Travis Seekman) looks to follow his recent Open trot triumph with a victory in the first Plesac elimination event for ICF trotters ages three and upward. (Four Footed Fotos)

Hansen Standout: Tonight’s two Plesac elimination races for state-bred trotters, ages three and upward, look like intriguing contests. The first $15,000 is tonight’s opener while the second doesn’t come up until the tenth event.

 

Half of the field in the first race are Illinois breds that were frequent contestants in Hawthorne Open trots, including last weekend impressive winner Talk About Valor from the Gerald Hansen Stable.

 

The six-year-old had to leave from the assigned 10-hole and still breezed in 1:55.4, his fifth consecutive victory for Monee, Illinois owner Shelley Steele. Talk About Valor was one of the top contenders for the last year’s Plesac championship, however health issues compelled the Yankee Valor gelding to be scratched from competing in the 2020 Night of Champions.

 

Other strong Open trotters Annas Lucky Star (pp 5, Kyle Wilfong), Louscardamon (pp 6, Kyle Husted) and Lousraptor (pp 7, Juan Franco) are among the seven challengers in the initial Plesac elim with the top five moving on to next Saturday’s $45.000 (est.) championship.

 

Just Visiting: The second Plesac elimination (race 10) lured two recent Hawthorne Open trotters, Louzotic (pp 2, Casey Leonard) and Reign and Shine (pp 4, Cordarius Stewart), and starting in between them is the four-year-old On Higher Ground (Kyle Wilfong) who was shipped all the way from New York for a shot at the Night of Champions crown.

 

You might recall that On Higher Ground was a productive trotter racing as a two and three-year-old for trainer Mike Brink. The Cassis gelding made almost $48,000 in Illinois as a freshman and added another $30,000-plus last season before being sold to Nathan Cockerham of Brighton, Michigan.

 

On Higher Ground spent most of this year at The Meadows in western Pennsylvania before heading to New York’s Yonkers Raceway. The horse has banked over $53,000 in 2021 and is currently under the care of conditioner Walter Haynes Jr.

 

 

The Curt Grummel stable’s Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wilfong) goes for her fourth win in a row in a $20,000 Fox Valley Flan two-year-old filly trotting series division tonight, (Four Footed Fotos).

Worth the Wait: While the Robert S. Molaro stake didn’t need any eliminations there is a $15,000 prep for the ICF aged pacers and it’ll go on the 13th and last event on Friday’s card.

 

It’s another Illinois Battle of the Titans between  He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong) and Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) before they knock heads again in next Saturday’s $45,000 (est.) Molaro championship.

 

The anticipated return match-up between the Gary Rath stable’s Fox Valley Ozzy (pp1, Casey Leonard), looking for a series sweep of the Incredible Finale series, and Get E Up (pp 6), driven by his trainer Kyle Husted, and the winner of both recent State Fair contests, snapping Fox Valley Ozzy’s unbeaten streak at Springfield.

 

Another dandy on the card comes in the seventh race second division of the Incredible Tillie two-year-old filly trot where the Curt Grummel trained Funky Wiggle (pp 3, Kyle Wilfong), currently riding a three-race winning streak, takes on Charles Arthur’s (pp 6) Armbro Lark, victorious six times in her first season, two in them coming in the “Flan” series.

Quite an Achievement for Tom Simmons

By Mike Paradise

Congratulations go out to long-time horseman Tom Simmons who will soon attain a very rare milestone for an Illinois based trainer.  When Kelly D won Friday night’s first race it put Simmons one win away from his 2,000th winning horse as a trainer to go along with more than 2,000 winners as a driver.

 

Tom has 3,319 driving wins in his a long and distinguished career.

 

Simmons is the first Illinois horseman to achieve the fete since Joe Anderson accomplished it in the early part of this century when he was based in Illinois and dominating the trainer standings on the Chicago circuit and driving the likes of Big Tom, Ohyouprettything, Falcon Dakota, Million Dollar Bye, and Bingo Johnnie, just to name a few.

 

The 69-year-old Simmons began his driving career in the late 1970’s and by the mid and late 1980s he was operating a small stable while becoming a driving force in the Prairie State.

 

Here’s a look at old Quad City Downs where Tom Simmons blossomed as a Illinois horseman by winning four consecutive driving titles in the mid 1980’s. (East Moline, Illinois Photo)

The Missouri native finished on top of the driver standings at Quad City Downs four consecutive years, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1986 until some blonde kid from Wisconsin came to East Moline, Illinois and became new kingpin. His name: Dave Magee.

 

Simmons was always near the top of the driver and trainer standings at Fairmount Park, before the Collinsville, Illinois (near St. Louis) facility closed its doors to the Standardbred industry in 1999.

 

It was at Quad City Downs that Tom met his wife Benita, a track concession worker (the popcorn lady) and a big fan of her eventual husband of 37 years.

 

Benita was at Sportsman’s Park in 1992 when Tom drove Brass Door to the $360,000 Orange and Blue two-year-old colt championship on Super Night 1992. (That $360,000 pot is no typo).

 

“We had seven horses in that night, so I had to turn down a TV interview (Chicago Harness Racing) because I was so busy,” said Benita.

 

Constant Change gave Tom Simmons 38 training victories in an illustrious career with most of them coming at Maywood Park where the ICF pacer flourished on its half-mile turns. (Maywood Park Photo).

Simmons trained one of my favorite Maywood Park horses to write about in my 12 years there and that would be the ICF pacer Constant Change who loved the half-mile oval.  Tom also had Glass Pack; a one-time Maywood Park record holder.

 

“Constant Change is my favorite horse,” said Benita. “He could really get around those Maywood turns.”

 

The son of the late Illinois stallion Cole Muffler earned almost $600,000 in his seven or so years of racing for Simmons and took his mark of 1:49.4 as a four-year-old at Springfield, where the Tom and Benita reside.

 

Froggy Turner delivered the Simmons’ stable the 2005 Super Night champion at Balmoral Park. Eleven years later, he also hit the bullseye with Fox Valley Herbie, that year’s Incredible Finale freshman colt winner on Hawthorne’s Night of Champion.

 

Simmons was inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2006.

 

A Winning Return: The Donna Holt trained Rock It Out (Kyle Wilfong) made a successful return to Hawthorne last night when she captured the $10,000 Open II Pace in 1:53 flat.

 

The four-year-old Rockin Image mare prevailed by more than two lengths over the late rushing Rollonbeauty (Atlee Bender) with My Uptowne Girl (Ridge Warren) taking third.

 

Rockin Image ($4.60) is owned by D and R Racing Stable of Benton, Kentucky.