By Mike Paradise


The initial Saturday night card of the 2021 Hawthorne harness racing meeting pivots to put the emphasis on a pair of Illinois champions knocking heads for the first time this year.


You can expect many more in-state matchups likely to follow.


Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) will be going to the starting gate Saturday night for his 2021 pari-mutuel debut. (Four Footed Fotos)

Three-time ICF Horse of the Year (2017, 2028 and 2019) Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) makes his 2021 pari-mutuel debut against He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong) who took the prestigious honor as a three-year-old in 2020.


He’zzz A Wise Sky, now under the care of trainer John Filomeno, dominated the Illinois bred last year’s sophomore division, hauling in over $122,000 for his Justice, Illinois owners Triple ZZZ Stable. The talented pacer won half (9 for 18) of his starts, including a career best mile of 1:49.3 taken in a Hoosier Park Open Pace.


The Filomeno family homebred rattled off six consecutive victories during the late summer and captured the $86,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.


While He’zzz A Wise Sky has four season starts under his belt, including a 1:51.1 triumph in a conditioned pace at Hoosier and a third place finish in an Open there, pacing in 1:49.2, The Terry Leonard Stable’s Fox Valley Gemini drew off in a 1:54 mile well in hand two weeks again at Springfield, his first outing since last November.


Don’t Start Eating: While it’s been a long-time in between pari-mutuel starts for, “Gemini” the elite pacer has always been terrific or owner Jim Ballinger of Atwater, Illinois at Hawthorne. The now six-year-old gelding’s success rate against other Illinois bred pacers isn’t far off that of a Chicago Democratic Mayoral candidate.


Despite being a three-time ICF Horse of the Year, a one-time winner off 19 in a row at Hawthorne, and hands-down nowadays the most popular horse in Illinois, the USTA’S computer generated morning line has the horse (Warning: Do not be eating while reading this) at 12-1, in a tie for longest shot of the race.


Are you kidding me?


Yes, I picked against “Gemini” because of his layoff but his first flash odds of 12-1 is simply ridiculous and an embarrassment to our industry.


Novices of our sports may believe Fox Valley Gemini is a “hot” horse when his odds most certainly will take a huge plunge however, they are instead being deceived by somebody or something’s incompetence to produce anything close to a knowledgeable morning line.


He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) showed his heels to his ICF foes in last year’s Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions (Four Footed Fotos

Getting an opportunity to pull off a major upset in the $12,000 third race headliner are Luckysrealdeal (Roman Lopez), Some Nobody (Travis Seekman), Jersey Jim (Todd Warren), Frewil Dakota Sven (Kyle Husted) and Brysen (Dale Knox).


Fox Valley Gemini was handicapped with the six slot while He’zzz A Wise Sky was assigned the seven. I have “Gemini” at 3-2 in my line and He’zzz A Wise Sky at 6-5 and he’ll likely go off lower.


Hezzz A Wise Sky and Fox Valley Gemini did tangle once last year in a Hawthorne Open and both were vanquished by the longshot Ponda’s Prospect. “Gemini” was a close second to his stable mate while Hezzz A Wise Sky got away with a sluggish start from the pole position and ended up a non-threatening fourth.


  Ladies Step Forward: Preceding the third race Open for horses and geldings is a $12,000 Open for fillies and mares with the Terry Leonard stable providing two of the five starters—Lilly Von Shtupp (Kyle Husted) with the pole position and Golden Paradise (Casey Leonard) who makes her Hawthorne debut going out from the four-slot.


The programmed favorite at even money is Maggie Rhee, trained and driven by Todd Warren. The four-year-old mare comes off a 1:51.3 victory in a $16,000 conditioned pace at Hoosier after picking up purse checks in her previous two starts, both in Opens.


Ideal’s Nicole (Travis Seekman) and Brooke’s Ocean (Michele Weinman) complete the compact five horse field.


Wilfong Hot: Kyle Wilfong had the hot hard on opening night driving home five of the 10 races on the program. The 29-year-old Illinois native won with the first four events on the card and later guided the Nicole Agosti trained trotter RSVP to his Daryl Busse series elimination victory.