It’s the Night of Champions with a Twist

By Mike Paradise

The most anticipated Illinois harness racing program of the year has arrived. It’s Hawthorne’s Night of Champions with eleven ICF championships on the line and over $1.16 million in purse money up for grabs.

The 13-race card is Hawthorne’s version of Super Night, inaugurated back in 1987 at Sportsman’s Park and in 1998 passed on to Balmoral Park for 19 memorable years at its far south suburban facility

Hawthorne took over the baton in 2016 and has done some tweeting to this year’s Night of Champions racing format in an effort to boost the mutuel handle. Will it work? Who knows? I do applaud the endeavors, though. For too many years (make those decades) the same old, same old Super Night racing format was presented:

They’ll be off and racing for over $1.16 million in purse money on Saturday’s Night of Champions at Hawthorne. The13-race lucrative card has an earlier-than-normal 7 o’clock first post. (Four Footed Fotos)

They’ll be off and racing for over $1.16 million in purse money on Saturday’s Night of Champions at Hawthorne. The13-race lucrative card has an earlier-than-normal 7 o’clock first post. (Four Footed Fotos)

No ICF 2-year-old trotting championships. Get the 3-year-old finals out of the way early with races 1, 2 and 3. Sprinkle in some Consolation stakes. And then place the richest event, the Orange and Blue Colt Championship, on the last race that always went off after midnight. By that time of the night about 80 per cent of the on-track patrons were on their way home or already there asleep

Management couldn’t, or stubbornly wouldn’t, comprehend the fact that when people run out of betting money, they leave.

In years past the first race had a 6:30 pm first post, and some five and one-half hours later when the O&B finally came around, most patrons were tapped out. A high percentage of the sparse crowd that still left for the final stake race were horsemen, their owners, and employees.

The richest race of the night, the 2-year-old colt championship, never was the one with the greatness handle. The highest betting races usually occurred in the middle of the card when the maximum about of patrons were on hand still with moola in their pockets.

Tonight the $136,142 Incredible Finale 2-year-old colt and gelding final is the very first race of the night. It’s an effort to jump-start the card and maybe attract some left-over thoroughbred players to stick around and bet on one of the most prime races of the night.

It might work but again it might not. We’ won’t have to wait long to fimd out.

Champions Night LogoManagement also has added a pair of $25,000 Invitational races to this year’s Night of Champions. Both pace and trot invites lured some very good horses to Hawthorne where they’ll be confronted by some of the better open company local horses who participated throughout the summer long meet.

To try and maintain those patrons still with money in the pockets to stay on, and hopefully entice players from all around the country to the Hawthorne wagering pools, both of the awaited 3-year-old pacing championships will go as races 11 and 12, with the Invites preceding them.

The $160,080 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial final is race 11 and it is headed by 2017 Illinois Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard), winner of his first 16 career races, and You’remyhearthrob (Kyle Wilfong), the Brett Wilfong home-bred who bested his rival with a sweep at Springfield.

Among their challengers are Du Quoin’s Dudley Hanover champ Dandy Dune (Ridge Warren), Backstreet Lawyer (Mike Oosting), a 1:50.4 winner at Hawthorne, and Al’s Briefs (Travis Seekman), an earlier Carey leg victor.

Yougotitfiguredout (Robert Smolin), Fox Valley Hinjix (Kyle Husted), Frontier Frank (Brandon Bates), M T Gunslinger (Randy Crisler) and Molina (Juan Franco, complete the 10-horse field.

  Kyle Wilfong is hoping he’ll be able to give another “thumbs up” to the Hawthorne patrons at the end of one or more of his championship drives. (Four Footed Fotos)

Kyle Wilfong is hoping he’ll be able to give another “thumbs up” to the Hawthorne patrons at the end of one or more of his championship drives. (Four Footed Fotos)

Next up is the unpredictable $125,140 Plum Peachy Championship for second season gals. There have been eight series legs raced and they’ve been won by six different fillies.

The Sister Master (pp 6, Michele Morgan) and Party Belle (pp 10, Travis Seekman) did it twice while Skeeter Machine (pp 1, Kyle Wilfong), Allbeastnobeauty (pp 5, Mike Oosting), The New Americana (pp 8, Kyle Husted) and Rollin Coal (pp 9, Robert Smolin) have notched one each.

They’ll be challenged by the 2017 Illinois Two-Year-Old Filly Pacer of the Year Fox Valley Jazzy (Ridge Warren), along with Frontier Cuzin (Gary Rath), Shooting Star (Casey Leonard) and Fox Valley Miranda (Jamaica Patton).

The final twist on the placement of the 2018 Night of Champions races finds the 3-year-old colt and gelding trot final, always raced for years and years on Super Nights before the sun went down, the nightcap this time around.

The $83,696 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial championship has a scheduled 11:19 post time but don’t try to hold your breath between that predicted post time and the actually time the race goes off. The Mike Brink Stable’s Illinimight (Casey Leonard) and Majistic Caprice (Tyler Shehan) from the barn of Roshun Trigg are the likely post time favorites.

It’s a very nice betting card tonight so sit back and enjoy.