Merv’s Dream Horse Going Postward

By Mike Paradise


You might call the veteran trotter Pine Dream the horse that keeps on giving.  As far as the Merv Chupp Stable is concern, the now nine-year-old gelding has delivered in a big way since he was purchased some three years ago.


Sunday night the perennial money-maker of the Chupp stable looks to make another substantial contribution to the family’s bank account when he leaves as the likely favorite in the $12,000 Handicapped Open Trot.


It’s an event Pine Dream has already won five times this season, twice at Hawthorne, and last weekend he did it coming from far out of it, an unexpected change from a horse who usually does his best work on or close to the front-end.


Saddled with the outside ten-hole by the Hawthorne Race Office, regular driver Todd Warren took Pine Dream back at the start and the pair were ninth, about eight lengths behind at a half, trotted in 57.3. with the outer flow going nowhere.


Warren had to wait until the field came out of the final turn to get his trotter into high gear and when the son of Pinetucky was asked to deliver the goods he did so, coming down the middle of the track with a wicked 26.3 last panel and overtaking Walter White (Ridge Warren) in deep stretch.


The victory was Pine Dream’s 25th since he joined the Chupp stable and No. 20 in a Midwest Open’s for the Indiana native.


Chupp paid $27,000 when Pine Dream was a six-year-old at the 2018 Blooded Horse Sale and the trotter has since banked more than 10 times that amount since he was acquired.


Pine Dream sold for less than what Merv thought he would go for and later he found out why: Some people in Ohio called the horse “an idiot.”.


When Merv got his trotter back to his Crete, Illinois farm he began realized he could have his hands full with his talented but erratic trotter.


It took a long while and a lot of hard work for Merv and his wife Kelly to make the horse happy and productive and it has paid off handsomely. Pine Dream has earned $281,872 for the Chupp’s and shows no signs of slowing down at the age of nine and with 185 lifetime starts on his résumé.


Pine Dream was again delegated the outside post in Sunday’s second race feature but with only five other foes inside of him, so don’t be surprised if his driver again changes tactics with the trotter.


The ICF mare Louzotic (Casey Leonard) was allocated the pole position. Posts two and three were drawn with Walter White getting the two (Ridge Warren) and Silverhill Volo (Jim Lackey) on his left,


Lousraptor (Juan Franco) and Never Say Uncle (Kyle Wilfong), both Open winners at the current meet, landed the four and five spots, respectively.


Maggie Is Back: Patiently handled by her trainer Todd Warren, Maggie Rae ($5.00) put at end to her recent runner-up role and overpowered a field of seven other rivals in Saturday night’s $12,000 Open Pace for fillies and mares.


Burdened with the outside eight post, Warren took the 1-2 public’s choice back at the start and was about a dozen lengths behind Rock It Out when she wrestled command away from Fox Valle Exploit at the quick 27.1 first quarter pole.


Rock It On remained on top at the 55.1 half and Maggie Rae was still trailing the field, some nine lengths back when last week’s Open winner U’ll Learn made her move from seventh (Ridge Warren) and Todd quickly put his mare’s nose on his son’s helmet.


Down the lane there was no question Maggie Rhee was full of pace and the four-year-old mare blew past the leaders, winning by one and one-half lengths in 1:51 flat for Illinois owners Wilson Racing Stable (Martinsville), Norman Neil (Roselle) and Mark Eichberger (Chicago).


It was the third Open season victory at Hawthorne for Maggie Rhee to go along with three second place finishes in six trips postward,



A Hawthorne First on This Special Day

By Mike Paradise


Saturday night’s ninth event is the Juneteenth Celebration Race, and it’s a special and unique event for Hawthorne to proudly host.



It’s the first parimutuel harness race in Illinois history to feature an entire field of Standardbred horses driven exclusively by African Americans.


The initiative to spotlight participation by minorities in the historic sport was championed by the Illinois Harness Horsemen Association and is expected to grow in future years as Hawthorne reinvigorates Illinois horse racing with the addition of casino-style gaming at the track as part of a $400 million redevelopment.


A dapper-looking Hosea Williams.

“Seeing a race full of black drivers steering horses down the homestretch makes it easier for the next generation of horsemen to imagine themselves as integral to the success of this industry,” said Hosea Williams, a Board member of the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association.


“When I started racing horses here, I was the only black driver, now there are many more of us. This is about representation and visibility and I’m really thankful to Hawthorne and my fellow horsemen for supporting this.”



Drivers participating in the race include Jamaica Patton, Archie Buford, Herman Wheeler, Jamaal Denson, Jordan Patton, Marcus Turner, Hosea Williams, Cornelius Cavett, Terry Skinner and Freddie Patton Jr.


   No Certainty Here: Hawthorne’s filly and mare Open Pace is becoming g more captivating each week.


   First it was the Todd Warren stable’s Maggie Rhee appearing to dominate the division by taking the first two distaff Opens. However, she’s currently a three-time beaten favorite looking to shed her recent bridesmaid role.


Then it was the Donna Holt trained Rock It Out putting together back-to-back triumph against the cream of the crop of Hawthorne’s pacing mares. That modest streak came to a halt last week with a disappointing sixth place finish.


A week ago, it was U’ll Learn, a recent addition to the Hector Herrera stable who lowered the boom and disposed of seven rivals in the six-year-old’s very first start at Hawthorne.


Those three mares drew for the outside three slots in tonight’s Second race $12,000 headliner with U’ll Learn getting the six, Rock It Out (Kyle Wilfong) the seven, and Maggie Rhee (Todd Warren) the outside eight.


Posts one through five were drawn separately and they will be manned by Charlotte Royal N (Atlee Bender), Tempus Seelster (Travis Seekman), Heythere Lisamarie (Juan Franco), Primo Extremo (Casey Leonard) and the former ICF champion Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted), in that order.


After dropping her first three races as a four-year-old, the two-time Night of Champions winner Fox Valley Exploit has strung together a trio of victories for her driver, trainer and co-owner Kyle Husted.


Fox Valley Exploit, the 2020 Illinois Three-Year-Old Filly Pacer of the Year has hauled in $234,341 for Husted and Michigan co-owner David Brigham in her first 27 lifetime starts.


Casey on the March: The countdown is under way for Casey Leonard to reach the 3,000 level in dash winners. The 43-year-old Harvard, Illinois native goes into Saturday’s card only 20 winners shy after bringing home a trio of first place finishers Friday night.

Newlyweds Vie for Bragging Rights

By Mike Paradise


During my 48 years of writing about Illinois harness racing I thought I saw all there was to see about our sport.




Tonight, for the first time I’ll get to watch newlyweds drive against each other in a pari-mutuel race for “family bragging rights.”


The sixth race conditioned pace brings together a pair of Erv Miller trained three-year-old’s with Erv’s son-in-law Atlee Bender leaving from post six with the pacer Certifiable while the Illinois Hall of Famer’s daughter Hanna Miller is at the lines of TE’s Raider going out alongside from the six slot.


Atlee and Hanna tied the knot in late March and one thing they’ve certainly have in common is their love of horses and harness racing,


Hanna Miller looks to best her husband Atlee Bender in tonight’s sixth race at Hawthorne/ (USTA Photo)

They’ve been around horses most of their young lives and currently run Erv’s Midwest Division at the Indianapolis, Indiana Fair Grounds where they are responsible for “about 50 horses.”


I asked Atlee who had the idea was it to race against each other and he replied sheepishly: “It was my wife’s,” as I detected a bit of a laugh coming from the phone. Hanna answered the same question quite differently. “No, I think it was my husband’s.”


No matter who tossed down the gauntlet to determine “bragging rights” it was a great idea because both have proven to be a top-notch driver.


Atlee is visiting the Hawthorne winner’s circle at a 19.2 per cent clip, good for sixth place in the driver standings with 15 winners and recently had four first place finishes on a single card at Hawthorne.


Hanna certainly has the pedigree to be an outstanding horseman and she’s been just that.


Her father Erv is a nationally renowned trainer closing in on 6,000 career winners. The Arthur, Illinois native’s horses have earned over $90 million dollars.


Hanna’s brother Marcus, now 32, was a perennial Top Five driver on the Chicago circuit for years before heading out to Pennsylvania. Marcus has notched over 3,700 career wining drives.


Their “Uncle Andy” (Miller) is a former multiple Illinois driver champion who most likely will get his 10,000th lifetime winner sometime later this year.


Meanwhile “Aunt Julie” has sent out over $2,000 winners as a trainer including many national prominent pacers and trotters.


Hanna took amateur driving circuit by storm and in 2015 became the first woman to be named the National Amateur Driver Champion and it was a unanimous vote by the United States Harness Writers Association.


Hanna also won the same award the next year when the young lady represented the USA in the World Amateur Driving competition in Hungary in 2016 where she finished second.



Atlee Bender knows it’ll be a very long ride home back to Indiana if he finishes behind his wife Hannah in tonight’s sixth race. (USTA Photo).

Tonight, Atlee’s sixth race drive Certifiable is listed as the 3-1 favorite while his wife is steering a 12-1 morning line longshot TE’s Raider II.


Atlee didn’t agree with the big difference in their horse’s first flash odds.


“The two horses are much closer than that,” said the 29-year-old Goshen, Indiana native. Hanna agreed. “Toss out that last line on my horse when he made a (likely speed) break. The horse was full of go”, replied his 28-year-old wife.”


It ought to be an interesting 200-mile drive back from Hawthorne to Indianapolis for the newlyweds.


One of them figures to do most of the talking.