ICF Freshman Exceeding Expectations

By Mike Paradise


As I flipped a page on my calendar to today’s date, I couldn’t help but think “where does the time go.” It’s already September and there’s just two weeks left at Hawthorne’s 2022 harness racing meeting.


While the time is short before we shut down this year’s Illinois racing schedule (we do race several days at Springfield the following two weeks after Hawthorne’s closure), there’s plenty of major races still on the local agenda and this weekend will help clear the pictures in some of the cloudy, but competitive, ICF divisions.


The Tim Roach trained Ghost Shark (Travis Seekman) showed he’s ready for the Night of Champions Incredible Final freshman stake with a come-from-behind victory in a Du Quoin’s Director’s Cup. (Four Footed Fotos)

One of the most intriguing groups this year is the Illinois-bred male pacing division. It’s the best crop of state-bred freshman I’ve seen in a long time and there’s plenty of depth to it.


Going into the Du Quoin State Fair it looked like the Erv Miller’s Fox Valley Jasper (Atlee Bender) was going to be unbeaten going into Friday’s Incredible Finale eliminations but the talented two-year-old got detoured and ended up fourth in the first division of the Director’s Cup. A breaking horse in the two-hole coming out of the last turn scattered a good portion of the field, including “Jasper,” who was pushed four-wide.


For that matter, Ghost Shark, driven by Travis Seekman, was also bothered, but the pacer remained inside and put on a furious stretch rush (26.4) to gain his maiden victory in a snappy 1:51.3 for owners Kyle Larner (Warren, Michigan) and Brian Hochman (Buffalo Grove, Illinois).


As far as my assessment of this year’s two-year-old state bred division, Travis agreed with it.


“This is the best crop of two-year-old Illinois breds we’ve had in at least four or five years,” said the 32-year-old Michigan native. “There’s a lot of young talent there.”


The Du Quoin victory for the Tim Roach trained gelding added another youngster who must be respected when the $150,000 (est.) Incredible Finale Final comes about a week from Saturday (September 10th.)


“It all comes down to the trip. With a favorable one he can be right there,” added Travis.


Ghost Shark picked up purse checks early on in a pair of state-bred stakes while racing on the front end. However, he’s been much better lately coming out of it. The Revenged Shark gelding had a wicked 26 flat quarter in his Illinois State Fair elimination to be third and rallied from tenth and last in 26.3 in the Springfield championship, also for a third-place finish.


“He’s been racing very racing well coming from behind,” said Travis who explained: “I had little choice but to race him on the front early on. He was a hard horse to manage. He was strong-headed. They’ve made some rigging changes with him and he’s more manageable. I can control him much better than I could earlier in the summer.


“The horse can pace a quick quarter and he’s showing it. We’ll just have to see how the trip goes for him this week (in the elimination) and in the final.”


Fox Valley Steeler (Casey Leonard, from the barn of trainer Tom Simmons, looks primed for Friday’s Incredible Finale eliminations after his victory in a division of last week’s Director’s Cup at the Du Quoin State Fair. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Jasper (Atlee Bender) will come into his Incredible Finale Night of Champions second elimination division (race six) with a sweep of the summer Incredible Finale and the Illinois State Fair on his list of accomplishments. Nevertheless “Jasper” isn’t the only freshman with a state-bred stakes triumph among his early successes.


Fox Valley Cayman, Illini Jetset and Fox Valley Langley all won a division of the Cardinal earlier, and the latter was just a head short in the summer Incredible Finale championship and again last week at Du Quoin.


And let’s not forget the Tom Simmons trained Fox Valley Steeler who captured last Saturday’s second Director’s Cup division with Casey Leonard or Kyle Husted’s Fox Valley Landen, the summer’s Incredible Finale Consolation winner,


Third or Better: Three divisions of the NOC Incredible Finale eliminations will go Friday night, so a third-place finish or higher is needed to be assured of making the championship.


They’ll be joined by a pair of the Kadabra freshmen male trot elims, races five and six, along a prep race aimed for the 3-year-old Carey final, the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial sophomore trot championship, the Plesac showdown for ICF trotters three and up, and the Robert S. Molaro Memorial finale for older Illinois bred pacers where two-time Illinois Harness of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky heads a compact field.


Gals Go Saturday: The fillies and mares will showcase Saturday evenings card with eliminations or preps for the Night of Champions Incredible Tillie paces, the Fox Valley Flan trots, the Plum Peachy pace, the Beulah Dygert trot, the Robert Molero pace and the Carl Becker trot.

Who’ll Past their NOC Elimination Test?

By Mike Paradise


To go to the “Big Dance” you need an invitation. Likewise, to get into Hawthorne’s Night of Champions finals you need to pass your elimination test to be invited.


In some cases, that’s easier said than done.


For example, to be assured to advance to the Incredible Finale championship a freshman pacing colt must finish third or higher in one of Friday’s eliminations. A drawing for the three fourth place finishers will complete the list of finalists.


That means that a number of good two-year-olds won’t be racing for a $150,000 pot, especially some in tonight’s second elimination field.


It’s loaded.


Dennis Gardner’s Goomster (Kyle Wiling), the Springfield two-year-old trotting champion, aims to get back on the winning track in Friday’s Kadabra colt and gelding eliminations. (Four Footed Fotos)

The likely sixth race favoritism should be divided between multi-ICF stakes champion Fox Valley Jasper (pp 6, Atlee Bender) and his capable rival Fox Valley Langley (pp 2, Kyle Wilfong). The Erv Miller trained “Jasper” came out on top in the summer’s $50,000 Incredible Finale showdown and Springfield’s Illinois State Fair Final.


However, both horses had to take a back seat last week in a division of Du Quoin’s Director’s Cup to the late rusher Ghost Shark (Travis Seekman) who paced a quick 1:51.3 mile, the fastest thus far this year by a state-bred juvenile pacer. The Tim Roach trained youngster is in a great spot tonight with the pole position.


That trio will have to deal Fox Valley Cayman pp5, Casey Leonard), a Cardinal division champion earlier; Fox Valley Landen (pp 7, Kyle Husted), the summer’s Incredible Finale Consolation winner; Kage Daniel (pp 4, Todd Warren), an earlier Incredible Finale summer elimination winner, and Major Harley (pp 3, Cordarius Stewart), who got his maiden victory last weekend.


The first race first Incredible Finale elimination division is headed up by the Erv Miller Stable’s Illini Jetset (Todd Warren) who takes on Bombay Buddy (Jamaica Patton), Fox Valley Falcon (Atlee Bender), Frozen Shark (Cordarius Stewart), Fox Valley Treason (Wyatt Avenatti), Fox Valley McKee (Kyle Wilfong) and County Fair Challenge champ Midnight Chrome) Travis Seekman).


The wide-up third elim (race eight) will see Fox Valley Presley (Kyle Husted), Super Taco (Juan Franco), Fox Valley Patriot (Atlee Bender), Deputy Dawg (Kyle Wilfong), Unhynged Speed (Wyatt Avenatti), Mystic Revenge (Cordarius Stewart), Mister Sleaze (Travis Seekman) and Fox Valley Steeler (Casey Leonard) slug it out.


Du Quoin’s Governor’s Cup champion Aint No Mojo (Atlee Bender) looks to advance to next weekend’s $140,000 Kadabra freshman trotting final. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fifth or Better: The Kadabra eliminations for freshman trotting colts and geldings are both eight horse fields (races five and eight) and only a fifth-place finish or higher is necessary to make that $140,000 Final.


If you horse can’t be fifth or better does, he really belong in the championship? Just asking.


Of course, we’re dealing with juvenile trotters in the Kadabra so anything can happen and sometimes it does.


The recent Du Quoin Governor’s Cup two-year-old showdown was supposed to be another terrific battle between Illinois bred stakes champions Niko Man and Goomster but it never materialized. Instead, both youngsters went off stride at the start and fell far back.


Actually, Niko Man was getting a second chance in the race. He was unmanageable going to the gate causing a recall. Problem was the young trotter was just as uncontrollable the second time around and Kevin Miller’s Ain’t No Mojo popped at 10-1 for Atlee Bender to toss his hat in the ring for the Kadabra championship title.


Sprinkled throughout the card are four state bred prep events, the Molero for older male pacers, the Carey for strictly three-year-old pacing colts and geldings, the Plesac for male trotters, and the Erwin Dygert for colt and gelding sophomore trotters.

Talk About Easy Open Wins

Talk About Valor (Travis Seekman) chalked up his tenth victory of the year in Sunday night’s Open Trot at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise


Illinois bred veteran trotter Talk About Valor continued his season dominance at Hawthorne while the Australian bred newcomer Im Sir Blake A, showed his Aussie back class in his local debut with a stress-free victory.


Talk About Valor, the 9-5 second choice in the wagering, is in the midst of another banner year for trainer Gerald Hanson and showed it again last night, digging in when it counted to gain a rather comfortable two-length front-end victory over the 2 to 5 favorite Jack Vernon (Todd Warren) in the $12,300 Open Trot.


Flawlessly rated by driver Travis Seekman, Talk About Valor ($5.80) shot out from the outside five slot at the start, as did Jack Vernon (Todd Warren) from the four. The 2021 ICF Aged Male Trotter of the Year made the front in the first turn as Warren was content to take the two-hole trip behind the Yankee Valor gelding.


Talk About Valor coasted to a 58 flat half with the public’s choice on his back. After reaching the three-quarters in 1:27.1, Jack Vernon came out for the stretch drive and tried to overtake the leader. However, Talk About Valor had plenty left and had no trouble putting away the bid by last night’s chief rival. Louzotic was a non-threatening third.


The victory was Talk About Valor’s 10th in 16 starts for Monee, Illinois owner Shelly Steele and the seven-year-old gelding’s 26th in 72 career starts.



Im Sir Blake A (Atlee Bender) was much the best in Sunday night’s $12,300 Open Pace. (Four Footed Fotos)

On Cruise Control: Im Sir Blake A showed why he was one of the elite horses in Australia before coming to the United States a couple of years ago, blowing away a Hawthorne Open Pace field with Atlee Bender along for the ride.


The betting public had it right when they bet down the seven-year-old Aussie gelding to 2 to 5 odds. Saddled with the outside seven-post, Im Sir Blake ($2.80) had to work to grab command away from Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard), going three-wide in the first turn to do it.


After a soft 28.1 fist panel, Im Sir Blake sped to a 27.1 second quarter (55.1 half). A 28 third quarter set things up for the horse’s first his get-go on Hawthorne’s long stretch, and the winner of over $300,00 lifetime, loved it, breezing in 1:50.1 by four and one-half lengths under a firm hold.


Fox Valley Gemini was second best while Play Me Rock (Travis Seekman) came on for third.


Trained by the Erv Miller Midwest Division, Im Sir Blake was brought to this country by Shorewood, Illinois owner Dou Overhiser and has won races at Yonkers, the Meadowlands, Pocono, Saratoga, Tioga Downs, and Philadelphia over a two-year span in the U.S.A.


Monday Night Delight: It’s a very rare Monday card tonight at Hawthorne with the $12,300 Open Pace for fillies and mares as its headliner. Seven distaffers will head to the starting gate in race three with the first five finishers back from the August 20th Open, headed by its winner Late Night Date A.


As expected, the eight-year-old Australian bred from the Midwest division of the Erv Miller Stable was assigned the outside post by the Hawthorne Racing Office. She not only was a 1:52.3 winner last time out with Atlee Bender in the bike, but she did it taking a lot of air in her first-over mile.


With her win in the Hawthorne Open a week earlier on her card, she’ll be looking for her third consecutive victory on the local scene. The Blissful Hall mare does face a solid field of mares, so she has her work cut out tonight from the outside slot.


From the rail out its Marys Pretty Girl (Brandon Bates), Primo Extremo (Todd Warren), the tornado surviving mare Rock It Out (Casey Leonard), Tiaogonedancen (Travis Seekma), Scorecard Dandy (Kyle Wilfong), and the New Zealand bred mare Eliza Dushku N (Kyle Husted), second best to Late Night Date nine days ago.


A win Monday night would push Late Night Date’s season earnings over the $50,000 mark for Illinois owners Douglas Overhiser (Shorewood), Dandy Farms Racing (Glenview) and Ft Racing Stable   (Glenview).


Enjoyable Ending: We went one-for-one on Mike’s Price Shots Sunday night when Farewell Tour (Kyle Wilfong) won at a nice mutuel of $16.00 in the 12th and last race on the card