By Mike Paradise
When Hawthorne rolled out its Cicero Claiming Series on its website for its upcoming harness meet I immediately thought of Perry Smith, the long-time Crete, Illinois conditioner, with a number of Chicago circuit trainer titles to his credit.
This past decade no Illinois based trainer has been busier at the claiming box than Perry and those astute acquisitions that became the backbone of a successful stable.
I called the now 65-year-old Smith to see if he had heard about the $4,000 to $10,000 claiming division series for colts and geldings, as well as fillies and pacers; after all he wasn’t shy from entering horses in last winter’s claiming series at Hawthorne. That won’t be the case this time around.
“No I didn’t know they had a claiming series,” said Perry, and I’m not interested in it. I don’t have any of the horses left that were claimers last year at Hawthorne. After Hawthorne decided not to race in the winter for 2017, they lost me. I had 34 horses in my barn when Hawthorne raced last year. I’m down to 16 now and all my low-end claimers are gone.”
Smith is currently racing horses once a week in Ohio (Dayton) and doing what he can “to keep my head above water,” he said. “I leave on a Saturday at six in the morning with my horses and don’t get back until Sunday at 4 in the morning. It’s a long and tiring trip but like some other Illinois trainers, I’m doing what I have to do just keep going. It’s awfully hard to try to race in Ohio two or three times a week. I have horses here (Crete, Illinois) that I have to train. We’re doing the best we can with a bad situation. After Hawthorne closed I called the Amish and sold my cheaper claimers off. It didn’t make sense to keep them. They weren’t going to get raced in Ohio and Hawthorne wasn’t going to get started up again for another eight months. The cheapest claimer I now have in my barn is a $15,000 horse. If you have a horse that shows anything in a claiming race in Ohio they’ll take him right away. The purses are good enough that a decent claimer just doesn’t last very long in your barn.”
Perry entered this year with 1,567 career first place finishes as a trainer. From 2008 through 2016 his barn averaged 107 wins a year. The only Illinois based horseman to average more (109) in the same time period was Nelson Willis.
I asked Perry what are his plans for 2017. “I’ll race my horses at (Hoosier Park two or three days a week when they open April 1). I’ll make the trip once a week to Ohio. As far as Hawthorne, I’ve got some three year-olds that should fit in their conditioned-claimers.”
Perry had his best night of the winter in Ohio last Saturday evening (Feb. 25) went he sent out three horses and won with two of them in five-figured races. Feelikearockstar (John De Long) captured a $13,500 conditioned pace and his Salusbrook Astrobo (Kayne Kauffman) took a $15,500 event for $30,000 claimers.
Party Time: The ICF home-bred pacing mare Mimosa Party ($19.40) made a successful debut as a 4-year-old last week at Saratoga (NY) for driver-trainer Pat Curtin, winning a $6,090 conditioned race for the Watson’s (Trenton, Brenda and Braden) Stable of Fairfield, Illinois.
A daughter of Party At Artsplace, Mimosa Party, was making her first start since last October. She was an eight-time winner as a 3-year-old, taking her mark of 1:52.3 at Hawthorne while earning over $35,000 in 2016.
More ICF Success: The 2015 Springfield Illinois bred trotting champion Tricky Nick cruised to a 1:54.4 victory Wednesday night at The Meadows.
As a three-year-old the Band’s Gold Chip trotter, bred by Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois, raced out of the Carl Porcelli Jr. barn for Illinois owners Megan Rogers Stable (Chicago) and Derek and Amy Jacobus (Lewistown). Tricky Nick was sold in July of last year when he posted eight wins as a 4-year-old and made over $84,000 racing in Pennsylvania.
Channahon, Illinois trainer Rob Rittof, picked-up his eighth victory of the Pompano Park meeting Wednesday evening when Alabamashakey (Mike Simmons) captured the Filly and Mare Open 3 Pace in 1:53 flat.