By Mike Paradise
Trainer and driver Freddie Patron Jr. always seems to have a smile on his face and justifiably so these days. After all his talented young filly pacer Princess Sage was anointed the 2016 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year at the recent District 5 USTA Awards Banquet held in Springfield, Illinois.
“I’ve been on a high ever since I came up to Illinois for the awards banquet. I’m just thrilled she was honored,” said the 52-year-old Mississippi native who has a farm in his hometown of Clifton.
Princess Sage is owned by Freddie and the filly’s breeder Keli Jo Bell of Windsor, Illinois. The first foal of the Armbro Mackintosh mare Katie Mack, Princess Sage filly had a remarkable first season, winning 8 of 11 starts, with 2 seconds and earnings of $90,527.
She proved best in a tough freshman division with a triumph in the $100,000 Incredible Tillie Final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions and ended her campaign by sweeping the Violet.
“Princess Sage showed promise from day one when I first put the harness on her,” said Patton.” She broke nicely and it took me a long time to put hobbles on her. I felt she didn’t need them. I trained her on the half-miler at Springfield without hobbles and she had no trouble going 2:04 or 2:05.
“She’s always had a good attitude except for the time they had that recall and ended-up fifth. Her attitude went out the window that night. She got very frustrated by the recall and got really ranked-up.
“She had a small temperature before the race. The filly wasn’t sick enough to scratch her but she wasn’t feeling real well.”
Princess Sage may be diminutive in stature but has shown a big heart and a knack for winning races.
“She’s a small filly,” continued Patton. “Over the winter she has gotten a little taller but didn’t fill out much. I started back with her a few weeks ago and I’ll have her ready for May when Hawthorne opens up.
“She’s eligible for all the stakes at Hawthorne and so are my other 2-year-olds that race there as two-year-olds.
(Reminder for Horsemen: Hawthorne’s Stake payments for ICF three-year-olds are due February 15th. The ICF two-year-old stake payments are due on April 15th).
“Going into her 2-year-old season I knew Princess Sage was a good filly but I didn’t know just how good she was.”
Freddie also trains Dee Tumbleweed, the third place finisher in the Violet Final with his son Cornelius Cavett in the bike.
“I was really, really high in Dee Tumbleweed going into her 2-year-old season,” continued the numerous past driving champion on the Illinois Country Fair Circuit. “But when she first started out she didn’t know how to handle herself. She just wasn’t very mature but she got better and better with every race and was really good at the end of Hawthorne.”
I asked Freddie is he had the names of any of his 2-year-olds that will be racing at Hawthorne that he wanted us to keep an eye on?
“Not yet,” he answered. “I’ve got quite a few of them but right now I’m not ready to name them. I’ll tell you this: ‘Look for something pretty big from my barn in the 2-year-old trot division.’ I’ve got some good young pacers again but last year I was kicking myself because I didn’t have anything in the (ICF) trotting division. This year I will.”
I told Freddie not to kick himself too hard. After all, he did break, develop, train and drive Illinois’ crown jewel of harness racing in 2016.