By Mike Paradise
The end of the last century and the beginning of this one were the “Glory Days” of the now non-operational Balmoral Park, especially when it came to the Crete, Illinois racetrack’s Super Night.
Handed the baton on the Illinois Standardbred’s most prestigious evening of racing, by far, from the now defunct Sportsman’s Park, the far south suburban facility put up some remarkable mutuel handle numbers on its mid-September showcase programs.
From 2000 through 2007 Balmoral’s Super Night handle astonishingly averaged over $2.5 million, topped by Super Night 2000 that hauled in $2,817, 966, the state’s all-time high for a single harness racing program.
On September 16 of 2000 we saw 10,769 patrons squeeze into Balmoral’s Grandstand, Clubhouse and the track’s apron to watch the crème de crème of the turn of the century’s ICF pacers and trotters duke it out in 14 races for over $1.5 million in purse money.
The Balmoral driver colony in 2000 was headed-up by Andy Miller (the meet’s leading driver), Tony Morgan, Dale Hiteman, Eric Ledford, Brent Holland, Dave Magee, Sam Widger and Ryan Anderson.
Gerald Hansen was the meet’s leading trainer that year, closely followed by Joe Anderson. Other conditioner’s with more than 30 winners that summer were Catrina Rucker, Ryan Dailey, Ryan Anderson, Erv Miller, Homer Hochstetler, Brian Pinske, Jim Eaton, Roger Davino, Joel Smith and Bob Phillips.
There are a number of championships that stick out on Super Night 2000 with the eventual Illinois Hall of Fame trotter Plesac’s winning performance my most memorable.
Driven by Jim Curran for trainer John Butenschoen Plesac was, to say the least, dominant in the $112,000 Su Mac Lad Final, winning by an amazing 19 and 1/2 lengths for St. Charles, Illinois owner Richard Balog. The Armbro Charger trotter would go on to establish an Illinois bred Standardbred record $2.5 million in career purse earnings.
Cyber Wave, owned by her trainer Stan Millar, needed a victory in the $280,000 Orange & Blue Filly Championship to clinch her share of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s $1 million incentive bonus, and the Fighting Major filly delivered in a big way with driver Sam Widger.
Cyber Wave and Sammy were by themselves at the finish of the 1:52.3 mile, some nine-plus lengths ahead of any of her freshman foes.
While a good portion of the record crowd was on their way home, or maybe already in bed, when the $320,000 Orange & Blue Colt Final rolled around after midnight, it was worth the wait for those of us who were still there.
The Joe Anderson Stable’s Rattle And Rock required a triumph to keep the two-year-old pacer’s hopes alive for a share of the state’s $1 million bonus and the pressure was on driver Ryan Anderson to get the job done despite the 10-hole.
Parked-out the entire first half (55.4) through fractions of 27.3 and 28.1, Rattle And Rock eventually made the front with Ryan and Sportsmaster gelding dug in to eke out a neck victory (1:53.2) over co-favorite Big Green Machine for trainer Joe Anderson and owners John Leahy, John Koliopoulos and Anderson Racing Inc.
About a month later Rattle And Rock proved best in the $67,500 Cardinal at Maywood Park with his then 20-year-old driver and nailed down his share of the state’s $1 million bonus.
Other Super Night 2000 champions were the Erv Miller trained Apple Of My Eye (Eric Ledford) in the 3-year-old Grandma Ann; the Mark Fransen Stable’s Andy’s Golden Boy (Tony Morgan) in the Pete Langley Memorial for sophomore colts and geldings; Pause To Admire (Brent Holland) for trainer Tom Stamper in the Dan Patch colt pace; Rain Dance Kim (Dave Magee), from the barn of trainer Lloyd Daulton, in the Ann Vonian filly and mare pace, and the John Nessa filly trotter Silent Wings (Doug Hamilton) in the Lady Ann Reed showdown.
Starting next week (April 8) Mike Paradise’s new stories will be posted every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday while racing at Hawthorne is closed down.