By Mike Paradise
Hawthorne is rolling out the big guns for its Open Pace as the heavyweight battle between the circuit’s top two ICF pacers heads into round three tonight.
You’ll have to wait until the tenth race to watch and bet on the $12,000 slugfest that has grown to nine starters making the task a little more difficult for the very likely post time favorites He’zzz A Wise Sky (pp 10, Kyle Wilfong) and Fox Valley Gemini (pp 9, Casey Leonard) when they continue to duke it out and determine this season’s Illinois kingpin pacer.
If you are keeping score this season between these two state-bred pacing stars, it’s one winning round each for each horse.
Despite not having a pari-mutuel start this year going into the May 8th first encounter, Fox Valley Gemini uncorked a 26 last quarter and overtook the pacesetting He’zz A Wise Sky in 1:50.4 mile for trainer Terry Leonard and the six-year-old gelding’s owner Jim Ballinger of Atwater, Illinois.
However, it was a different outcome when they tangled again on May 16. He’zzz A Wise Sky sizzled on the front-end with a winning 1:49.1 mile for trainer John Filomeno and Justice, Illinois owners Triple ZZZ Stable.
It turned out to be “no contest” after Fox Valley Gemini suffered an interference mishap trying to avoid a breaking horse coming out of the last turn. At that time in the race, “Gemini” was on the move fifth, about eight lengths beind. He’zzz A Wise Sky went on to pace a 27 flat quarter so he may have very well held his chief rival off anyway.
We’ll never know for sure, so that takes us to tonight’s third encounter.
Friday’s Open was handicapped by groups (1-2) (3-5) (6-7) and (8-9) with Hez’zzz A Wise Sky getting the nine slot and Fox Valley Gemini the eight.
The first six posts will be manned by Allmyx’sliventexas (Todd Warren), On Duty (Jim Lackey), American Chrome (Alan Bender), My Buddy Ninkster (Travis Seekman), Fox Valley Ren (Kyle Husted) Castle Flight (Ridge Warren) and General Dolan (Tyler Shehan), in that order.
Castle Flight and He’zzz A Wise Sky are “locks” to be sprinting out and it’s likely some other inside horses will do the same to protect their post position. I anticipate more sooner than later He’zzz A Wise Sky will have command and cutting some quick fractions.
If Fox Valley Gemini is ducked, he’ll probably be last in the early going maybe some nine or ten lengths off the leader. . . not a good spot with his main rival on the front-end.
So, I expect Casey to leave with his star-studded pacer and hope to find a hole up close or maybe somewhere in the middle of the pack where “Gemini” might then have to take a lot of air to advance on the pacesetter.
Who will prevail this time around? Will it be Hez’zzz A Wise Sky, the 2020 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year or Fox Valley Gemini, the same titleholder in 2017, 2018 and 2019, or is there an up setter on the horizon?
You can bet that you know the answer.