By Mike Paradise
Eleven ICF champions will be crowned tonight as Hawthorne Race Course hosts its annual showcase event of its meeting, the Night of Champions.
Unlike other Night of Champions events, and for that matter Super Nights that preceded it, this one regrettably will be raced without any fans. They’ll be no cheering on-track by owners and their friends and family of the participating pacers and trotters.
Nevertheless they’ll be at the OTB parlors or on iPhones or computers at home no doubt with the same enthusiasm —with munchies and liquid refreshments available—as if they were at Hawthorne.
Former successful Chicago driver Marcus Miller will come back to his home in from Pennsylvania to handle his father Erv Miller’s horses, and some others, on the 13 race star-studded card
Chalk Up Another? Looking at the Night of Champions card and what took place in last weekends of final legs of the ICF stake series, at least on paper it appears to be it’ll be a fruitful night for the betting favorites.
However, there will be upsets, there always are, and some ICF stake showdowns may come about where there may not be a clear-cut favorite at post time.
In particular the Incredible Tillie final for state-bred two-year-old pacing fillies has changed directions a couple of times.
Connie On The Go (Jamaica Patton) started out like an Incredible Tillie standout but health issues in August derailed her express train and her qualifier last week was a bummer.
Hart’s Heart came on in August like gangbusters and won back-to-back State Fair champions but the filly isn’t eligible to the Night of Champions stake series. Bootsy Bombay was second in both of those recent stakes however tonight she drew the 10-hole.
Princess Moose (Kyle Wilfong) has been a very consistent filly in the series and her chances of coming out on top bode well for her connections with the three post.
And then there’s Scorecard Dandy who had one single point (earned with a sixth place finish an earlier one leg) prior to last weekend’s final series leg and all she did last week was to zip past and post a new lifetime mark of 1:55.3. The Gregory Kain trained freshman is the 8-5 programmed post-time favorite.
More Spirited Trots: The Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot for three-year-old males has seen the Mike Brink trained Crooked Creek (Todd Warren) and the Tom Simmons stable’s Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard) slug it out all season, trading victories against each other.
And don’t overlook On Higher Ground, another Brink trainee. The second season trotter has shown he has the ability to beat both of the series favorites if some things can go his way. He did just that about a month ago.
The Incredible Finale freshman colt and gelding pace group has seen three different series winners—the top point earner Frontier Charley (pp 10, Todd Warren), Well Basically (pp 4, Marcus Miller) and Ideal’s Big Guy (pp 1, Casey Leonard)—and close finishes have become the norm.
Can the “Lous” Roll On? Flacco Family Farms has two of its trotting fillies carrying long winning streaks into their respective championships.
Both Loulita and Lous Abgail will look for their sixth consecutive victory when they go to the gate in their respective trotting championships with their regular driver aCsey Leonard.
Loulita looks to be in good shape with the four post in the third race Fox Valley Flan freshman filly championship but Lous Abigail has her work cut out with the eight-hole in the three-year-old Beulah Dygert Memorial trot a few races later.
Pleasing Plesac: Flacco Family Farms also has a strong contender on the $45,000 Plesac for Illinois bred trotters age three and up and that would be the now four-year-old mare Louzotic, another Steve Searle trained trotter. Louzotic knocked off tonight’s likely favorite Annas Lucky Star in last week’s Plesac Prep but landing the 10-hole does put a damper on Louzotic chances tonight.
Pennsylvania based trainer Richard Perfido has again sent his ICF trotter Tricky Nick to Hawthorne for the Plesac. It’s the fourth time in the last five years the Band’s Gold Chip eight-year-old has come to town for the Night of Champions, a race he won the 2017 and came away with purse checks in the two others.
A Sister Act? Fox Valley Exploit will surely get plenty of play in the Plum Peachy final. After all, she has lost only once all season against her division rivals for her driver and trainer Kyle Husted, and was a Night of Champions winner last year as a freshman.
Nevertheless Fox Valley Exploit didn’t fare well in the Plum Peachy draw, getting the nine-slot and one of her main rivals Sleazy Gal (Marcus Miller) did even worse with the ten.
On the other hand Sign Her Up (Juan Franco), the only filly to beat “Exploit” this season, had to put a smile on her trainer Charles Arthur’s face when she secured the one-post.
Fox Valley Exploit’s older sister Allbeastnobeauty will also be the heavy favorite to visit the Hawthorne’s winner circle again after another easy win in last weekend’s Tony Maurello Memorial elimination. Trainer Todd Warren will guide the five-year-old Sportsmaster mare, unbeaten in her last four starts.
Another Gem? Speaking of heavy NOC favorites, add the Don Filomeno three-year-old home bred He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) to that group. The 2019 Incredible Finale champion has been on a roll with three consecutive triumphs in his Robert F. Carey Jr. sophomore colt and gelding division.
Illinois most popular pacer Fox Valley Gemini is sure to be bet down when he defends his Robert S. Molaro Memorial stake crown. The five-year-old star of the Terry Leonard stable has simply dominated Hawthorne’s Open division again this year.
But what about the old-timer Al’s Hammered?
Since acquired by his driver Bobby Smolin, the former two-time Balmoral Park Super Night champion has shown he still has plenty left in the tank at the age of eleven. Can he put an explanation mark on his remarkable comeback with an upset over Fox Valley Gemini? Landing the pole position compared to “Gemini’s” eight-slot certainly is a plus for the one time sub 1:49 pacer.
We’ll know that answer early on with the Molaro going as the second race.Ever Changing: The $118,000 Kadabra final for trotting colts and geldings offers the richest purse of the evening. It also has been a bit of a crapshoot at times.
The stake’s current point leader Rndmnunpredictable (Casey Leonard) has two victories in series legs but lately he’s had problems staying on stride.
Coco D Lascito, winner of two earlier Kadabra rounds, has been shelved with health issues and so has Bobalou who was sidelined after his five race victory streak was snapped.
Emerging at the right time has been Kyle Husted’s Lousrolando and Mike Brink stable’s Fistfullofdollars.
Lousrolando couldn’t stay flat in the middle of the summer but that problem may be behind him. He’s looked good prevailing in his last two starts in ICF stakes. Meanwhile the $50,000 yearling sale purchase Fistfullofdollars just keeps getting better and better and looks ready to be a major player tonight.
Who will come out on top tonight as a champion? Only time will tell so meanwhile sit back with your favorite beverage and snacks, and enjoy another memorable evening of Illinois harness racing.