Sportsman’s Park’s Last Hurrah

  Here’s the renowned ICF pacer Big Tom. (Pete Luongo Photo)

Here’s the renowned ICF pacer Big Tom. (Pete Luongo Photo)

By Mike Paradise

Sportsman’s Park, the racetrack that introduced Super Night to Illinois harness racing fans in 1987, had an unexpected run of only nine racing seasons with its highly successful pageant of ICF stakes with over $1 million in purse money on the line.

Sadly Super Night at one of the most prominent harness racing tracks in the country for over 40 years would come to an end in mid-September of 1997.

Sportsman’s Park’s landlords and its long-time tenants own had their version of “Family Feud” and it led to the Standardbred industry being booted out the door and replaced by the ill-fated a $60 million investment fiasco called Chicago Motor Speedway, an unheard combination of racing Indy cars and Thoroughbreds that struggled mightily to last for a short-lived six years.

Illinois harness racing would never be the same.

Nevertheless Sportsman’s last Super Night in 1997 did provide Illinois harness racing fans with an evening of vivid memories, featuring a trio of pacers who went on to be nationally prominent and later were inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame—Big Tom, Ohyouprettything and Fox Valley Memory.

It also gave the Joe Anderson Stable an evening that they’ll never forget.

“Little Joe”, who was the nation’s winningest trainer in 1997, drove three of the six Super Night championships and two of the victories came with Big Tom and Ohyouprettything, giving the freshman stars each a share of the Illinois Department of Agriculture $1 million bonus award.

The Joe Anderson Stable’s star filly Ohyouprettything) rewarded her connections in lucrative fashion on Super Night 1997. (Pete Luongo Photo)

The Joe Anderson Stable’s star filly Ohyouprettything) rewarded her connections in lucrative fashion on Super Night 1997. (Pete Luongo Photo)

Despite being wide the first half of her mile leaving from the nine-hole, Ohyouprettything still breezed to a four and one-half length triumph in the $235,000 Orange & Blue Filly Championship with a 1:55.3 clocking for owners John Leahy, the Anderson Racing Stable and Michael Neal.

The Sportsmaster mare had to share the glory and part of the state’s lucrative bonus with stable-mate Big Tom who took the $300,000 Orange & Blue Colt Final in a stakes record time of 1:53.2 for owners John Leah, the Anderson Racing Stable and Tom Lewamdowski.

The third championship winner from the Anderson barn was Hooked Ona Feeling in the $185,000 Pete Langley Memorial in 1:52.3, another stakes record time. The Ideal Society gelding was owned solely by Anderson Racing Stable Inc.

Fox Valley Memory (Dave Magee) made it back-to-back Super Night championships with a convincing win in the $150,000 Grandma Ann showdown for ICF three-year-old pacing fillies. The daughter of Incredible Finale was trained by Greg Lance for her Arch S. Golden Stables owner and was timed in 1:52.4.

Fox Valley Memory (Dave Magee) is shown winning on Super Night 1997 at old Sportsman’s Park. (Pete Luongo Photo)

Fox Valley Memory (Dave Magee) is shown winning on Super Night 1997 at old Sportsman’s Park. (Pete Luongo Photo)

Shady Veil, driven by Jim Curran and trained by Dave Issacs, was much the best in $100,000 Ann Vonian for fillies and mares, pulling away by almost four lengths in 1:53.1 for owner Maria Campbell. The Masquerade mare would also win the Ann Vonian a year later at Balmoral Park with Randy Jacobs in her lines.

Sjoken In The Hole (Dave Magee) was awarded the $100,000 Dan Patch title for male pacers after the stewards disqualified the first place finisher Jeffrey’s Pet to second for stretch interference. Ron Anderson was the trainer of the winning Rorty Hanover gelding for owner Alex D’Onofrio.

Super Night 1997 was a memorable night in what turned out to be the year of the final installment of harness racing at Chicagoland’s longtime premier Standardbred track.

Mike Paradise’s stories will be posted every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday while racing at Hawthorne is closed down.