Spotlight on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions

By Mike Paradise


The curtain is coming down on Hawthorne’s 2022 Standardbred meeting but before it does there’s over $1.2 million in purse money on the line in Saturday’s Night of Champions with 12 major ICF stakes to be decided.


A win or a loss Saturday night could be the crucial factor for Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors, as well as divisional awards.


Hawthorne wraps up this year’s harness racing go around and with an 11-race program on Sunday evening.


Let’s take a look at this year’s Night of Champions showdowns in the order they’ll be contested:


Curt Grummel’s Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wilfong) had no trouble overcoming the second-tier last week. Tonight, the three-year-old filly must conquer Hawthorne’s dreaded 10-hole to win the $85,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial trot. (Four Footed Fotos)

$85,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial Trot, ICF 3-Year-Old Filly stake: A victory tonight would make the Curt Grummel trained filly trotter Funky Wiggle a serious candidate for this season’s Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors.


She’s been dominant in her in her sophomore season for her Carrolton, Illinois owners Curt, Craig and Leo Grummel, and it would be a huge upset if she loses tonight.


Funky Wiggle’s one loss in nine season starts came when she went off-stride at the start of her Dygert elimination back in mid-July when they put hind shoes on her, something the filly doesn’t like.


Since then, it’s been lights out for her with six straight victories including a Illinois record 1:51.4 mile for a three-year-old trotting filly her age group at Du Quoin and the second fastest ever by any state-bred trotter; an easy win last week from the second tier, and a first place finish earlier at the Illinois State Fair despite going off stride before the start, making up 15 lengths or so on the field.


Need I say more?


Tonight, the gifted trotting filly has to buck the outside 10-hole. Odds are she will.


Mike’s Pick Funky Wiggle.


  $62,000 Tony Maurello Memorial Pace, ICF F & M 3 and Up: A well-matched six horse field with the likely favoritism divided between defending champion Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted) and this year’s nemesis Scorecard Dandy (Kyle Wilfong).


The Husted stable’s Fox Valley Exploit has never tasted defeat on the Night of Champions, going three-for-three, nonetheless that streak is in jeopardy tonight. Scorecard Dandy overtook her in this stake’s prep last week and in the summer’s $50,000 Maurello final back in mid-July.


Fox Valley Exploit prefers to race on or near the front but so do some others in here.


  Mike’s Pick: Scorecard Dandy


$62,000 Carl Becker Memorial Trot, ICF F&M 3 and Up: Annas Lucky Star has been the best ICF trotting mare for several years now and at the age of eight still going strong. The star of the Nelson Willis stable will be the odds-on favorite to win the inaugural edition of the Carl Becker Memorial championship.


Up until this year the ICF trotting mares, as the well as their male counterparts, all raced against each other in the Plesac stake where “Anna” took the bridesmaid role last season.


Is this the last time we’ll see Annas Lucky Star at Hawthorne? Salem, Illinois owners Danny Graham plans on retiring the mare and begin her career as a broodmare. However, he had the same plans for his brilliant trotter the last two racing seasons and changed his mind.


I hope he does again.


“Anna” doesn’t have a serious health issue, she’s sound, loves her work and is plenty good at it as her 54 career wins and over $570,000 in lifetime earnings indicate.


Selfishly I (and her trainer) want her back on the racetrack another year. She’s been one of my Illinois favorite horses. Motherhood can wait.


  Mike’s Pick: Annas Lucky Star


$62,000 Plesac Trot, ICF Males, 3 and Up: The Gerald Hansen stable’s Talk About Valor will be a heavy favorite to defend this championship and deservedly so. He was last season’s Illinois Male Trotter of the Year and is a cinch to repeat. He’s been even better in 2022.


Last weekend’s romping victory in this stake’s prep was his 12th triumph at the Hawthorne meet, and he’s done it on and off the pace, although the preference is to race him on the front end. He’s already at $105,000 in season earnings and $31,000 more can be added after this stake is over.


Can he be beaten? It’s possible.


Heath Bar was three lengths better than Talk About Valor in a July Open and he drew nicely with the two-slot. Another pocket-trip may be in the cards. The nine-year-old veteran had an encouraging effort week, and he does boast 64 lifetime wins.


  Mike’s Pick: Talk About Valor


  $125,000 Fox Valley Flan Trot, ICF 2-Year-Old fillies:


Marvelous Mystery (Kyle Wilfong) has ruled this division all season and that includes winning her first six career starts. The Curt Grummel trained filly dropped both state fair championship to Fox Valley Shina, but that filly went off stride in her elimination and will miss this final.


Marvelous Mystery wasn’t challenged in her easy elimination win . . . she will be this time around with the $62,500 first place check on the line.


Radiant Diamond (Atlee Bender) looks like a major contender. An elimination winner, trainer Rick Schrock as her sharp and ready for this final and she drew inside of Marvelous Mystery with the two-post.


Toss out Dawn Of Creations’ 10 length loss last week. The filly was never in position to contend. She will be tonight.


  Mike’s Pick: Marvelous Mystery


  $93,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Pace, ICF 3-Year-Old Males:


Expecting another ding-dong battle in this division and I’m sure we’ll get it.


Fox Valley Crete (Kyle Wilfong) showed he’s a threat in this showdown, thanks to a favorable trip that he often has lacked this season.


However, most of the play will go to this season’s stake champions Fox Valley Ozzy (Casey Leonard), winner of both the Springfield and Du Quoin champions and last year’s top state-bred freshman pacer, and Get E Up, winner of the summer’s $50,000 Carey final at Hawthorne.


Get E Up skipped last week’s prep to get rested up for this championship. The Sportsmaster gelding had raced the previous four weekends.


This will be the sixth consecutive outing in as many weeks for Fox Valley Ozzy, nevertheless he remains sharp and very dangerous. The Gary Rath trainee has been one or two in his last four, all big efforts. He drew the outside six-slot, so will he be leaving?


Kingofmyheart (Atlee Bender) has shown plenty of heart all year but hasn’t been able to beat the top two in the division. Will that change tonight with the rail?


  Mike’s Pick: Get E Up



The Steve Searle’s gifted three-year-old trotter Lousdobb (Casey Leonard) goes for his fifth consecutive victory in tonight’s $88,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot final. (Four Footed Fotos)

$88,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Trot, ICF 3-Year-Old Males:


Only a couple of breaks in July has kept Lousdobb, the star of the Steve Searle stable, from a perfect season. He’s 7-for-9 and his last four triumphs have been in a confident manner for his driver Casey Leonard.


Lousdobb will likely grind his way to the front, and it’ll take a huge effort by another trotter, or a miscue by the heavy favorite, to beat this son of Lou’s Legacy.


No doubt Fox Valley Cairo has the best chance. He did win the summer’s Erwin Dygert championship and he’s been second best to last season’s two-year-old champion trotter in four consecutive state-bred stakes. Drawing inside could gain the Mike Brink trained gelding another pocket journey.


   Mike’s Pick: Lousdobb


   $144,000 Kadabra Trot, ICF 2-Year-Old Males:


The draw for post positions made this a lot more interesting race since the two pre-stake favorites, Goomster (Kyle Wilfong) and Niko Man (Kyle Husted) obtained the nine and ten slots, respectively.


Goomster beat Niko Man at Springfield and in the first Kadabra championship. Niko Man came back last week with a 1:56 track record performance in his elimination.


Both trotters have shown they are prone to making breaks. With good position likely on each driver’s mind with a $144,000 pot and some longshots between them and the front-end, I don’t see them being ducked.


 The trotter to catch is Tankmetodennyland (Jared Finn) and conditioner Dennis Gardner, who also trains Goomster, had to be pleased when the freshman acquired the pole position. Ain’t No Mojo (Atlee Bender) did finish ahead of the trio at Du Quoin, so he’s a possibility, too.


   Mike’s Pick: Niko Man


  $62,000 Robert S. Molero Memorial Pace, ICF Three and Up


Let’s face it, there’s not much pre-race strategy concerning this race. Two-time Illinois Harness Horse of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilong) will sprint out from the one-slot and have to be caught.


Easier said than done.


Some of you might remember that the prohibitive favorite He’zzz A Wise Sky was stalked by Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) in this race last year and finished third behind him and Fox Valley Ren. “Gemini” has never lost on the Night of Champions, but that six-race winning streak is in serious peril tonight.


Casey likely will seek another two-hole trip and hope for the best in the late going. Likewise, Todd Warren, the driver of Fox Valley Ren, would like to be there as well. The fact that He’zzz A Wise Sky missed last week’s prep when he was sick, could be a contributing factor tonight.


But I don’t think so.


  Mike’s Pick: He’zzz A Wise Sky


Mister Sleazy (Travis Seekman) finished in a hurry to capture his Incredible Finale 2-year-old male pace elimination division. Another close finish is expected in tonight’s $185,000 final.

$154,000 Incredible Finale Pace, Two-Year-Old Males:


Last week’s eliminations put a whole new prospective on this stake when the two division leaders Fox Valley Jasper and Fox Valley Langley both failed to make this final.


It’s now a up for grabs race. One thing looks certain, the pace will be quick and the winning time a fast one.


Rapid fractions could benefit the late-blooming Ghost Shark (Travis Seekman), fresh off victories at Du Quoin and in his Incredible Finale elimination. Trainer Tim Roach has him in peak form at the right time.


Fox Valley McKee (Kyle Wilfong) looked good in his front-end elimination win and drawing he two-post is a plus for this Nelson Willis trainee.


Mister Sleazy came a long way to nail down the other “Finale” elimination and drew well with the three-slot for Atlee Bender. The homebred can turn it on in the lane.


Illini Jetset (Todd Warren) seems to like the Hawthorne racing strip best and a favorable trip certainly makes him a possibility.


Fox Valley Cayman (Casey Leonard) may be saddled with the 10-hole but he’s in capable hands and had excuses for a number of his season losses. The pacer could offer good wagering value.


Like I said, it’s a wide-open stake, and there’s the winner’s share of a lucrative $154,000 pot available for the taking.


Mike’s Pick: Ghost Shark


$185,000 Incredible Tillie Pace, ICF Two-Year-Old Fillies


Another enjoyable slugfest to watch with a quartet of fillies likely to garnish most of the public’s wagering money.


I’m talking about Rona Mae (pp 1, Todd Warren), My Daddys Revenge (pp 5, Casey Leonard), The Magical Woman (pp 6, Atlee Bender) and Fox Valley Kia (pp 8, Kyle Wilfong).


Rona Mae dug in nicely in her “Tillie” elimination and has won the last four times she’s raced at Hawthorne. Getting the pole position bodes well for her.


My Daddy’s Revenge, a stable mate of the above, is at her best right now and likely will be on the move early.


The Magical Woman (Atlee Bender) was raced easy last weekend and when asked for more pace delivered it in the stretch. Live cover for her looks probable.


Fox Valley Kia (Cordarius Stewart) has been a model of consistently and can get it done on or off the pace. She proved best in the summer’s $50,000 Incredible Tillie showdown.


  Mike’s Pick: My Daddys Revenge



Apple Valley (Travis Seekman) looks to make it back-to-back Night of Champions stake triumphs for trainer Jim Molitor in tonight’s $105,000 Plum Peachy 3-year-old filly pace final and hold off Dandy’s DNM (Kyle Wilfong) again. (Four Footed Fotos)

$105,000 Plum Peachy Pace, ICF 3-Year-Old Fillies:


Strong race to end this gala evening.


Michael Perrin’s Apple Valley (Travis Seekman) is the filly too beat. The Jim Molitor trained sophomore came back after a brief rest with an impressive win in this stake’s prep.


Apple Valley may have to battle Springfield winner Rollnroz (Cordarius Stewart), from the stable of Roshun Trigg, for control. If a battle-royal does occur, that could set things up for fillies like Pattycake Moose (Casey Leonard) or Dandy’s DNM (Kyle Wilfong) to power past in time.


Pattycake Moose, from the barn of trainer Gary Rath, seems to be best when she doesn’t get used too hard in the early going. Then, she can then show a nice late move. Dandy’s MNM, a Merv Chupp trainee, was gaining on Apple Valley in the late going last week and she’ll have the red-hot Kyle Wilfong at her lines,


  Mike’s Pick: Apple Valley