By Mike Paradise
If you want to go to the “Big Dance” you need an invite.
In this case the “Big Dance” is next Saturday’s Hawthorne’s Night of Champions and an invite for a horse to compete in a lucrative Night of Champions final comes about with a Top Ten point standing finish for two and three-year-olds or by advancing in the aged divisions through elimination races.
This Saturday has no less than nine Night of Champions series events or eliminations among its 13 race card. While most of the top ICF youngsters have already clinched a starting berth in a Night of Champion final, there are some openings to a championship that still are to be decided.
The opportunity is there for the Triple Zzz Stable’s late-blooming freshman colt He’zzz A Wise Sky (Robert Smolin) to secure a spot in the Incredible Finale showdown. However with only eight series points earned thus far, good for 14th place, a win or a second place finish is likely needed for the Don Filomeno home-bred to gain the $120,000 (est.) two-year-old male pace final.
Standing in the way of He’zzz A Wise Guy’s proceeding to the championship are (in post-position order) Arty Party (Travis Seekman), RJ Wulfy (Ridge Warren), first time Lasix user Hello Rooster (Jim Pantaleano), Canadian Mountie (Casey Leonard) and Ryans Ambassador (James Molitor).
Since the first four point earners in the Kadabra trot series—Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard with 125), Desert Sheik (Mike Brink, 12), On Higher Ground (Ridge Warren, 87) and Fox Valley Kobe (Kyle Wilfong 63)—are all in the first division of the stake series for state-bred freshman trotting males, the winner of the seventh race second Kadabra split could vault into starting spot in the final and possibility the second place finisher as well.
It will depend on who the one-two finishers are and how Twin Cedars Rocket (Robert Smolin) and Fitchey For Fun (Randall Finn), currently eighth and ninth in the point standings, fare in tonight’s opener.
The second Kadabra split consists of, from the one-post out, Fox Valley Briton (Juan Franco, 32 points), Deememorymaker (Jamaica Patton, 42), Mr Red Thunder (Richard S Finn, 1), Crooked Creek (Ridge Warren, 5), Cassy Chip (Casey Leonard, 5), Lous Paisano (Steve Searle, 2), Easy Bo (Luke Plano, 1) and Lousintoit (Kyle Husted, 13).
With the owners of 16 state-bred pacing mares writing a $500 starting fee check, The Tony Maurello stake for older ICF distaffers was split into two $20,000 divisions, races eight and ten on the card.
The first five finishers in each of the Maurello elims will move along to next Saturday’s $45,000 (est.) championship.
The eighth race first Maurello elimination lists JB’s Shooting Star (Casey Leonard, 9-5), Skeeter Machine (7-2, Ridge Warren) and Fox Valley Charm (Travis Seekman) as the pre-race favorites.
Fox Valley Charm is the defending Maurello champion for owner Peter Karras of Sherman, IL and former Illinois based trainer Dirk Simpson.
Also aspiring from the eighth race to go to the starting gate for the Maurello showdown is Ashlee’s Joy (Juan Franco), San Antonio Rose (Kyle Husted), Boogie On Down (Kyle Wilfong), Pretty Iris (Jim Pantaleano) and Beamer N Bud (Robert Smolin).
San Antonio Rose, now five, was the 2017 Plum Peachy 3-year-old titleholder.
The quartet of Char N Marg (Casey Leonard), Whiskersonkittens (Luke Plano), Rollin Coal (Juan Franco) and Fox Valley Jazzy (Ridge Warren) are expected to get the most play from the betting public in the second Maurello elimination.
State Street Liz (Kyle Wilfong), Shelly On My Mind (Travis Seekman, My Kind Of Dance (Cordarius Stewart) and Fancy Creek Jolene (Robert Smolin) are the other Maurello hopefuls.
The final Night of Champions event on Saturday’s card is race eleven, leg four of the Beulah Dygert for ICF sophomore trotting fillies. Flacco Family Farms Louzotic (Kyle Husted) is the 7-5 programmed choice to extend her winning streak to four straight.
Another Gem: As expected two-time Illinois Harness Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) showed he’s the horse to beat in next week’s Robert S. Molaro Championship for aged ICF pacers with a strong victory in last night’s $20,000 prep.
The four-year-old ICF gelding again proved fastest in the lane as he motored past with a 27 flat last quarter at the end of a 1:51.1 mile, his third win in a row for trainer Terry Leonard and owner Jim Ballinger of Atwater, Illinois,
Perry Smith’s Dakota Roadster (Travis Seekman) also finished full of pace to be second. Last year’s Molaro champ Unlocked (Jim Pantaleano) was a non-threatening fifth in his first start in two months, beaten more than seven lengths,
“Abigail” Upset: In other Night of Champions stake series Friday evening the Steve Searle trained Bee See ($3.00, Kyle Husted) was an easy front-end winner in the first Fox Valley Flan division but her stable-mate, the heavy 1-2 favorite Lous Abigail (Casey Leonard) couldn’t overtake the 8-1 longshot Fox Valley Lush ($19.40, Kyle Wilfong) in the second Flan split, falling a head short of the winning Jim Eaton trainee.
Maximum Effort: The Ken Rucker trained Maximus (Kyle Wilfong), who was still fourth at the eighth pole, came flying in the late going and overtook both the pace-setting Fox Valley Triton (Casey Leonard) and the first-over Meyer On Meyer (Kyle Husted) to capture the final leg of the Robert F. Carey Memorial stake series for state-bred sophomore male pacers.
Fox Valley Triton ended up second best in the 1:54.1 mile while Meyer On Fire, who took a lot of air, hung tough for third. Maximus ($7.80) had a dazzling 26.1 last quarter.
Coming a Long Way: Sign Her Up (Juan Franco) came from ninth, some nine lengths behind at the 58.4 half, and zoomed past the field to take the last leg of Incredible Tillie freshman filly pace series.
The winning Sagebrush filly, trained by Fabian Johnson, was two lengths better than the 3-5 favorite Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted) in the 1:56 flat mile.