By Mike Paradise
The wait is over.
Hawthorne opens its doors tonight to a new decade of Illinois harness racing. It’s an extended meeting that will encompass 32 consecutive weekends of racing and will take us through its Night of Champions on September 19th.
Tonight’s opening 11-race program will bring about the 2020 debuts of the 2019 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year, the filly trotter Louzotic, and the popular ICF pacer Fox Valley Gemini, winner of that same prestigious honor in 2017 and again in 2018.
Louzotic’s path to continued success tonight for trainer Steve Searle looks much easier tonight than that of the Terry Leonard’s star pacer Fox Valley Gemini.
Both horses will be driven by Casey Leonard
Louzotic will carry a five race winning streak into tonight’s last contest, which, at least on paper, appears to be a soft spot for the Flacco Family Farms star to make her season debut. The race is for trotters without $2,000 in earnings in their last four trips postward. However, also eligible are ICF four-year-old trotting mares, entitling Louzotic, stable-mate Skippymalou, and Loussolatire to compete.
On the other hand Fox Valley Gemini makes his season bow in a rough $12,000 co-featured Open Pace, handicapped by groups (1-3) (4-10). “Gemini” did draw nicely with the five-slot in the 10-horse race and is the 5-2 first flash favorite.
The first four posts belong to Deweydiddonegood (Todd Warren), He Gone Jack (Ridge Warren), Park Official (Tyler Shehan) and Account Rollover (Mike Oosting).
To the right of “Gemini” is the dangerous east coast invader Castle Flight (7-2, Kyle Wilfong), along with Parklane Eagle (Juan Franco), Ponda’s Prospect (Bobby Smolin), Bold And Brassy (Travis Seekman) and Best Man Hanover (Brandon Bates).
Fox Valley Gemini captured his first 18 career races at Hawthorne before dropping his first decision on his home turf, a third place finish in his 2019 debut. He’ll bring a gaudy lifetime record of 30 wins in 42 career outings into the eighth race co-headliner.
New Face in Trot: The fourth race $12,000 Open Trot, handicapped by groups (1-2 (3-5) and (6), has Muscular Babe (Kyle Wilfong) and Kristy’sgingergal (Todd Warren) with posts one and two, respectively. The 7-5 morning line favorite Lindy’s Big Bang (Casey Leonard) has the three, then comes Double A Cash Call (pp 4, Travis Seekman) and Scramble Camp (pp 5, Mike Oosting) with Pine Dream (Brandon Bates) assigned the outside six spot.
Now five, Lindy’s Big Bang has joined the Terry Leonard Stable after hauling in over $250,000 in his first 56 lifetime starts with a big bulk of that amount ($144,382) coming in his sophomore campaign when he raced for trainer Nifty Norman and won the $133,000 Dexter Cup at Freehold.
The Explosive Matter gelding added $62,520 to his card at four racing out of the barns of trainers Richard Still, Rene Allard and Tyler George.
The eight-year-old Pine Dream has been a money-making machine for Merv and Kelly Chupp since he was purchased in late August of 2018 by the Crete, Illinois horsemen. The Pinetucky trotter has made 52 starts for the Chupp’s and has amassed $212,990 in purse earnings. Among Pine Dream’s 10 victories last season, all in Opens, were six in Ohio and four at Hawthorne
Make That Three: Brandon Bates has joined fellow Indiana based horsemen Mike Oosting and Todd Warren in the current Hawthorne driver colony. All three are expected to remain until Hoosier Park opens on March 27th.