Warm Up to Arrival of Stake Season

By Mike Paradise

The long overdue influx of warm weather to the Chicago area coincides perfectly with the much anticipated arrival of the stake season for ICF pacers and trotters.

Thursday night will be the opening legs for both the Beulah (Filly) Dygert and the Ervin F.(Colt) Dygert stakes for 3-year-old state-bred trotters.

Unlike in the past years when a two-week period in Septembers decided Super Night champions and frequently a dominant horse in a class took home the bulk of stakes purse money, Hawthorne’s format will “Spread the Wealth Around” over a 2 and 1/2 month interval.

While Hawthorne’s Night of Champions finals on September 10 will offer smaller championship purses, the total amount of monies on its ICF stakes spread-out throughout the summer will add up to a comparable total paid out the last few years at Balmoral.

It will also give every horse and their owner a fairer shot to make a stake championship.

Hawthorne’s Night of Champions fields will be decided by a point system (50 for a first place finish, 25 for second, 12 for third, 8 for fourth, 5 for fifth and 1 point for sixth ot worse) earned by its participants after four legs of racing in each stake with the top 10 point earners gaining the final and the next 10 competing in the consolation.

This format seems much fairier than the one used in the past at Balmoral when a single one night elimination determined the Super Night finalists where the luck of the draw or a horse’s health on one particular evening too often dashed the hopes of an owner who ponied-up a substantial stake nomination fee followed by ample sustaining payments as well.

Hawthorne’s ICF stake set-up mirrors the very successful format used for years in our neighboring state of Indiana.

Friday will be the $12,500 opening rounds of the Plum Peachy for 3-year-old ICF pacing fillies. Saturday the Illinois-bred colt and geldings pacers will begin leg one of the Robert F. Carey stake series, also with $12,500 pots.

No Kidding Around: Although lightly raced as a freshman with just four starts and $7,139 on his card for owner Peter Karras of Sherman, Illinois, Caffeine Kid has shown he’ll likely be a force in the 3-year-old Carey division.

Caffeine Kid, driven by Casey Leonard, made it a sweep of the Late Closer (No. 1) Series Sunday night with his fourth straight victory, this one in a career fastest time of 1:54 flat for trainer Rodney Freese.

Indiana based trainer Pasko Vucinah conditioned the other two Late Closer Finals Sunday evening.

A native of Albania, Vucinah’s JD’s Blitz rallied past the favorites Major Legacy and Shotski to take the $14,000 (No. 2) title at 7-1 odds and on the last race of the card  his JD’s Chancey Design (1:53.3) overcome a start from the second tier 11-slot to take that $13,000 late Closer (No.4) showdown. Sam Widger drove both of Pasko’s winners.