By Mike Paradise
It’s hard to believe that nearly five months of harness racing is already behind us but here we are with Hawthorne’s Night of Champions upon us.
It’s already the 25th of September and thankfully, unlike last year when we had to endure rain and a sloppy racetrack for much of the evening, the weatherman says he’ll be much more cooperative this time around.
Eleven championships for ICF pacers or trotters of both sexes will be decided and right from the get-go we’ll see if the 2020 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky (pp 7, Kyle Wilfong) can take a major step to successfully defend that illustrious title.
The $64, 500 Robert S. Molaro Memorial championship jump starts the much-anticipated racing program. He’zzz A Wise Sky easily won last week’s Molaro prep. You can expect tonight’s pace to be much quicker, but the result could very well be the same.
Three-time Illinois Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini (pp 6, Casey Leonard) is the obvious danger. He does own a couple of wins over the star of the John Filomeno stable and the right kind of trip might see him get the job done tonight.
Fox Valley Reno (pp 2, Juan Franco) could offer fair wagering value from the inside.
Mike Pick: He’zzz A Wise Sky
The $120,000 Fox Valley Flan final should see much of the play going to the speedball Armbro Lark (pp 1, Charles Arthur) and Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wilfong), currently on a four-race winning streak for trainer Curt Grummel.
Armbro Lark got nipped in the final strides last week by Funky Wiggle. Can she get revenge tonight? There’s 10 times the purse money on the line. She’s certainly capable.
And what about the Herman Wheeler trained Creations Dream MV who appears to have gotten sharp at the correct time? Then there’s Louzotic’s younger sister Lous Xanadu (pp 3, Casey Leonard) who has the pedigree to pull off an upset tonight.
Mike’s Pick: Funky Wiggle
For the last two months Ideal Big (Casey Leonard) and Ryans Loan Shark (Travis Seekman) have been trading victories in ICF stakes for 3-year-old colts and geldings.
Last week Ideal Big Guy got an easy lead from the pole position and was never pressured, coasting to a comfortable victory over his rival.
However, Ryan’s Loan Shark last week went from an inside slot to the nine-hole after a “revised” draw, a day after the initial card was posted, and the ICF pacer did well to be second best.
Call it “Karma” is you wish but for tonight’s Robert F. Carey Memorial final it’s Ryans Loan Shark starting from the inside post one and Ideal Big Guy landing the seven.
I expect Ideal Big Guy to go out and maybe even get command again. Nevertheless, this time Ryans Loan Shark should be in better position for the stretch drive.
The question mark horse is Frontier Charley (pp 2, Todd Warren). The 2020 freshman colt Night of Champions winner has had health issues this year and didn’t make his first start until the State Fair meetings. Last week he was bet down to 5-2 after making a break at Du Quoin and raced poorly. Will he be a “stud” tonight or a “dud?”
It’s your call.
Mike’s Pick: Ryans Loan Shark
The fourth race Plesac championship for ICF trotters ages three and up looks to be a very competitive race.
Annas Lucky Star (pp 6, Kyle Wilfong) was a strong front-end winner in her elimination and could have command again. Talk About Valor (pp 2, Travis Seekman) didn’t have the same big effort as he did earlier in September with an Open win from the 10-hole but that can change tonight.
Louzotic (pp 1, Casey Leonard) has another nice endeavor but found the eastern invader Cruzen Cass (pp 5, Todd Warren) too tough in her elimination heat,
Meanwhile both veterans Primed N Powerful (pp 3, Cordarius Stewart) and Louscaramon (Kyle Husted) performed well in defeat.
Mike’s Pick: Talk About Valor
With five consecutive triumphs and doing it both on and off the pace, the Erv Miller stable’s Breeze At Sunset (Atlee Bender) will be hard to defeat even with the outside seven slot in the Beulah Dygert Memorial $68,500 contest.
A daughter of Southwind Breeze, the very likely heavy favorite faces a half-dozen three-year-old daughters of the ICF champion broodmare Lou’s Legacy, headed up by the Steve Searle trainee Loulita, beaten by only a neck by Breeze At Sunday in their Beulah Dygert elimination.
Mike’s Pick: Breeze At Sunset
The trio of last week’s first three finishers in final leg of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial—Sombodygetdisfool, Rndmnunoredictable and Coco’s D’ Lascito—weren’t separated by much at the end of a 2:00.2 mile and that could be the case again in tonight’s $97,500 championship for 3-year-old state bred male sophomore trotters.
Interestingly, the same three trotters will line up tonight alongside each other with the 3, 4 and 5 posts, with Sumbodygetdisfool (Todd Warren) in the middle between the tonight’s likely pacesetter Coco D’ Lascito (J D Finn) and Rndmnunpredictable (Casey Leonard).
Tonight, expect a faster pace and a quicker final mile time.
Mike’s Pick: Rndmnunpredictable
With championship victories at both Du Quoin and Springfield as well as triumphs in his last two legs of the Kadabra, the Mike Brick stable’s Fox Valley Cairo (pp 4, Ridge Warrior) should receive most of the backing from the betting public in the $114,00 final for ICF two-year-old colt and gelding trotters,
The Herman Wheeler freshman colt First And Goal (pp 5, Kyle Husted) does come off a convincing victory in his series leg a week ago and might be in peaking at the right time.
Trainer Curt Grummel sends out a pair of consistent youngers in Lou’s Di Nomite (Kyle Wilfong), third or better in 9 of 11 season starts, and Lousdobb (pp 8, Casey Leonard) who has hit the board in 7 of his 9 career outings.
Between them they’ve only missed one purse check each.
Mike’s Pick: Fox Valley Cairo
The $138,000 Incredible Finale championship for ICF juvenile pacing males brings out the two youngsters that between them have dominated the state-bred freshman ranks—Fox Valley Ozzy (pp 8, Casey Leonard) and Get E Up (pp 6, Kyle Husted).
The Gary Rath stable’s Fox Valley Ozzy went undefeated in his first six starts before the Kyle Husted trained Get E Up beat him twice at Springfield.
However, after Get E Up made it four straight wins with championships at both the Springfield and the Du Quoin State Fairs, Fox Valley Ozzy returned the favor in last week’s last Incredible Series leg with his seventh trip to a winner’s circle.
It’s a given those two will receive the bulk of the play but let’s not discount their opposition of Cole Thornton, Frontier Bombay, Major Grin, Magazine Theme, Pericles, Kingofmyheart, Bigday Bombay and Fox Valley Crete,
Mike Pick: Fox Valley Ozzy
The two-year-old Illinois bred pacing filly division has been the most topsy turvy of any of the Night of Champions groupings.
Rmissashlee (pp 10, Ridge Warren) earned the post series points (125) of the 10 finalists. Dandy’s DMN (pp 7, Kyle Husted) was an earlier series leg winner and took a division of the Director’s Award at Du Quoin. Lady Bombay (pp 4, Atlee Bender) proved best in the other Director’s Award split for trainer Ertv Miller and might offer fair wagering value.
Then there’s Rollnroz, (pp 9, Archie Buford) winner of leg two of the Incredible Tillie series and this season’s Springfield champion. Let’s not forget about Apple Valley (pp 5, Kyle Wilfong) with only five career starts but victories in two “Tillie” series legs. She has a big shot too.
Also, Swanky Diamond (pp 1, Casey Leonard) notched her maiden victory last week in her Incredible Tillie series leg, Eris, Pattycake Mooss, Fox Valley Captiva and Iwannarocknroll all have hopes of a surprise victory tonight.
Mike’s Pick: Apple Valley
The center of attention in the $75,000 Plum Peachy championships for sophomore filly pacers is Hart’s Heart who won all four legs of her Night of Champions series and the Du Quoin’s Time Dancer final as well for trainer Mike Brink.
However, Hart’s Heart (Kyle Wilfong) didn’t draw well for tonight’s Plum Peachy showdown with the nine-post, and she did lose to Scorecard Dandy (pp 2, Juan Franco) at Springfield.
Hart’s Heart has been hammered at the betting widows in her last four trips postward and that may be the case again. But is she a shoo-in tonight?
Mike’s Pick: Hart’s Heart
The crème of the Illinois bred aged pacing mares put on the show in the championship of the night. It’s the $68,500 Tony Marello Memorial final with a 10-horse field.
As we pointed out in yesterday’s story, it gives us the unusual situation of watching full sisters, Fox Valley Exploit (pp 3, Kyle Husted) and Allbeastnobeauty (pp 10, Todd Warren) slugging it out.
Both distaffers won 2020 Night of Champions stake events. Allbeastnobeauty is the defending Maurello champion. Fox Valley Exploit took the 3-year-old Plum Peachy championship. Tonight’s draw certainly favors the 4-year-old sister over her older 6-year-old sibling.
We probably will see some swift early fractions and that could set things up for perhaps a surprise ending from Maurello hopefuls Ashlee’s Joy, Dune Dame, My Uptown Girl, Shelly In My Mind, the 2019 Maurello winner Skeeter Machine, or Fox Valley Lolo, Harper, or Rollin Coal.
Mike’s Pick: Fox Valley Exploit
Sit back and enjoy this very special night of Illinois harness racing.
Casey on a Roll: Primo Giovanni, owned by the Engel Stable of Illinois (Northbrook) came from eight lengths off the pace at the half and powered past to capture last night’s third race $12,000 Open Pace in 1:51.1.
The six-year-old gelding is trained by Terry Leonard and was one of four consecutive driving wins for his son Casey on the nine-race program.