Wilfong “The Man” on Night of Champions

By Mike Paradise


Kyle Wilfong was “The Man” Saturday night, driving six winners on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions. The 31-year-old Illinois native also had four of his horses finish second on the 12-race card.


Casey Leonard also had a fruitful evening of driving, bringing home a trio of champions including Fox Valley Gemini’s upset of two-time Illinois Harness Horse of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky in the $62,000 Robert S. Molero Memorial for aged ICF pacers.


Fox Valley Gemini’s gutsy victory kept him perfect on the Night of Champions, the seven-year-old pacer’s sixth championship victory in as many tries.


Here’s how Hawthorne’s gala evening of racing unfolded”


Simply the Best: Despite the outside 10-post, the betting public hammered Curt Grummel’s Funky Wiggle down to 1-5 odds and the talented filly didn’t disappoint them, coasting to a six-length triumph in the $85,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial for ICF three-year-old trotting fillies.


The easy win earned the daughter of Lou’s Legacy a legitimate shot at 2022 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors. She’s done everything asked of her . . . and more. She’s the fastest Illinois bred of all-time in her class (1:51.4), she’s won from the second tier (pp 11) and last night she overcame the outside post in the Night of Champions opener.


“She’s handy but the (starting) gate isn’t her friend,” said driver Kyle Wilfong after the race. “She’s overcome a lot this year. I left with her because I wanted to control the race and we got the lead in pretty good shape.


Five horses sprinted out at the start, and it wasn’t until after the first quarter pole (28.4) that Funky Wiggle made the top. From there, Wilfong did is usual superb job of rating the filly who simply pulled away in mid-stretch for Lockridge, Iowa owner and breeder Dr. Patrick Graham.


The Dygert victory was Funky Wiggle’s ninth in 11 season starts and she’s now earned over $250,000 in two years of racing.


The pocket horse Creations Dream MV (Todd Warren) finished second while Lous Xanadu (Casey Leonard) came on for third.


Talk About Valor (Travis Seekman) made in back-to-back $62,000 Plesac trotting championships Saturday night. (Four Footed Fotos)

A Nose Better: Next up was the $62,000 Tony Maurello Memorial pace showdown for Illinois bred fillies and mares ages three and up, and it was the even-money choice Fox Valley Exploit regaining her spot as the top ICF aged pacing mare by a nose, thanks to a two-hole trip from driver Kyle Husted.


The usual late rusher Scorecard Dandy (Kyle Wilfong) went to the front this time with Husted taking the hole behind her. Atter couple of 28.2 quarters, slowed it down bit with a 28.4 third quarter. It wasn’t until deep stretch that the five-year-old Fox Valley Exploit made a late surge to win for the eighth time this year and her fourth Night of Champions victory in as many tries.


“I was worried about Scorecard Dandy going into the race,” said Husted. “She had beat us a couple of times already this year, but my mare came through and got the job done tonight.


My Uptown Girl took third in the 1:52.4 mile.


The Queen Reigns: The inaugural Carl Becker Memorial for aged state-bred trotters went as expected as the prohibitive 1-9 public’s choice Annas Lucky Star (2:10) was a comfortable front stepping winner for the 55th time in her brilliant career.


Kyle Wilfong took no chances with the eight-year-old trotting queen of Illinois, going right to the front, getting modest fractions of 28.1, 57.1 and 1:26, and then holding off a late bid by runner-up Loulita (Travis Seekman). Louzotic (Casey Leonard) took third.


“She always gives 100 per cent,” said her Salem, Illinois owner Danny Graham. “She’s been good from her very first qualifier. (Trainer) Nelson Willis has done a marvelous job with her and Kyle Wilfong has done a great job of driving her.”


Annas Lucky Star has now banked over $607,000 in her seven seasons of racing.


He’s Back: The Gerald Hansen stable’s Talk About Valor ($2.10) successfully defended his Plesac stake crown but it was far from an easy win for the determined seven-year-old.


Talk About Valor had to overtake the pacesetting Primed PN Powerful (Kyle Wilfong) who scooted to quick fractions of 27.4, :55.3 and 1:24 flat before giving way in the final sixteenth of the mile by one length in 1:53.3, a time that equaled the track record for an aged trotter.


Patiently handled by his regular driver Travis Seekman, Talk About Valor won for the 12th time this year in Illinois for Monee, Illinois owner Shelley Steele who said in the winner’s circle, “we’re blessed and proud to have a horse like him.” Shelley also pointed out that Talk About Valor’s win in the Plesac prep was Hansen’s 1,500th as a trainer.


A Marvelous Victory: The fifth race spotlight was on ICF two-year-old trotting fillies with a $125,000 pot on the line in the Fox Valley Flan final and Kyle Wilfong was back in the winner’s circle, this time with the Grummel family’s Marvelous Mystery.


The 1-5 favorite raced in the pocket through a 59.3 first half behind the 99-1 longshot Lous Lexi Lou (Archie Buford) before Wilfong pulled her out, swept by the leader and then held off stretch challenges from Radiant Diamond (Atlee Bender) and Dawn If Creation (Casey Leonard), the second and third place finishers, in that order.


“She’s very consistent,” said trainer Curt Grummel who shares ownership with Craig and Leo Grummel. “I was a little worried tonight because she wasn’t as sharp as she was earlier, but this was her 12th start as a two-year-old and that’s a lot for me. She’s done for the year.”


Another daughter of Lou’s Legacy, Marvelous Mystery ($2.40) was a perfect 10-for-10 at Hawthorne and banked $135,972 for her Carrolton, Illinois owner in her freshman season.


Fox Valley Crete proved best with Kyle Wilfong in Saturday night’s $93,000 Robert F. Carey Jr Memorial for ICF 3-year-old male pacers. (Four Footed Fotos)

Mowing Them Down: Three-year-old colts and geldings slugged it out in the $93,000 Robert F.  Carey Jr. Memorial ICF pace and when it was all over it was Fox Valley Crete ($6.20) greeted the track photographer with driver Kyle Wilfong making his fourth winner’s circle visit and trainer Nelson Willis his second.


Fox Valley Crete came off the pace like he did in the Carey prep win as Fox Valley Ozzy (Casey Leonard) took command with a brisk 27.1 first quarter. Casey slowed it down with a 29.2 second panel. Fox Valley Crete was third turning for home however the Sporsmaster offspring put on a strong late burst and prevailed by one and one-half lengths in 1:52.2, a new mark for pride of the Megan Rogers Stables Inc. of Chicago.


That Cinches It: Lousdobb (Casey Leonard) clinched ICF three-year-old male trotter honors with a narrow victory over his chief rival Fox Valley Cairo (Kyle Wilfong) in the $88,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial.


Owned by All-Wright Racing (Morris, Illinois) and his breeder Flacco Family Farms (Alexis, Illinois), Lousdobb’s triumph in the Dygert was his fifth in a row and his eighth in 10 season tries.


Wilfong took the 6-5 second choice Fox Valley Cairo to the front with a 28.1 first quarter with Lousdobb ($3.20) in fourth. After the 57.4 half, Casey had the 3-5 public’s choice out and rolling and he took over command before the last turn. However, Fox Valley Cairo came back in deep stretch and was only a head short at the end of the 1:55.1 mile.


The pride of the Steve Searle stable’s $44,000 winner’s share of the purse vaulted the Lousdobb season bank account to $114,720.


It was a Doozie: The $144,000 Kadabra championship for freshman male trotters was expected to be a doozie with the two division leaders Goomster (Kyle Wilfong) and Niko Man (Kyle Husted) landing the outside 9 and 10 slots, respectively.


And it was just that as both trotters were urged away from the starting gate and were three-wide in the first turn. Goomster made the front soon after the 28.4 first panel with Nino Man parked out to the half-mile pole (57.4) and beyond, never clearing the winner.


Goomster ($6.20) gave Wilfong his fifth champion of the night as the Dennis Gardner trainee won by less than one length in 1:56.2.


Eyesontheprize Lou (Casey Leonard) was third best,


Goomster’s win was his fifth in 12 starts for his West Salem, Illinois trainer who also owns the Cassis gelding.


Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) stayed unbeaten in six Night of Champion finals with his win over He’zzz A Wise Sky (Casey Leonard) in the $62,000 Robert S. Molero Memorial. (Four Footed Fotos)

Gem of an Effort: For the sixth time in as many trips to the gate on the Night of Champions Fox Valley Gemini, nicely driven by Casey Leonard, came away with a championship. Last night it was in the $62,000 Robert S. Molero Memorial for older state-bred pacers.


The 1 to 2 favorite He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong), as expected, shot out from the rail and cut the rapid fractions of 26.4, 55 flat and 1:22 4.


“Gemini” was third, four lengths behind with a quarter of mile to go when the seven-year-old Terry Leonard star pacer started to get into high gear. A late surge gave Fox Valley Gemini a neck victory in the 1:50.4 mile for Atwater, IL owner Jim Ballinger.


Fox Valley Gemini’s 53rd career win boosted his lifetime earnings to over $693,00.


Upset in “Finale:” In the $154,000 Incredible Finale freshman male pace crown and it was Illini Jetset (Todd Warren) who proved fastest in the lane, overtaking the 4-5 favorite Ghost Shark (Travis Seekman) by three quarters of a length in the 1:52.3 mile.


Sent off at 6-1, Illini Jetset was the first double-digit winner ($15.20) on the championship card. Trained by Erv Miller who shares ownership of the youngster with Bowie Racing (Shorewood) and Sara Miller (Stroudsburg, PA), the Travel Playlist gelding came from eight lengths back at the 27.3 first quarter for his second victory in 10 starts.


Ghost Shark settled for second, almost six lengths ahead of the third-place finisher Mister Sleazy.


Fox Valley Kia’s victory in the $185,000 Incredible Tillie 2-year-old filly pace was one of Kyle Wilfong’s six winners on the Night of Champions. (Four Footed Fotos)

From Start to Finish: Kyle Wilfong nailed down his sixth championship drive when he guided Fox Valley Kia ($5.40) to a front-end victory in the $185,000 Incredible Tillie stake for two-year-old pacing fillies.


Fox Valley Kia led at every pole, going to a 55 first half, holding off runner-up Rona Mae (Todd Warren) at the end of the 1:51.4 mile. My Daddy’s Revenge finished another length behind for third.


It was win No. 6 in a dozen tries for Fox Valley Kia’s Arizona owner Judy Collins.


Smart Move: Casey Leonard carved out a winning trip with Pattycake Moose to capture the $105,000 Plum Peachy stake for ICF there-year-old filly pacers, holding off the heavy favorite Apple Valley (Travis Seekman) by a neck.


Pattycake Moose ($11.20) raced in third throughout the mile and appeared to be stuck inside coming out of the last turn. However, when Apple Valley vacated the two-hole to, overtaking the pacesetting Rollnroz (Cordarius Stewart), Casey ducked the Gary Rath rained filly to the inside where she powered her way to the front.


Pattycake Moose won for the seventh time in 13 outings this season for Berwyn, Illinois owner Alan Beals after a winless 12 race campaign as a two-year-old.