Huge Response to Springfield Fall Review

By Mike Paradise

Thanks to the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the Standardbred Breeders Fund Advisory Board the final chapter on the 2017 Illinois Standardbred season hasn’t been written yet.

The first of two Saturday’s, of the Fall Review cards, for strictly for ICF horses will take place this weekend at the Illinois State Fair Grounds at Springfield Saturday, September 30th. The second Fall Review is next Saturday, October 7th.

As for the horsemen’s response for return of the Fall Review to Springfield, all I can say is Wow!

It certainly exceeded my expectations and probably just about everybody else’s in the Illinois Standardbred community. Over 100 ICF horses were entered for Saturday’s Fall Review.

With the size of each field limited to the pre-announced figure of seven horses per race, a total of 20 heats will be contested, all with a $5,000 purse. That’s a total of $100,000 in purse money that will be doled out Saturday by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Purses will be split 50-25-12-8-5 to the top five finishers, with any horse finishing sixth or seventh receiving a stipend of $100. A $40 starting fee was applied for each horse racing.

Three divisions were needed this Saturday for both ICF 3-year-old paces. The sophomore colt and gelding pace, lured 20 of “the boys” while 19 second season “gals” passed the entry box.

Du Quoin State Fair champ Fox Valley Herbie (Mike Oosting) races n Saturday's Fall Review at Springfield. (Four Footed Photo)

Du Quoin State Fair champ Fox Valley Herbie (Mike Oosting) races n Saturday’s Fall Review at Springfield. (Four Footed Fotos)

The 12th race, second 3-year-old male pace split, has the Tom Simmons Stable’s Fox Valley Herbie (Mike Oosting), the Du Quoin champ and a Hawthorne Carey Stake Series winner with almost $60,000 on his card, pitted against the Nick Giberson Stable’s Fox Valley Nemitz (Jamaica Patton), the Cardinal stake titleholder and a two-time Carey series winner.

The first sophomore filly division has four pacers with over $20,000 in season earnings fighting it out: A Real Doozie, Fox Valley Dandy, Prettyfaceuglyways and Fox Valley Charliz .

The third filly split is headed-up by the Wilfong family’s home-bred Boogie On Down, who had a four-race winning streak this summer that included the third leg of Hawthorne’s Plum Peachy stake series and the Springfield State Fair championship. Regular driver Kyle Wilfong, will steer the Skydancer Hanover filly.

The first seven Fall Review contests Saturday are 2-year-old events, with the opener comprised of freshman male pacers: Beach Shootingstar, Sports Creek, Talk About It, Sheriff Coffey and Hart To Heart, a Governor’s Cup division winner last month at Du Quoin for the Brink stable.

The second colt and gelding split is a battle between Al’s Briefs, Not Me Gram, Who Deen E and Backstreet Lawyer, the Incredible Finale runner-up last Saturday in the $195,000 Final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.

The seventh race, the first division of the 2-year-old colt and gelding trot, has division rivals: Illinimight (Mike Brink), fresh off his triumph in the Night of Champions $115,000 Kadabra Final, against True Detective (Curt Grummel), the Cardinal champ and a three-time Kadabra stakes series winner, who unfortunately, went off stride in the final while in contention.

Bucklegirl Bobette (Inside, Kyle Wilfong), victorious in the Maurello Final, is a Fall Review starter. (Four Footed Photo).

Bucklegirl Bobette (Inside, Kyle Wilfong), victorious in the Maurello Final, is a Fall Review starter. (Four Footed Photo).

The Fall Review’s ICF 4-year-old pacing mare division brings out the Night of Champion’s Tony Maurello Memorial winner, Bucklegirl Bobette (Kyle Wilfong), who overcame the outside nine-slot in the $60,000 championship for her Illinois owners Hart Walker (Jerseyville), Charles and trainer Bob Walker (Carrollton) and Robyn Klinger (Carrollton).

Bucklegirl Bobette will go postward, in the 16th race with a flashy record of 7 wins, 2 seconds and 1 third in 12 season starts and a $69,377 bankroll when she takes on Mimosa Party, Cola Gram, Dune On Time, Frontier Michelle, Lexington Lady and Summer Party.

Post time for Saturday’s Fall Review program and next Saturday’s as well, is 11 am and parking and admission is free.

While there is no pari-mutuel wagering on the card there will be a pick-a-winner contest on each event, where fans can win prizes for correctly selecting the winning racehorse, so come out and enjoy the final two days of Illinois harness racing for 2017.

Night of Champions Lived Up to its Billing

By Mike Paradise

Champions Night LogoThe end of summer officially came two days ago but you could have fooled a lot of people in the good sized crowd on hand for Saturday’s Night of Champions, the showcase event of Hawthorne’s 2017 harness racing meet.

When the horses went to the gate for the first of 11 lucrative ICF stake championships the temperature was a balmy 84 degrees. While the weather was very warm and humid, the action on the race track was even hotter and no doubt it had trainers and owners sweating out the outcome of each final.

Here’s how those eleven state-bred stake showdowns went with $1.38 million in purse money on the line.

(Race 2) $115,000 Kadabra Two-Year-Old Male Trot

Illinimike (No. 1, Tony Morgan). Four Footed Photo

Illinimight (No. 1, Tony Morgan). Four Footed Photo

Maybe it was only fitting that the initial champion horse of the gala evening was piloted by former Chicago Circuit kingpin Tony Morgan who made his first return to Illinois in 12 years to drive on the Night of Champions.

The four-time National Harness Driver of the Year got the call to drive Illinimight for the Mike Brink Stable and despite one road problem after another Tony steered the son of Cassis to a half-length victory over the even-money favorite Cruzen Cassie (Jared Finn) with a first season best time of 2:00.1.

Morgan dropped the 2-year-old trotter Illinimight into the fifth spot in the early going and when the horse in front of him, Majestic Caprice, went off stride, Tony had to snatch the lines of his trotter to avoid an accident.

True Detective (5-2, Casey Leonard) powered to the top soon after a 1:00.1 half-mile time but for a second straight week went off stride on the lead in the lane and eliminated himself

Meanwhile Illinimight ($6.60) was bottled-up in the last turn, however Morgan patiently got his 2-year-old in and around some horses going nowhere, ducked the Brink trainee from the middle of the track to the inside lane, and Illinimight took it from there and raked in the $57,500 winner’s share of the $115,000 Kadabra purse for owner Kevin Miller of Arthur, Illinois.

A double disqualification moved the fifth place finisher Fox Valley Strpwr (Freddie Patton Jr.) all the way up to third.

(Race 3) $135,000 Fox Valley Flan Two-Year-Old Filly Trot

Good Design (No. 9, Kyle Wilfonf), Four Footed Photo.

Good Design (No. 9, Kyle Wilfong), Four Footed Photo.

The unpredictable freshman trotter Good Design put it all together for driver Kyle Wilfong and established a new track record for a 2-year-old filly trotter with a winning 1:58 flat mile over a late-charging Trotting Grace (Kyle Husted).

Owned by her breeder Mr. Lynn Wilfong of Kentland, Indiana, Good Design ($14.00) went off stride in 3 of her last 5 starts, all ICF stake races, but the fickle filly was on her good behavior when it counted on the Night of Champions as she rallied in the lane with a second-over trip from her 28-year-old driver and nailed down her fifth victory in her 10 first career starts.

The 3-5 Fox Valley Flan favorite Maui Mama had to settle for third

(Race 4) $175,000 Incredible Tillie Two-Year-Old Filly Pace

Fox Valley Jazzy (Ridge Warren). Four Footed Photo.

Fox Valley Jazzy (Ridge Warren). Four Footed Photo.

Fox Valley Jazzy’s driver Ridge Warren raised his whip high in the air in triumph near the finish wire as he guided the Dale Kanitz talented 2-year-old filly pacer to the $175,000 Incredible Tillie Championship.

The fourth straight win for Fox Valley Jazzy was achieved by a heads-up drive from Warren who left with his pacer, dropped her into third, came out and took command, and then took the favorable pocket trip behind the 3-5 favorite The New Americana (Mike Oosting) into the stretch.

Fox Valley Jazzy ($6.60) then stepped it up a notch and pulled away to a 1:54.4 victory for owner Cathy Finn-Kanitz of Olney, Illinois. The $87,500 winner’s share of the purse boosted the daughter of Yankee Skyscaper’s bankroll to just under $140,000 in her first season of racing

Rollin Coal (Casey Leonard) overtook Allbeastnobeauty (Bobby Smolin) for the runner-up honor.

(Race 5) $120,000 Beulah Dygert Three-Year-Old Filly Trot

Anna's Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong). Four Footed Photo,

Anna’s Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong). Four Footed Photo.

The first betting favorite to win on the Night of Champions was the ultra-consistent three-year-old trotter Anna’s Lucky Star with her regular driver Kyle Wilfong in the sulky.

The overwhelming 1 to 5 favorite grinded her way through the first turn and took over the lead at the first quarter, reached in 28.3, from the early pacesetter Daisy Lou Duke (Kyle Husted).

Kyle then backed the pace down, taking the Terry Winemiller trained filly to a 30.1 second panel. The field started to bunch up in the third quarter but the home-bred public’s choice still had plenty left in her tank and pulled away in the lane by almost three lengths in the 1:56 flat mile.

Bred by her owner Danny Graham of Salem, Illinois the Cassis filly is now 15 for 17 in her first two seasons and has never lost a race outside of her filly division. Anna’s Lucky Star’s ($2.40) career purse earnings now stand at $144,690.

Beatrice (Casey Leonard) held off the late charge of Lous Credit Report (Mike Oosting) for second place.

(Race 6) $115,000 Erwin F. Dygert Three-Year-Old Male Trot

Picky Picky Valor (Marcus Miller) Four Footed Photo.

Picky Picky Valor (Marcus Miller) Four Footed Photo.

Picky Picky Valor ($10.20) picked the right night to win his first major ICF stake race because this one came with an $115,000 pot on the line. Mike Oosting got the catch drive behind the Gerald Hansen trained gelding and did a heck of job putting the improving trotter into position to prevail.

Saddled with the 10-hole and second best to division leader Luscipher the last three times they met, Picky Picky Valor shot out from the start and dropped into third. Oosting came out with the winner near the half (:57.1), cleared him to the top and this time Picky Picky Valor showed his heels to Luscipher and his eight other sixth race foes as he ended up more than three lengths the best.

The victory for Shelley Steele of Monee, Illinois saw Picky Picky Valor’s sophomore season earnings shoot up $102,120 with the $57,500 winner’s portion.

Muscle Image (Tony Morgan), who was stuck inside, came on nicely for second while the pace-setting Band’s Houdini (Kyle Wilfong) took home the third place share of the six figure pot.

(Race 7) $60,000 Plesac Three-Year-Old Male Trot

Tricky Nick (Jim Pantaleano). Four Footed Photo.

Tricky Nick (Jim Pantaleano). Four Footed Photo.

As expected the Pennsylvania invader Tricky Nick was a convincing winner in the Plesac Championship, just as he was in last week’s Prep for state-bred 3-year-olds and up trotting colts and geldings.

Capably steered by his regular driver Jim Pantaleano, Tricky Nick had to work hard to get ahead of the early leader Primed N Powerful at the 28.3 first quarter. However, a couple of soft middle quarters by Tricky Nick pretty much assured the outcome wasn’t in doubt for the chalk players who sent the son of Band’s Gold Chip off at 1 to 5.

Tricky Nick ($2.60) is trained by Richard Perfido for Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania owner Tom Mattingly.

The 70-1 longshot Fox Valley Shout (Matt Avenatti) was second, beaten three-plus lengths while Riet’s Kid (Tony Morgan) ended up third.

(Race 8) $195,000 Incredible Finale for Two-Year-Old Male Pacers

Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard). Four Footed Photo.

Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard). Four Footed Photo.

Jim Ballinger’s unbeaten Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) showed again he’s much the best of this year’s crop of ICF freshman pacing colts and geldings, and likely locked-up 2017 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors with his impressive ninth triumph in a row.

Watching the race I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought the Terry Leonard trainee was in deep trouble as they headed into the last turn. Casey sent out Fox Valley Gemini from the nine-slot and dropped the 3 to 5 choice into sixth. The winner came off the inside lane on the backside as did Molina who was racing in front of Fox Valley Gemini.

However, Molina wasn’t gaining any ground on the leader Fox Valley Hijinx (Kyle Husted). Casey had to take Fox Valley Gemini three wide in the final turn to get around the stalling Molina but when the field straightened out for the stretch drive the winning Yankee Skyscaper gelding put on a burst of speed and simply drew away from his competition.

The $97,500 winner’s share of the $195,000 pot sent Fox Valley Gemini’s freshman earnings soaring to $167,320 for his Salem, Illinois owner who had no less than 47 cheering family and friends join him in the winner’s circle.

Backstreet Lawyer (Mike Oosting) came on for second and Fox Valley Hijinx ended up third.

(Race 9) $60,000 Robert S. Molaro Three and Up Pace

Gibbs (Kyle Husted). Four Footed Photo

Gibbs (Kyle Husted). Four Footed Photo

Kyle Husted gave Gibbs ($8.80) a ground-saving three-hole trip and the Jim Eaton trained 9-year-old pacer took advantage of it and captured the $60,000 Molaro for Lake Orion, Michigan owner Rick Howles.

Crankin’ It Up (Jim Pantalaeno) won the early battle to get command with the 3-5 favorite Evergreen Elite (Mike Oosting) right behind him and Gibbs in third. They stayed that way through the 57.2 half. Mid-way in the last turn Husted moved Gibbs out and was eye-ball to eye-ball with Crankin’ It Up to the three-quarters with Evergreen Elite locked-in behind them.

Oosting did eventually get Evergreen Elite out to a clear path but there was no catching Gibbs on this night. Crankin’ It Up held on for second, beaten by almost two lengths in the 1:52.2 mile.

(Race 10) $180,000 Robert F. Carey Three-Year-Old Male Pace

Captain Rhett (Kyle Husted). Four Footed Photo.

Captain Rhett (Kyle Husted). Four Footed Photo.

The 3-year-old colt and gelding showdown was a wide-open stake expected to give us some fast fractions and it did just that as the hard-charging Captain Rhett came roaring down the lane to pop at 11-1 in 1:50.3, the fastest mile of the night.

Marcus Miller got the catch drive behind the winning Jim Horvath trained gelding and he bided his time in the middle of the pack while Sporty Redhot (12-1, Juan Franco) held out the 99-1 longshot Ima Skydancer (Bobby Smolin) through sizzling fractions of 26.4 and 54 flat to the half.

When those two pacers went into retreat, the late closers came a calling.

It was Captain Rhett ($24.20), owned by Illinoisans Harvey Grief (Odell) and Robert Verdun (Pontiac) who proved to be the fastest, flashing past and adding $90,000 to his 3-year-old earnings now at over $140,000.

Fox Valley Inferno (Kyle Wilfong) edged out Slzburgerslzburger (Kyle Husted) for second place.

(Race 11) $165,000 Plum Peachy Three-Year-Old Filly Pace

San Antonio Rose (Kyle Husted). Four Footed Photo.

San Antonio Rose (Kyle Husted). Four Footed Photo.

After going winless in her first nine starts of the year San Antonio Rose ($6.40) certainly got good at the right time as she sped to a front-stepping third straight victory in the Plum Peachy Final.

Kyle Husted pulled the Nick Prather trained filly out of second after Boogie On Down got to the first quarter in a quick 27 flat. San Antonio Rose took the field to a 54.3 half and to the three-quarters in 1:22.2 and opened up a huge lead.

Fancy Creek Jolene came on with a rush after her but was the bridesmaid at the end of the 1:52.2 mile, a new mark for San Antonio Rose. The 60-1 longshot Filly Forty (pp 10, Jim Pantaleano) finished third.

San Antonio Rose is owned by George Pollock of Rushville, Illinois and D Kay Bartlow of Augusta, Illinois.

(Race 12) $60,000 Tony Maurello Three and Upward Mare Pace

Bucklegirl Bobette (inside, Kyle Wilfong). Four Footed Photo.

Bucklegirl Bobette (inside, Kyle Wilfong). Four Footed Photo.

The tightest finish on the card came in the finale when Bucklegirl Bobette gave Kyle Wilfong his third championship drive by nosing out Fox Valley Charm (Mike Oosting).

The Bob Walker trained winner was the third Night of Champions horse to win from the nine-post.

Five mares sprinted away for early position with Fox Valley Charm making the top and Bucklegirl Bobette dropping into fifth.

After a 28.2 first panel Bucklegirl Bobette made a strong move and cleared to the front and went on to hold a late surge by the pocket pacer of Fox Valley Charm to win in 1:53.3 for Illinois owners Hart Walker (Jerseyville), trainer Bob Walker, Charles Walker and Robyn Klinger, all from Carrolton.

The four-year-old Duneside Perch mare’s victory was her seventh in an even dozen trips postward.

It’s the Finale: The curtain comes down on Hawthorne’s meeting Sunday evening with five $30,000 ICF Consolation stake on the nine race program .

The Jackpot High-Five Pool has a carryover of nearly $180,000 and management is estimating the pool will swell to $500,000 on the fifth race wager that does have a mandatory payout on closing night.

With harness racing for 2017 in Illinois coming to an end I’ll be writing a once a week column through the rest of the year every Friday right here on the IHHA web-site

The Wait Is Over

By Mike Paradise

With $1.38 million in purse money on the line for eleven ICF championships Hawthorne’s Night Of Champions and the driver colony boosted by the return to Illinois of former Chicago circuit leading drivers Tony Morgan and Marcus Miller, we are in for a very entertaining and action-packed Saturday of harness racing.

Here’s how I see tonight’s Night of Champions Finals:

Champions Night Logo(Race 2) $115,000 Kadabra Two-Year-Old Male Trot

The Curt Grummel Stable’s True Detective has won all five career starts when he has stayed on stride but as we have seen from time to time, a flat mile isn’t always in the cards for the freshman.

True Detective likely had last week’s race won if he didn’t made a break coming out of the last turn, but he did.

Speaking of breaks, Crusen Cassi tried to duck the gate and went off stride at the start in the same race and still came a a long way to finish second, so respect his chances here.

And then there’s Illininmike, a 15-1 longshot winner last week who keeps getting better and better. His trainer Mike Brink turns over the lines tonight to Tony Morgan the now 59-year-old driver former Chicago circuit kingpin with over $15,000 career dash winners, and the gelding drew the rail too boot.
Mike’s Pick: True Detective

(Race 3) $135,000 Fox Valley Flan Two-Year-Old Filly Trot

All eyes and a great deal of the Win Pool money will be on the streaking Maui Mama from the barn of Springfield conditioner Mike Brink. She’s rattled off five victories in a row and has tasted defeat only once in in her eight career starts.

Maui Mama drew nicely with the four-slot for regular driver Casey Leonard who probably won’t wait long to have the filly up-close where she could keep her winning streak intact.

The luck of the draw wasn’t kind to the Steve Searle’s Trotting Grace but she has gate speed and probably has little choice to be asked to shoot out and hope to gain early position in decent shape. She was much the best in her elimination last week.

Good Design is the question mark. When she has stayed flat, she’s been right there as her 4-for-9 record shows and over $133,000 in earnings. She also drew lousy with the nine-slot and I don’t think the plan is for her to come from last and try to win this championship.
Mike’s Pick: Maui Mama

(Race 4) $175,000 Incredible Tillie Two-Year-Old Filly Pace

No doubt the draw for posts makes The New Americana the filly too beat. The Steve Searle trainee followed up a disappointing third a couple of weeks ago with a convincing victory in this division’s fourth leg and figures to be out in a hurry with the one-slot.

Fox Valley Jazzy landed the 9-hole in this 10-horse field nevertheless she’s been sharp and has more wins (7) than any other filly in her division.

When you’re going for $175,000 and have a horse with gate speed you can pretty count on a pacer like Fox Valley Jazzy to have her nose on the gate and sprinting away in a hurry when “they’re off.” The first quarter could be the key for Fox Valley Jazzy.

Rollin Coal is a threat to take advantage of a quicker pace in this final than in last week’s elimination. You may also see good late moves from the Gary Rath trained two-some of Shelby Rae and Frontier Cuzin.
Mike’s Pick: The New Americana

(Race 5) $120,000 Beulah Dygert Three-Year-old Filly Trot

Another victory tonight and you could make a effective case for Danny Graham’s filly Anna’s Lucky Star to come away with the title as the No. 1 harness horse in Illinois for 2017.

She certainly has dominated her division for a second straight year.

Anna’s Lucky Star’s stake series win last week was her eighth in 10 season starts and she’s unbeaten in her last seven outings. The filly has lost only twice this year and both came out of her division against some older male trotters in Hawthorne conditioned events.

In fact Anna’s Lucky Star has never lost a race in her ICF divisions. She went 6-for-6 as a 2-year-old and she’s 6-for-6 as a 3-year-old against other state bred fillies.

Lou’s Credit Report with the rail and Daisy Lou Duke, post four, appear to be her biggest menaces tonight.
Mike’s Pick: Anna’s Lucky Star

(Race 6) $115,000 Erwin F. Dygert Three-Year-Old Male Trot

The division leader Louscipher is back in top form and is riding a four race winning streak into the race. He’ll likely be settled in at the start and be on the move somewhere on the backside where he’ll probably have to try and overtake Picky Picky Valor again.

Picky Picky Valor is always right there but hasn’t won a stakes final yet. He’ll use his gate speed tonight and how easily or not he makes the top could determine his fate.

Bands Houdini and Muscle Image have shown at times the ability to come to out on top. Trainer Mike Brink turns over the lines of Muscle Image tonight Tony Morgan.
Mike’s Pick: Louscipher

(Race 7) $60,000 Plesac Three-Year-Old Male Trot

After Tricky Nick’s dominating performance in last week’s Prep for this stake, it’ll take a huge effort by another foe or a miscue by the Richard Perfido 5-year-old trotter to keep him from revisiting the winner’s circle.

The often underrated Ants Iner Pants was second best to Tricky Nick a week ago and she’s one of his major threats again. Fox Valley Veto can get an up-close trip but he’ll have to step it up a notch to take this championship
Mike’s Pick: Tricky Nick

(Race 8) $195,000 Incredible Finale for Two-Year-Old Male Pacers

It’s hard to make an argument against perfection and that’s why a victory by Fox Valley Gemini on the Night of Champions probably earns him the 2017 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors for his owner Jim Ballinger.

The Terry Leonard Stable’s Fox Valley Gemini will bring his unbeaten record of eight in a row into this final and it might be a start that the Yankee Skyscraper youngster didn’t make that helps him win this championship.

Fox Valley Gemini made his first career start until June 22, so he missed the first leg of the Incredible Finale. He won all three times in July, sweeping the Cardinal and capturing an Incredible Finale Series leg. In August he won on the 12th at Springfield and came back four days later on the 16th to also notch that State Fair’s $50,000 championship.

The decision was made not to ship Fox Valley Gemini to Du Quoin for the Governor’s Cup two weeks later and instead the horse was rested-up with three important consecutive weekends of ICF stakes coming up in September.

The talented freshman pacer captured the third leg of the Incredible Finale on the 9th, and the fourth leg last Saturday on the 16th. Is he up for the big one tonight on the 23rd?

I think so.

Fox Valley Hijinx is a potent threat. Getting the one-slot is huge for this Kyle Husted trainee. His driver will likely do what he can to protect his post and maybe hope for a possible pocket trip.

Hart To Heart is a late-bloomer with ability. It took a 27 or so second quarter last week for him to swoop to the top and that proved costly for the stretch drive. A different trip makes him a major contender as well.
Mike’s Pick: Fox Valley Gemini

(Race 9) $60,000 Robert S. Molaro Three and Up Pace

There really isn’t a clear-cut favorite in this race.

Evergreen Elite won last week’s prep but he did get a good inside trip and got out at the right time. He might again.

Crankin’ It Up got the action at the betting windows and did race well in defeat. Maybe tonight he can flush out the above and out-close him in the lane.

Mystical Walter has speed and the rail and that’s always a possible winning combination and the Terry Leonard trainee has over $384,000 in lifetime earnings, tops in this 10-horse field.

Then there’s Gibbs. He followed a Sept. 8 clunker with a big effort last week and was finishing the fastest, plus he gets a favorable post change for trainer Jim Eaton.
Mike’s Pick: Crankin’ It Up

(Race 10) $180,000 Robert F. Carey Three-Year-Old Male Pace

You can probably find reasons for about eight different ICF sophomores to come away with the big prize. It most likely will come down to the trip. I’m expecting a fast first half, maybe around 55 seconds and if that’s the case the winner could be doing it in come-from-behind fashion.

A couple of “Fox Valley’s” are the morning line favorites with “Nemitz” listed 3-1 and “Herbie” at 4-1. Both pacers have been best coming from behind. In fact trainer Tom Simmons calls Fox Valley Herbie “his heart attack horse” because of his usual late-charging style of racing.

Springfield champion Captain Rhett is a hard-trying pacer and gets Marcus Miller at his lines for the first time. A well-timed move could see the Jim Horvath trainee get the job done. Then there’s Sporty Redhot who is always in the thick of it and is a serious consideration as well.

I’m taking a shot with Slzburgerslzburger who popped at 20-1 last week, his first start on Lasix. It was a game 1:52 flat mile. Maybe he can follow-up live cover for trainer Matt McKenzie and send his Buffalo Grove, Illinois owner home $90,000 richer.
Mike’s Pick: Slzburgerslzburger

(Race 11) $165,000 Plum Peachy Three-Year-Old Filly Pace

There should be quite a battle in the early part of this stake and then another when they turn for home. On paper, there is a lot of horses who want to be up-close and that includes the 2-1 morning line favorite Lady’s Party.

Lady’s Party got away with a soft 58.3 first half on the front last week. That won’t happen with ten times more money on the line tonight. I don’t expect Casey Leonard to duck her either, coming from ninth or 10th to win this stake isn’t likely in the cards.

Both the first two inside fillies, Boogie On Down (pp 1) and San Antonio Rose (pp 2), have had their success racing up close or on the front end. The same goes for Princess Sage (pp 5) and Lady’s Party (pp 9).

That’s why I’m going with the Kim Hamilton Stable’s Fancy Creek Jolene who has shown she can fly in the lane and may do just that tonight and rally in time.
Mike’s Pick: Fox Valley Jolene

(Race 12) $60,000 Tony Maurello Three and Upward Mare Pace

We close Illinois showcase night of racing with another competitive slugfest and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

The sharp 4-year-old mare Bucklegirl Bobette captured last week’s Prep however she had the rail then and she has the outside nine-slot tonight, so her task is a difficult one.

The 5-2 program choice is Joyful Game from the barn of Kim Roth. She was a luke-warm favorite last week and looked to be in good shape racing second after a slow 59.1 half but came up empty. Tony Morgan is in town to drive her tonight and she’ll benefit from a start over this track

Fox Valley Charm was a non-threat in her prep after a series of previous solid efforts. She is this stake’s defending champ and likely will be used much more aggressively in this final.

Whiskerosonkittens, also a Kim Roth trainee, had another big effort and that’s something she does on a regular basis. She also can show gate speed.

LK’s Nancy Lee was in peak form until last week. Since she’s a first time Lasix user tonight I’m going to assume she bled in that prep so toss out that finish and consider her.
Mike’s Pick: Whiskersonkittens

Good luck and enjoy a terrific night of Illinois racing.

Night of Champion Purses Get Huge Boost

By Mike Paradise

When Illinois harness horsemen and owners look at the purses on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions card they’ll probably rub their eyes in disbelief.

Nevertheless, they can believe what they see and that’s a momentous increase over the estimated purses in all the ICF championships, for Saturday’s showcase evening of Illinois harness racing.

They can thank the Illinois Department of Agriculture 708 Budget Line, for over $1.5 million in funds strictly for use in ICF stake races and the Spring County Fairs through July 1, 2018.

The governor’s office released the funds and Tuesday the Illinois Standardbred Breeder’s Fund Advisory Board and the Illinois Department of Agriculture jointly determined how the money was allocated.

Champions Night LogoAs you’ll see a hefty portion went to the purses on Saturday’s Night of Champions.

For example: The Robert F. Carey for ICF 3-year-old pacing males was to go for $117,100. Now they’ll race for $180,000. The 3-year-old filly Plum Peachy for sophomore filly pacers jumped from $107,500 to $165,000.

Meanwhile, the ICF freshmen didn’t get overlooked. Saturday’s $125,000 estimated Incredible Tillie filly pace shot up by $50,000 to $175,000 and the Incredible Finale for “the boys” is no longer an $111,700 pot, it’s now an even $195,000 purse.

The state-bred trotters got nice hefty hikes in their championships as well, with the 2-year-old filly Fox Valley Flan getting the biggest boost, a $49,200 increase to $135,000. The other three trot championships on the card received increases of $41,200, $38,150 and $38,150.

The lowest purse for any of Saturday’s Night of Champion finals now sits at $60,000.

Altogether $1.38 million in purses are on the line in eleven ICF stake events on Hawthorne’s Night of Championships. That’s a lot of dough and over $472,000 of it came this week from the Illinois Department of Agriculture funding.

What you likely won’t read anywhere else, is that it was the IHHA Lobbyists working hard behind the scenes, that played a huge role getting those $1.5 million in funds released to the Illinois bred harness racing community. The same IHHA lobbyists that often are criticized by some association members as an “unnecessary expense.”

Well, here are $1.5 million reasons why they indeed are a “necessary” expense. This obvious huge development for Illinois harness racing would not have occurred without the IHHA lobbying efforts.

It was also announced this week jointly by Dept. of Agriculture and the Standardbred Advisory Board, that there will be two days of Fall Review races at Springfield to be held on Saturday Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 30.

Still to be worked out, are likely substantial increases in next year’s Violet and Cardinal stakes of both gaits, as well monies for County Fair purses, possible distribution for any ICF stakes during the winter meet, and maybe some new state-bred stakes.

Details on any future allocation of 708 Dept. of Agriculture Budget Line Funds will be posted on the IHHA web-site at when they become available.

Morgan, Miller Coming Here: The driver colony for Saturday’s Night of Champions got a big boost with the word that both former Chicago circuit driving champions Tony Morgan and Marcus Miler are coming to town.

Morgan is closing in on 16,000 lifetime winners and only Dave Palone, with 18,000-plus has a higher total. Tony was named Harness Driver of the Year by Harness Tracks of America four different times—1996, 1997, 2002 and 2006.

Morgan, a long-time past president of the IHHA, was the acknowledged kingpin of Illinois drivers through much of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s before he left the state for the much more enticing purses offered up at the Casino-aided race tracks up and down the east coast.

The now 59-year-old native, hasn’t driven in the Chicago area since the end of the 2005 racing season, some 12 years ago. Horses Morgan has steered, have earned over $126 million. Only 12 drivers have ever had horses earn more.

The 28-year-old Miller left the local circuit for Pennsylvania after the 2012 season. In his previous three years Marcus drove over 1,300 in Illinois with a career season best coming in 2011 when he won the Maywood Park driving title.