Shelley’s Right Pick Paid Off

By Mike Paradise

Buying a yearling at a horse sale is often a roll of the dice. Trainers do their diligent homework regarding the bloodlines of a youngster and are there at sale time to check out the conformation of a horse going through the sale.

Financial considerations obviously play a big part on a decision to bid or not and at what cost nevertheless when it comes down to the bottom line in most cases that decision belongs to the potential horse owner.

After all it’s he or she who is plucking down the money with hopes the yearling will not only make it to the races but also will be good enough to eventually be a plus and not a minus in the new owner’s checkbook.

Back in 2016 at the Walker Yearling Sale trainer Gerry Hansen and his primary owner Shelley Steele eyed-balled the young ICF trotter Picky Picky Valor has a potential addition to Hansen’s Stable.

The son of Yankee Valor was out of the broodmare Heather Doreen, making him a half-brother to the successful trotter All About Cowboys (1:55.3).

Four Footed Photo

Four Footed Photo

Shelley had an effective Yankee Valor trotter a couple of years earlier in Cruisin Valor. He captured the 2-year-old Hanover stake at Balmoral in 2014 and was second in both the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fair finals, dropping neck decision both times to Captain Greedy.

Shelley liked what she saw with Picky Picky Valor, another son of Yankee Valor, in the sale’s ring and made up her mind she wanted the trotter. Gerry told her no way and that they would pass on the horse. Shelley eventually gave in and said “O.K.”

It appeared Hansen won the debate when “Picky” went through the auction unsold. Has it turned out it was Shelley who eventually got her way.

“The horse went through the sale unsold but when I told Gerry I was going to get something to drink I ran out of there and tracked down Kenny (Chupp, the horse’s owner and breeder) and asked how him much he wanted for Picky. We agreed on a price and I came back and told Gerry he has a new horse in his barn,” said the hands-on horse owner.

“When Gerry started working with ‘Picky’ he told me the horse was lazy and was looking around at everything. He said the horse had a bad attitude but all of a sudden that changed. He was different horse when we put him out there with another horse.

“Gerry came in and said to me: ‘You’ve got a horse.’

“Picky was behind the other horses but I don’t care if they make it as a 2-year-old or not, like most owners do. I rather have a good 3 or 4-year-old trotter.

“Picky didn’t a do lot as a 2-year-old. He got hurt early on and lost quite a bit of time. He was behind the other horses because we didn’t rush him back. We just let him do it his way”

Picky Picky Valor won one race in eight starts and made a little over $5,000 in his uneventful first racing season.

“He bled in a race early on as a 3-year-old so we put him on Lasix but he got a reaction to the medication and it just dried him out. It really knocked him down. The horse lost 100 pounds. He was so dehydrated that I was worried we were going to lose him.”

It became an up and down sophomore season for Picky Picky Valor and at times a very frustrating one for his trainer.

“It seemed that every time we thought we had it figured out with the horse something would happen on the race track, usually in a big race,” lamented Hansen.

“Picky” won his opening leg of the Busse Late Closer Series at Hawthorne in May and was third best in the final for open company trotters. He was fourth in his first Dygert ICF stake series leg and second in the next at 153-1 odds when never found racing room until it was much too late in the lane.

A week later the horse won the Cardinal prep however when the final came around the horse broke at the start was a non-threatening fifth. Two weeks later at the Springfield State Fair “Picky” drew off (1:56.4) in a prep easily
disposing of his “nemesis” Louscipher.

Nonetheless, the $50,000 Springfield Final turned out to another huge disappointment for Steele and Hansen.

“The horse would have won at Springfield if he didn’t get rushed to the gate and go off-stride,” said Shelley, the proprietor of the Tack Shop at Hawthorne. “He still came on to be second,”

In the Pronto Don at Du Quoin “Picky” trotted a 27.4 second quarter when he came out of fourth and powered to the front with driver Brian Carpenter. The horse was almost four lengths on top at the 56.4 half and six lengths on the lead mid-way down the stretch when he got leg weary and was passed by the winner Louscipher.

Despite the 10-hole Picky Picky Valor (Mike Oosting) captured the Erwin F. Dygert trotting stake championship. (Four Footed Photo)

Despite the 10-hole Picky Picky Valor (Mike Oosting) captured the Erwin F. Dygert trotting stake championship. (Four Footed Photo)

In the fourth leg of the Dygert Stake Series “Picky” ended up second best when got overtaken in the lane by, you guessed it, Louscipher.

“I still told Gerry that ‘Picky’ was going to win the final,” continued Shelley. “When he was second the previous week he wasn’t 100 per cent and came up short. I was confident he was going to win the championship.”

Hansen didn’t have his owner’s bubbling confidence going into the championship.

When asked in the winner’s circle on the Night of Champions what Gerry was thinking when his horse drew the 10-hole in the final, Hansen gave the interviewer an honest but somewhat unexpected reply:

“When I saw he got the 10-hole I thought I was going to puke.”

Gerry got past his nauseous feeling before the Night of Champions rolled around. Meanwhile his owner was a woman of a few words when she was viewing the championship trot that night.

“When I was watching all I kept on saying out loud was ‘Oh My God, Oh My God,” said Shelley. “When the race was over I was in a daze. I was still numb in the winner’s circle.”

With over $96,000 on his card as a 3-year-old Picky Picky Picky is currently getting a well-deserved rest at the Hansen farm where the top priority is fattening up the trotter.

“Now that Picky’s season is over we’re doing what we can to put more weight on him,” said Shelley, a resident of Monee, Illinois. “He’s coming along fine and we’ll be racing him, and his brother (Talk About Valor), at Hawthorne’s winter meet.”

Captain Crush: Last week’s column horse Captain Rhett, this year’s Carey champion, came up with am an impressive victory Thursday night at Northfield Park. The Jim Horvath trained ICF 3-year-old had the eight-hole on a nine-horse field on the Ohio half-miler, spotted the field 13 lengths at the half, and still crushed his opposition in a $6,800 conditioned pace.

The one-plus length win was in 1:53.2 (28.1 last quarter) for Illinois owners Harvey Grieff (Odell) and Robert Verdun (Pontiac). Ryan Stahl drove Captain Rhett ($16.00) to his latest victory.

A Big Win for a “Little Guy”

By Mike Paradise

Most of us who don’t have a wagering interest in a horse race tend to root for a “little guy,” a trainer with a small stable that doesn’t usually doesn’t have the betting favorite in a big race and has never had a horse who won a six-figure event.

When Captain Rhett exploded in the lane on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions with driver Marcus Miller and captured the $180,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial Championship for the 3-year-old ICF colt pace, I’m sure there were plenty of veteran horseman and players, who were happy for trainer Jim Horvath.

The 71-old Horvath has been one of those “little guys” on the Chicago circuit for a number of decades. From time to time Jim has had some good horses, but he never had been in the winner’s circle after a Super Night type of championship.

Captain Rhett (Marcus Miller) on Hawthorne's 2017 Night of Champions. (Four Footed Photo)

Captain Rhett (Marcus Miller) on Hawthorne’s 2017 Night of Champions. (Four Footed Fotos)

Of course, that all changed on Hawthorne’s 2017 Night of Champions for the Chicago native when his “trip horse” Captain Rhett got the right kind of trip for Illinois owners Harvey Grieff (Odell) and Robert Verdun (Pontiac).

Horvath has certainly paid his dues before this year’s big reward. Jim has been involved in Illinois harness racing for the last 43 years, with some of those racing seasons far from prosperous years for his often small sized Chicago circuit based stable.

Horvath knew he sent out a horse on the Night of Champions with a solid chance to win the Carey Final, but he also understood some things had to go his horse’s way to succeed.

“I told Marcus (driver Miller) before the race, just sit with him. The horse has got a big motor. He’s a ‘trip horse’ and all you have to do is give him a trip. And boy, that’s what happened.”

A fast early pace was expected in the Carey Championship and it turned out to be even quicker than we all imagined when the 10-horse Ima Skydancer shot out and took the field to a startling 54 second flat first half.

Marcus had Captain Rhett in fifth position, some eight lengths back at the bruising half, and looked ready to make his move.

“I was saying to myself don’t pull him yet, not yet,” said Horvath. “Marcus timed it just right.”

Captain Rhett got into high gear near the three-quarters (1:23.1) and his 26.4 last panel gave the Horvath trainee an almost three length victory in 1:50.3.

It was a happy crowd in the Hawthorne's Winner's Circle. (Four Footed Photo)

It was a happy crowd in the Hawthorne’s Winner’s Circle. (Four Footed Fotos)

Marcus was the sixth different driver in Captain Rhett’s 3-year-old campaign. The son of Duneside Perch, out of the Sportsmaster mare Scarlet, had the fastest mile of the year in the state by an ICF pacer with his 1:49.4 clocking in the Springfield championship with Kyle Husted at his lines.

After the horse’s fourth place finish at Du Quoin, a third in a Hawthorne conditioned pace, and a fourth in the fourth leg of the Carey series, Husted made a decision to switch to Slzburgerslzburger for the Carey showdown.

“When that happened I told Harvey (owner Grieff), let me give it a shot and call Marcus and see if he’ll come in from Pennsylvania to drive our horse. He was here (on the Night of Champions) last year and I thought he might come back if he had a good horse to drive in a championship.

“I know Marcus well. He drove a lot for me when he was here (in Illinois). So I made the call.”

“Marcus told me ‘I know the way there’ and that he’ll be at Hawthorne to drive our horse in the championship. I’ve always liked Marcus. He’s a good driver and he’ll listen to what you want done with your horse in a race and go out and do it. I can’t say that for some of the other guys here who hear what you tell them and then let it go in one ear and out the other.”

Horvath became involved in harness racing when the sport was beginning to peak decades ago on the Chicago circuit.

“I started out in the business 1974, with a gentleman named Anthony Gaudio and my first job at a track was with Harry Burright. I went out on my own in 1976 and won my very first start as a horse trainer.”

“I’ve had some nice horses over the years. One of them was Anxious Nate RK who won 16 races for me and made over $100,000. He won his Dan Patch elimination (in 1995 at Sportsman’s), but the horse got locked-in during the final.

“Another good horse for me was Private Ashley. I had her a few years ago (2013). She was third in a Super Night Consolation. But I’ve never had a 3-year-old like Captain Rhett.”

“The Captain” banked $131,229 in his sophomore campaign and is now being pointed for Hawthorne’s upcoming winter meet.

“The horse is in Ohio (Northfield Park) with me, but I’ll be bringing him back to Illinois for Hawthorne. I got calls from Robin (Racing Secretary Schadt) and Tom Kelley (Director of Harness Racing Operations) saying they’ll have some series or stake races coming up in January with good money for Illinois bred horses.”

“I’m looking forward to their winter meet.”

So are we Jim.

A Picture-Perfect Ending for the Kanitz’s

By Mike Paradise

When Hawthorne’s summer harness racing meeting began this year in early May, trainer Dale Kanitz was just happy his small stable got stalls on the track’s backstretch.

Little did Dale know, that four months later he would be with elated friends and family in the winner’s circle on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions, because the horse that got him there wasn’t even in his barn when the meet got under way.

The Incredible Tillie 2-year-old filly pace champion, Fox Valle Jazzy was acquired by Kanitz in mid-June and would go on to end her first season of racing with four consecutive victories, including three series legs and the final, a gaudy record of 8 wins, two seconds and two thirds in 13 starts, and with over $130,000 on her card.

Four Footed Photo

(Four Footed Fotos)

“I was thankful Hawthorne gave us stalls when no one else would,” said the 69- year-old Kanitz from Olney, Illinois. “I was stabled right next to Demarrio (Gary) Brown, a friend of mind from Mississippi.

“My wife Cathy and I always attended the Walker Sale every year but we did miss the one in 2016. That’s when Gary bought Fox Valley Jazzy for $1,800.

“I liked the way Fox Valley Jazzy looked and I thought her bloodlines were outstanding, so I asked Demario if the filly was for sale and he said she was. We settled on a price and she came over to my barn.”

Fox Valley Jazzy is a Yankee Skyscaper filly and the first foal of LR Dancing Dream, a daughter of Ft Apache Hanover bred by Tim and Diane Wilson of Martinsville, Illinois. LR Dancing Dream won 30 races in her six years of racing and was twice the runner-up in Super Night Championships at Balmoral Park.

As a 4, 5 and 6-year-old she raced in high-level conditioned races, or Preferred events on the east coast.   LR Dancing Dream made over $330,000 in that three year span, twice winning in 1:50.3.

Before Fox Valley Jazzy joined Kanitz, she won her 2-year-old debut on June 8th at Hawthorne in 1:55 flat and followed with a victory a week later in the first leg of the Incredible Tillie stake series when she was hammered down to 1 to 9 odds with driver Tyler Shehan.

In her first start for the Kanitz’s, Fox Valley Jazzy finished third in her Violet elimination. She did finish a disappointing sixth in the Violet Final, however, two starts later the freshman filly was a solid second in another series leg of the Incredible Tillie.

Soon after Shehan went back to his home state of Kentucky that gave Ridge Warren an opportunity as the filly’s driver and the 28-year-old certainly made the most of it.

Warren posted back-to back wins at Hawthorne with the filly and was second with her in the Springfield State Fair Final.

“As the summer went on the filly just got better and better,” said Dale.

Indeed she did.

 An elated Ridge Warren drove Fox Valley Jazzy to her Incredible Tillie Championship. (Four Footed Photo).

An elated Ridge Warren drove Fox Valley Jazzy to her Incredible Tillie Championship. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Jazzy rattled off triumphs in her final four races as a 2-year-old, capped by her convincing 1:54.3 season best clocking in the $175,000 Incredible Tillie Championship.

What kind of a filly is Fox Valley Jazzy?

“She’s on the small size and she’s what I would call an ‘active’ horse,” answered Dale. “She likes to be on the racetrack, not in her stall. The filly likes her work and when she’s out there racing, she wants to finish ahead of the other horses.”

“She’s a sweetheart to be around,” added Dale’s wife Cathy Finn-Kanitz, who trained horses at Balmoral, Maywood and on the Illinois County Fair circuit in the middle of the 2000’s. Cathy also took care of Fox Valley Jazzy when the filly competed at Springfield.

“We’re very excited to have her” continued Cathy. “She’s at Walker’s now, getting some well-deserved rest.”

Dale is looking forward to the upcoming winter meet at Hawthorne, however, his prize filly won’t be with him when the meet gets under way on Friday, January 5th.

“She’ll be going down to Georgia for the winter where the weather will be a lot nicer than here in Illinois,” said Dale with a laugh. “She’ll be back at Hawthorne for the summer meet in May.”

Let’s Try Again: Horsemen have their fingers crossed that the weatherman will be more cooperative for this Saturday’s Fall Review Two at the Springfield State Fairgrounds, after last week’s card was cancelled because of inclement weather.

With 87 horses entered this time around, again 17 ICF divisions were carded with a 12 noon first post time. The first five races are for 2-year-olds with the $115,000 Kadabra champion Illinimight (Mike Brink), heading up the opener for 2-year-old ICF colt trotters.

The $175,000 Incredible Tillie runner-up Rollin Coal (Bobby Smolin), a winner in the first Fall Review, raced two weeks ago goes in the second race, first division of the freshman filly pace.

Backstreet Lawyer (Mike Oosting), second best in the $195,000 Incredible Finale on the Night of Champions, looks to make it back-to-back Fall Review triumphs in the fourth race 2-year-old colt pace.

The $60,000 Maurello champion Bucklegirl Bobette (Kyle Wilfong), a winner in the first Fall Review, is back for another go at it in Saturday’s 14th race for 4-year-old and up ICF mares.  The Hart Walker owned and trained mare didn’t enter for last week’s Fall Review and instead finished fourth, pacing in 1:51 flat, in a $10,000 conditioned race at The Red Mile, after leading the field at the 3/4 mile pole reached in a quick time of 1:22.1.

Hoosier Happenings: A trio of Illinois bred 3-year-old pacers are racing Saturday might in divisions of the Circle City stakes at Hoosier Park. The Tom Simmons Stable’s Fox Valley Herbie goes in the $37,600 fifth race first split, while Slzburgerslzburger, owned by the Engel Stable of Buffalo Grove, IL, and Gabe Henry, from the barn of Tom Graham Jr., compete in the $37,900 second Circle City division.

Thursday night at Hoosier Park the ICF trotter Annas Lucky Star finished fifth in the $68,000 Circle City stake for 3-year-old fillies and My Kind Of Dance was fourth in the stake’s $50,000 2-year-old pace for fillies.

Steve Searle’s Trotting Grace was slated to race in the $73,600 Madison County stake, however, the Illinois bred freshman filly trotter came up sick and had to be scratched.

Fall Review Races at Springfield Postponed

Racing for this weekend at the Springfield State Fairgrounds has been postponed due to inclement weather. They are considering a new date, but nothing official yet. Check back for an update.

Second Fall Review Also Well Received

By Mike Paradise

It’s the Fall Review Two, at the Springfield State Fair Grounds this Saturday after last weekend’s first go-around proved to be a rousing success for Illinois horsemen and their owners.

Over 100 pacers or trotters went postward and vied for $100,000 in purse money provided by the Illinois Department of Agriculture with the assistance of the Standardbred Breeders Fund Advisory Board.

There’s $85,000 more on the line this Saturday, when the first of another 17 divisions of strictly ICF racing events gets under way at 11 am. Each race carries a $5,000 purse.

(Due to inclement weather this Saturday’s Springfield Fall Review was cancelled and will be raced next Saturday, Oct. 14, with a 12 noon first post. Entries may be made online through the United States Trotting Association online platform (, or by calling LeAnn Shinn at 618.783.2589. Entries close at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. (October 11)

The second Fall Review concludes harness racing in Illinois for 2017.

Two of the most successful Springfield based stables for many years have been the barns of Mike Brink and Tom Simmons, long-time strong proponents of the ICF Standardbred program and supporters of the Springfield Fall Review. Between them they sent out a dozen young horses last Saturday.

“We were going to turn-out our 2-year-olds after Hawthorne closed, but I wanted to promote this Fall Review that I thought would help some Illinois owners and horsemen,” said Brink who was the leading trainer at this year’s Hawthorne summer meeting.  What’s the difference if we turn them out a couple of weeks later? Heck the weather has been nice. This way we can keep things going on a little longer in our state. I raced a whole bunch of them last week and will again this Saturday.”

Purses will have the normal 50-25-12-8-5 split to the top five finishers, and again Saturday a horse finishing sixth or seventh will receive a stipend of $100.

Allbeastnobeauty (Bobby Smolin) looks for a repeat Fall Review victory Saturday. (Four Footed Photo)

Allbeastnobeauty (Bobby Smolin) looks for a repeat Fall Review victory Saturday. (Four Footed Fotos)

“I liked the fact that they paid $100 out to the horses that finished worse than fifth,” continued Brink. “I know it’s not a lot of money but it was something for the people who did participate.  I have to admit I was very surprised by the number of horses (107) that did race last Saturday. I thought maybe they would be lucky to have 8 or 10 divisions. I never thought they would have 20.”

Brink will have nine 2 or 3-year-olds competing this Saturday, including last week’s Fall Review freshman pacing winners: Hart To Heart (race one) and Allbeastnobeauty (race two) and the $115,000 Night of Champions Kadabra Trot victor Illinimight (race five).

With the number of harness racing dates in Illinois for 2017 at its lowest number since the late 1940s, some 67 years ago, maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising to many of us that the horsemen’s response to the Fall Reviews was so huge.

“There aren’t any more opportunities to race in Illinois this year now that the Hawthorne meet is over and every little bit helps.” said trainer Tom Simmons.

Like so many other harness horsemen in our state, Simmons was pleased to see there will be more racing opportunities in Illinois in 2018.

“I was glad to see we’ll have winter meet next year at Hawthorne. You know these owners don’t want to be paying a training bill without a chance to race their horses and you can’t blame them.”

One of Simmons two winners last Saturday, was the 2-year-old pacer Backstreet Lawyer. The other was the 3-year-old Fox Valley Herbie, last year’s Illinois freshman colt pacer of the year.

An exception is Backstreet Lawyer, the runner-up on the Night of Champions in the $170,000 Incredible Finale 2-year-old colt pace final.  “A lot of my two-year-olds are about done, they’re tired,” continued Simmons.  “I had a little problem up there (at Hawthorne) in his last couple of starts. He was kind of running into his hobbles in the last turn. I’m not sure why. I took them up a little bit and he raced well Saturday.  I hoping Backstreet Lawyer will be even better as a 3-year-old. He’s a not a monster horse but he is a good-sized horse. He should fill out some over the winter but he does look good right now.”

Backstreet Lawyer (Mike Oosting) goes postward in Saturday's Fall Review opener. (Four Footed Photo).

Backstreet Lawyer (Mike Oosting) goes postward in Saturday’s Fall Review opener. (Four Footed Fotos).

Backstreet Lawyer (Mike Oosting), owned by the Illinois trio of the (Marty) Engle Stable (Buffalo Grove), Jerry Graham (Salem) and Benita Simmons (Springfield), landed into a solid the first race field of freshman pacers with Sheriff Coffey, Sports Creek, Talk About It and Hart To Heart, drawing inside of him.

Du Quoin’s Dudley Hanover’s champ Fox Valley Herbie (Mike Oosting), landed the rail in this Saturday’s ninth race first 3-year-old colt pace division, where he’ll be challenged by Slzburgerslzburger, Commondiscourtesy, Fox Valley Reggie, Ima Skydancer, and Fox Valley Nemitz

Springfield Qualifiers: Weather permitting qualifiers will be held this Saturday (Oct. 7), on the mile track after the Fall Review races. Entries can be made online or by phone today (Friday) from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. by calling LeAnn Shinn at 618-783-2589.