By Mike Paradise
Long-time Illinois horseman Steve Searle has been in the business for 40-plus years and some were lean ones at that however the 59-year-old Grant Park, Illinois resident had his night to bask in the limelight when he sent out three winning trotters on Hawthorne’s 2018 Night of Champions.
The 59-year-old Searle was also at the lines of the biggest upset winner of the gala evening when he drove Spirit O’Mar to a $108.80 winning payoff in the $45,000 Plesac Trot.
Here’s how this year’s Night of Champions unfolded:
Hawthorne’s showcase night of racing got off with a heated battle and a very close finish with the 3-5 favorite Meyer On Fire (Mike Oosting) getting his nose in front at the wire to capture the $136,142 Incredible Finale 2-year-old colt and gelding final.
The front-stepping Maximus (Kyle Wilfong) grabbed command on the backside and took the field to a modest 58.3 first half with Meyer On Fire in fourth and The Bucket in great shape with the two-hole.
Oosting took after the leader in the last turn and when Maximus got to the three-quarters in 1:27 flat didn’t appear the Erv Miller trained Meter On Fire would get up in time but the Sagebrush gelding he did just that, prevailing in 1:55.2 for his owner and breeder (Marty) Engel Stable of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. The Bucket (Casey Leonard) was third best.
Meyer On Fire ($3.20) named after Engel’s grandson Meyer, finished his Illinois campaign with four consecutive victories and boosted his first season earnings to over $122,000.
Next up was the $45,000 Plesac Championship for ICF 3-year-old trotters of either sex and it was supposed to be a skirmish between the even-money favorite Picky Picky Valor and the 6-5 second choice Anna’s Lucky Star however the 50-1 longshot Spirit O’Mar, driven by his trainer Steve Searle, pulled off a studding victory and awarded his backers a $108.80 winning mutuel.
Anna’s Lucky Star, beaten one-plus lengths, won the photo for second over Picky Picky Valor.
Searle gave Spirit O’Mar a ground-saving trip middle of the pack trip and when the stretch drive came around the 6-year-old gelding, bred by his owner Jeanne Marquis of Dane, Wisconsin simply out-closed his foes (28 flat) and more than doubled his season earnings with his fifth season win.
Casey Leonard gave the 6-5 favorite Fox Valley Torrid a picture-perfect second over journey and the Rodney Freese trained freshman filly pacer rallied past to nail down the victory in the $122,874 Incredible Tillie showdown.
The pace-setting Valar Morghulis raced game down the lane before giving way in deep stretch and settling for the bridesmaid role in the 1:54.3 mile, a new mark for Fox Valley Torrid, owned and bred by Fox Valley Standardbreds of Sherman, Illinois.
The third place finisher Perch raced first over a good portion of the way and provided the live cover to Fox Valley Torrid. ($4.40)
Three-year-old ICF trotting colts and geldings took over the spotlight in the $119,470 Kadabra Final with Trixie’s Turbo overcoming the 10-hole with a front-stepping mile time of 2:00.1.
John D Finn hustled the Charles Doehring right from the get-go and the Cassis filly got to the top before the 29.2 first quarter with the help of both the Nos 1 and 2 trotters, Foxvalleyrushhour and Big Garcia Vega, going off stride before the start.
When the 2-1 favorite Louscardamon, fourth on the backside, also starting running it became a two-horse race between Trixie’s Turbo and (No.9 Fox Valley Cruise, nicely steered into the two-hole by driver Kyle Husted.
Nevertheless Trixie’s Turbo dug in to win by three-quarters of a length for the seventh time in 10 first season starts for her Brownstown, Illinois owner and breeder while Louscardamon made up about a dozen lengths to be a fast closing third.
Owner Peter Karras couldn’t have asked for a better journey for his mare Fox Valley Charm ($4.80) then the one provided by driver Mike Oosting in the $45,000 Tony Maurello Memorial Championships for state bred pacing mares ages three and up.
Oosting had the 7-5 favorite Fox Valley Charm right behind Bucklegirl Bobette who cut fractions of 28.3, 56.3 and 1:24.2 through three-quarters. Oosting then his 6-year-old mare out for the stretch drive and Fox Valley Charm caught and then passed Bucklegirl Bobette, grabbing her tenth season win by almost three lengths with a 1:52 flat mile for trainer Dirk Simpson and Sherman, Illinois owner Peter Karras.
The 17-1 longshot Fox Valley Aubry finished third.
Trainer Steve Searle had his second Night of Champions winner when his 2-year-old filly trotter Louzotic (Kyle Husted) turned out to be much the best in the $122,504 Fox Valley Flan Championship.
Husted took Louzotic away well from the pole position but let others battle it out early and settled his 4 to 5 favorite inside as Heidi High and EL Game On traded leads before the half. Husted then took Louzotic out and rolling and the Lous Legacy filly powered to the front and eventually drew off by almost six lengths when the second betting choice Encantado went off stride in the lane.
Longshots Notanangel (44-1, Travis Seekman) and Lou’s Paramour (65-1, Steve Searle) were second and third, respectively.
The $45,000 Robert S. Molaro Championship turned out to be a terrific stretch duel between the two favorites Unlocked (3-2, Jim Pantaleano) and Stonedust (even-money, Casey Leonard) with Unlocked refusing to be passed.
The 2016 Molaro champion had more than his share of health issues for trainer Norm Parker this year but Unlocked ($5.00) wouldn’t be denied from also capturing the 2018 Molaro as well with a snappy 1:51.1 clocking for the Megan Rogers Racing Stable of Chicago.
Unlocked took over the lead on the backside and went to a 55.2 first half. Stonedust got live cover from Fox Valle Rebel and had dead-aim in the lane on Unlocked but the striking gray pacer simply couldn’t overtake the 7-year-old Duneside Perch winner of over $560,000 in career earnings.
A determined Trixie’s Turbo (John D Finn) rolled to her third straight win when she captured the $119,470 Kadabra Championship for ICF 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings. (Four Footed Fotos)
The $99,030 Beulah Dygert Memorial
3-year-old filly trot final followed and it saw the even-money choice, Trotting Grace
given a heady drive by Kyle Husted, rewarded trainer Steve Searle with his third champion of the night. It was also Husted’s second visit to Hawthorne’s winner circle.
Husted had Trotting Grace right behind the pacesetting White Pants Fever through the 58 first half. New Queen made a bold move to go head-to-head with White Pants Fever in the final turn and took over the lead down the lane but Husted ducked his filly to the inside in the late going and Trotting Grace zipped past to post her fifth victory in a row for the partnership of Bill Wright (Morton, IL), Mystical Marker Farms (Valparaiso, ID) and Searle (Grant Park, IL).
The expected battle between Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) and You’remyheartrob (Kyle Wilfong) developed as good as advertised in the $160,080 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Championship with Fox Valley Gemini wearing down his rival in the lane and finish unbeaten at Hawthorne in his two seasons of racing.
You’remyhearthrob had to work hard in the early going to wrestle away the lead from Dandy Dune after a 27.3 first quarter while Leonard had Fox Valley Gemini ($2.60) comfortably in fourth. Casey was able to flush-out the third place horse Backstreet Lawyer after a 55.3 half and Terry Leonard trainee went on to deliver the good, winning by one length in a 1:53 flat mile for owner Jim Ballinger of Atwater, Illinois.
Kyle Husted drove his third champion of the night when The New Americana ($7.80) “wired” her field in the $123,140 Plum Peachy Final for trainer Harold Guerra and Illinois owners Dave Falzone (Chicago), Jim Molitor (Oak Lawn) and Steve Leita (Rockford).
The 3-year-old Yankee Skyscraper filly sped to a 55.2 first half with the eventual runner-up JB’s Shooting Star right behind her. The winning margin was only a neck.
In the finale Big Lou (Kyle Wilfong) proved fastest in the lane for trainer Curt Grummel as the 3-year-old gelding rolled past in the $83,696 Erwin S. Dygert Memorial trot. Cruzen Cassi was second, beaten two-plus lengths in the 1:59.1 mile that saw a number of trotters impeded soon after the start when Talk About Valor and Illinimight hooked wheels. On the backside Big Lou’s stablemate True Detective was on top when he started running.
Illinimight made up 10 lengths on the field to grab third place.