Brink No. 1 Trainer in a Squeaker

By Mike Paradise

The leading trainer at the recently concluded Hawthorne meet wasn’t determined until the last race, the 15th, on the final program this past Sunday night.

When it was all over Springfield based horseman Mike Brink came away with the trainer title by one scant winner over Steve Searle, 48 to 47. Brink also won the Hawthorne trainer crown in 2017.

Brink had a 20.6 winning clip a Hawthorne while Searle won with 19.6 per cent of the horses he sent out. Interestingly, the bread and butter of both barns are trotters.

“I get more satisfaction developing and racing trotters,” said Brink. “They’re more of a challenge and now days in Illinois you have a better chance to make money with a trotter than a pacer.”

It was Brink’s two-year-old Kadabra champion winner Fistfullofdollars on the Night of Champions that proved to be the difference in winning the training title or ending up in a first place tie.

Fistfullofdollars was the sale topper at the 2019 Illinois Classic Sale with a $52,000 price tag when his name was Lou’s Obsession, a lot of money for an ICF trotter. However it was a gamble that paid off when the son of Lou’s Legacys came away with the Kadabra’s a first place check of $53,100 for his Illinois owners Brink (Springfield), Darin Taurmear (Liberty) and Jeffrey Clauson (Macomb) and Mark Brown (Chatham).

“He’s a talented young trotter,” said Brink in the winner’s circle after the Kadabra championship.

“I think this year we just had a bunch of good horses in the barn and that helped a lot getting the number of wins that we did. When you have a good horse (Crooked Creek) that wins 4 or 5 in a row that also makes a big difference.”

  Fox Valley Gemini’s nine wins this season at Hawthorne helped Casey Leonard make it five consecutive years of driver titles at the meet. (Four Footed Fotos)

Fox Valley Gemini’s nine wins this season at Hawthorne helped Casey Leonard make it five consecutive years of driver titles at the meet. (Four Footed Fotos)

On the Night of Champions Brink sent out six horses, all trotters, and five delivered lucrative purse checks. Besides Firstfullofdollars victory, the 50-1 longshot Celone Hall was second in the Beulah Dygert final, and Crocked Creek, On Higher Ground and Desert Sheik, finished second third and fourth, in that order, to the Erwin Dygert winner Fox Valley Quest.

Mike took his time bringing along Fistfullofdollars, all the while with the Kadabra championship the goal. The Flacco Family Farms bred youngster made only five starts in his freshman season and his first didn’t come about until of the middle of August.

Brink is in the midst of a very nice run as far as his horse’s purse revenue. This is the eighth consecutive year horses from his barn has gone over the $400,000 mark in money won for a season. Mike’s best year was in 2017 with $717,414 in earnings.

Casey Keeps Rolling Along: Since Hawthorne took over in 2016 as the state’s only track with an extended harness racing meeting, Casey Leonard has been its leading driver every year.

Even a math flunky like myself can figure out that’s five straight seasons with Casey on top of the driver standings. And since the Harvard, Illinois native also captured last three driver titles at Maywood Park before it went under, that’s eight consecutive Chicago circuit driving championship campaigns for the now 43-year-old who at one time was reluctant to be a full-time Illinois driver.

I remember about 10 or 11 years ago chatting with Casey at Maywood Park when he made the rather reluctant decision to become a full time harness racing driver on the Chicago circuit. He has since developed into one of the most sought after drivers by Illinois owners and trainers.

“I preferred training horses than driving them because I like being home at night with my wife Maureen and our son Cayden. But when so many of our top drivers left for the east coast there were more and more opportunities to make some good money so I decided to do it.”

Needless to say all of us in the Illinois Standardbred industry Casey are extremely delighted that he did.

Casey is a third-generation horseman. His grandfather, the late Bud Leonard is in the Illinois Harness Hall of Fame, and his father Terry is a long-time successful driver and trainer.