Limelight on Profitable Series Finals

By Mike Paradise

 

A trio of five figure “Summer Series” finals are the center of attentions on Friday’s 12 race Hawthorne card.

 

The $16,600 Bea Farber trot final will go as race seven, two races later it’s the $18,500 Daryl Busse trot showdown and that’s followed by the $16,300 Walter Paisley championship for filly and mare pacers.

 

The Bea Farber trot final brings together last week’s elimination winners Reign And Shine (Jordan Patton) and Rockyroad Aldo (Kyle Husted), along with the second through fifth place horses in each elimination.

 

Horses will be off and pacing, or trotting, in a trio of Summer Series finals tonight at Hawthorne. (Four Footed Fotos)

The Bea Farber elimination conquerors got to the winner’s circle in much different circumstances. Reign and Shine, driven by 23-year-old “P” driver Jordan Patton, had to come from far out of it while Rockyroad Aldo (Kim Roth) had a much easier time drawing off on the front end for driver Kyle Husted,

 

Reign And Shine was in sixth most of the way and turning for home looked to be too far back however the home-bred put on a strong stretch drive and knocked a full second (1:58.3) off his previous fastest mile.

 

Beaten one-length, the second-place finisher Really Renee (Tyler Shehan), was stuck inside, got out late and had to regain his best stride.

 

Interestingly, while Reign And Shine was sired by the Illinois based trotter Cassis, the Mr. Carroll and Diane Hays owned, bred and trainer mare’s dam Faith And Trust was a pacer, as was her sire Ft Apache Hanover.

 

One race later Husted put the Kim Roth owned and trained Rockyroad Aldo on the lead and the slender driver watched as one by one, several other trotters go off stride. By the head of the stretch the outcome wasn’t in doubt only the winning margin, which turned out to be over 10 lengths at the end of the 1:57.2 mile.

 

Friday’s Farber showdown lines up, from the pole position out, thusly: Lousintut, Justa Nother Bag, Fox Valley Elicit, Joe Joes Violet, Reign And Shine, Lous Voodoo Woman, Pilgrim Caviar, Really Railee, Rockyroad Aldo and Easy EO.

 

Three for Erv: Three different Erv Miller trained trotters gained the Busse final and all drew well. The Papa Bear (Kyle Husted) has the rail with stable-mate Fox Valley Specter (Travis Seekman), to his right. Allforone Hanover (Atlee Bender) leaves from the five.

 

Last week’s Busse elimination winners RSVP (Kyle Wilfong) and Skyway Beebop (Tyler Shehan) landed the two outside posts, the nine and ten, in that order, making their task of a return trip to the winner circle more difficult. However, both have shown in the past that they have gate speed when it is called upon.

 

The other Busse hopefuls are The Black Beauty, Look At Dat Kat, Awaysbmygg and She Loves To Jiggle.

 

Paisley is Wide Open: Favoritism in the tenth race Paisley championship will likely be divided behind three distaffers–Nora Tova (pp 5, Kyle Wilfong) and Wildcat Delight (pp 9, Casey Leonard), both victorious in their respective elims, and beaten favorite Cassie Marie’s T T (pp 4, Todd Warren).

 

Looking to light up the board at expected double-digit odds in the Paisley are Dirtylittlelies, Ashlees Fine Girl, Dancin Eyes, Pootie Cat, Yankee Joanne, Style And Spirit and Sister Said.

Illinois Trot Queen Won’t Abdicate Throne

By Mike Paradise

 

Illinois’ long reining trotting queen Annas Lucky Star will be back to compete as a seven-year-old during the current Hawthorne meeting.

 

“Over the winter I was thinking about retiring her as a racehorse and starting her new career as a broodmare but I’ve decided to give her one more year of racing,” said her owner and breeder Danny Graham.

 

“I also changed my mind about her last year and let her race and she gave me another very good season against the top-level trotters here in Illinois and in Indiana and Ohio.”

 

 

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

The daughter of Cassis, out of Danny’s highly productive broodmare Queen Jamie, was a six-time winner in 2020, banking over $63,000. Her current purse earnings stand at $429,682, with an impressive 40 lifetime wins and a mark of 153.1, taken as a four-year-old at Springfield.

 

While “Anna’s” 47 per cent winning clip certainly is impressive, the talented mare’s performance racing in Illinois is “off the charts.” In her home state she has gone to the post on 55 occasions and followed with 39 stops at a winner’s circle, an astonishing 67 per cent success rate.

 

“Anna” raced at the Miam1 Valley meeting Ohio earlier this year and earned $6,800 in some rugged $20,000-plus Opens with a second and fourth place finish. The mare then went unplaced in her next two races.

 

“She got sick,” revealed Danny, “so I stopped with her and brought her back home (Salem Illinois) to get well and rested up. I sent her to Nelson (trainer, Willis) late last month. He’ll have her ready to race at Hawthorne around the beginning of June.”

 

  Solid Open Trot on Tap: The first Open Trot will be the center of attention for Sunday’s program. It’s an interesting field, handicapped by groups with the likely three favorites Never Say Uncle (Kyle Wilfong), Pine Dream (Todd Warren) and the Australian import Needabacardi A (Casey Leonard) ending up with the 4, 5 and 6 slots, in that order.

 

Lous Paschal (Juan Franco) and 2020 ICF Three-Year-Old Filly trotter of the Year Lous Abgail (Kyle Husted), a pair of Steve Searle trained trotters, were awarded the one and two posts, respectively. Jim Lackey’s Silverhill Volo was assigned the three.

 

Pine Dream (Todd Warren), an Open winner at Hawthorne last summer, is back for tonight’s $12,000 Open in search of career victory No. 45.

Never Say Uncle, winner of 2 of his last 3 starts at Hoosier for trainer Brittany Dillion will open as the 9-5 favorite.  Pine Dream (Todd Warren) from the Merv Chupp stable is listed next at 2-1 after back-to-back wins in Indiana.

 

Pine Dream, who does his best racing on or close to the front, isn’t a stranger to Hawthorne, having won Opens on the local scene for the past couple of years. A win tonight would be the nine-year-old’s 45th of his career.

 

Silverhill Volo, owned, trained and driven by Jim Lackey, comes here after a successful meeting at Cal-Expo and the now 10-year-old also has had past success at Hawthorne.

 

The question mark is Needbacardi A., a new addition to the strong Terry Leonard stable. He made over $100,000 campaigning in Australia, and he did qualify well after being on the sidelines the last three-plus months. The chestnut gelding has been racing at longer distances and I’m thinking he’ll like tonight’s shorter mile event.

 

How Sweet It Is: Showing plenty of guts and determination, the three-time ICF Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini came roaring down the stretch to overtake the 3-5 favorite He’zzz A Wise Sky and win last night’s $12,000 Open Pace by a half-length.

 

Listed at laughable 12-1 odds in the morning line, Fox Valley Gemini was sent out at 3-2 from the six slot and was dropped into third in the early going by driver Casey Leonard as (No. 7) He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong) took the seven-horse field to fractions of 27.2, :55.4 and 1:24 flat with Brysen (Dale Knox) in the two-hole.

 

Casey swung the Terry Leonard trained winner out at the top of the lane and Fox Valley Gemini ($5.00) came roaring home with a quick 26 flat last panel at the end of a 1:50.4 mile in his 2021 season debt for Atwater, IL owner Jim Ballinger.

ICF Kingpins Begin Awaited Rivalry

Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) will be going to the starting gate Saturday night for his 2021 pari-mutuel debut. (Four Footed Fotos)

By Mike Paradise

 

The initial Saturday night card of the 2021 Hawthorne harness racing meeting pivots to put the emphasis on a pair of Illinois champions knocking heads for the first time this year.

 

You can expect many more in-state matchups likely to follow.

 

Three-time ICF Horse of the Year (2017, 2028 and 2019) Fox Valley Gemini (Casey Leonard) makes his 2021 pari-mutuel debut against He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong) who took the prestigious honor as a three-year-old in 2020.

 

He’zzz A Wise Sky, now under the care of trainer John Filomeno, dominated the Illinois bred last year’s sophomore division, hauling in over $122,000 for his Justice, Illinois owners Triple ZZZ Stable. The talented pacer won half (9 for 18) of his starts, including a career best mile of 1:49.3 taken in a Hoosier Park Open Pace.

 

The Filomeno family homebred rattled off six consecutive victories during the late summer and captured the $86,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.

 

While He’zzz A Wise Sky has four season starts under his belt, including a 1:51.1 triumph in a conditioned pace at Hoosier and a third place finish in an Open there, pacing in 1:49.2, The Terry Leonard Stable’s Fox Valley Gemini drew off in a 1:54 mile well in hand two weeks again at Springfield, his first outing since last November.

 

Don’t Start Eating: While it’s been a long-time in between pari-mutuel starts for, “Gemini” the elite pacer has always been terrific or owner Jim Ballinger of Atwater, Illinois at Hawthorne. The now six-year-old gelding’s success rate against other Illinois bred pacers isn’t far off that of a Chicago Democratic Mayoral candidate.

 

Despite being a three-time ICF Horse of the Year, a one-time winner off 19 in a row at Hawthorne, and hands-down nowadays the most popular horse in Illinois, the USTA’S computer generated morning line has the horse (Warning: Do not be eating while reading this) at 12-1, in a tie for longest shot of the race.

 

Are you kidding me?

 

Yes, I picked against “Gemini” because of his layoff but his first flash odds of 12-1 is simply ridiculous and an embarrassment to our industry.

 

Novices of our sports may believe Fox Valley Gemini is a “hot” horse when his odds most certainly will take a huge plunge however, they are instead being deceived by somebody or something’s incompetence to produce anything close to a knowledgeable morning line.

 

Getting an opportunity to pull off a major upset in the $12,000 third race headliner are Luckysrealdeal (Roman Lopez), Some Nobody (Travis Seekman), Jersey Jim (Todd Warren), Frewil Dakota Sven (Kyle Husted) and Brysen (Dale Knox).

 

Fox Valley Gemini was handicapped with the six slot while He’zzz A Wise Sky was assigned the seven. I have “Gemini” at 3-2 in my line and He’zzz A Wise Sky at 6-5 and he’ll likely go off lower.

 

Hezzz A Wise Sky and Fox Valley Gemini did tangle once last year in a Hawthorne Open and both were vanquished by the longshot Ponda’s Prospect. “Gemini” was a close second to his stable mate while Hezzz A Wise Sky got away with a sluggish start from the pole position and ended up a non-threatening fourth.

 

  Ladies Step Forward: Preceding the third race Open for horses and geldings is a $12,000 Open for fillies and mares with the Terry Leonard stable providing two of the five starters—Lilly Von Shtupp (Kyle Husted) with the pole position and Golden Paradise (Casey Leonard) who makes her Hawthorne debut going out from the four-slot.

 

The programmed favorite at even money is Maggie Rhee, trained and driven by Todd Warren. The four-year-old mare comes off a 1:51.3 victory in a $16,000 conditioned pace at Hoosier after picking up purse checks in her previous two starts, both in Opens.

 

Ideal’s Nicole (Travis Seekman) and Brooke’s Ocean (Michele Weinman) complete the compact five horse field.

 

Wilfong Hot: Kyle Wilfong had the hot hard on opening night driving home five of the 10 races on the program. The 29-year-old Illinois native won with the first four events on the card and later guided the Nicole Agosti trained trotter RSVP to his Daryl Busse series elimination victory.

 

“They’re Off” Tonight and Now You’re Invited

Pacers will be charging down Hawthorne’s long stretch tonight for the first time in over seventh months (Four Footed Fotos).

 

By Mike Paradise

At long last harness racing returns to the Chicago circuit tonight.  It has been more than seven months since Hawthorne’s 2020 meeting concluded.

 

The much-anticipated 2021 session gets under way Friday evening with a 7:10 first post after an absence of 229 days and this time with actual patrons at the racetrack.

 

The last time the harness racing public attended live racing at Hawthorne was 13 months ago, back in early March of 2020 before the dreadful Covis-19 virus put a halt to a vast majority of businesses across the country, and sadly closing too many of them for good.

 

Last year’s eight-month long expected racing meeting at Hawthorne never materialized. After a mid-February start only12 programs were conducted before the governors’ mandated Covid shut down the meet for over two months. The start back-up came quietly in early June when it arrived without any fans at the track.

 

As far as Hawthorne’s current attendance policy is concerned, “were at 50 percent indoor capacity and also at 50 percent outside (trackside),” said the track’s publicity director Jim Miller.

 

The dark cloud that hung over the 2020 meeting is slowly evaporating, so enjoy some fresh air and come on out for tonight’s opening racing program.

 

Elims Aplenty: Heading up the first Hawthorne Standardbred card of the year are six races of a trio of Summer Series elimination events. Sprinkled throughout the card are the Walter Paisley two divisions for pacing fillies and mares, along with a pair of the $12,000 Bea Farber and $11,000 Daryl Busse for trotters.

 

Each of Friday’s and Saturday’s “Summer Series” finals will be contested next weekend,

 

It’s Miller Time: Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame trainer Erv Miller has sent a few horses from his Wind Gap, Pennsylvania stable to Hawthorne for these five figure events. However, none of Erv’s horses drew inside in either trot event.

 

In the sixth race second Bea Farber elimination his Gucci Goo landed the seven-slot in a nine-horse field but still figures to be a major factor.

 

The $25,000 yearling purchase makes his three-year-old bow after a 1:58.2 qualifier on a “good” track at the Southern Oaks Training Center in Florida. Gucci Goo won his two-year-old debut at Hoosier in 1:59.1 but made breaks in 2 of his next 3 starts, finishing second in the other and Erv decided to shutdown the youngster.

 

In the first Daryl Busse elimination Miller’ trotters Allforone Hanover and Fox Valley Specter drew the nine and ten posts, respectively. Nevertheless, I expect Fox Valley Specter o get plenty of play. He was sent off the public’s choice in each of his first three career outings, posting a 1:56.4 victory at Hoosier last month.

 

In tonight’s second Busse division, Erv’s The Papa Bear will start from the second tier (behind the one-horse Look At Dat Kat) with post eleven and will need some racing luck with 10 trotters lined-up in front of driver Atlee Bender.

 

 

What’s the Buzz at Flacco Family Farms

By Mike Paradise

You’ve heard the phrase “fly on the wall” on numerous occasions nevertheless I want to borrow it one last time for my final column of the year.

In my case I would have loved to be “the fly on the wall” at last weekend’s annual Night of Champions get together at the Flacco Family Farms residence in Alexis, Illinois.

Not to eavesdrop on anyone’s conversations but instead to soak up the yelling and screaming going on as family and friends watched the Hawthorne races and the fist-pumping and hugs that followed when one of the farms home-bred horses crossed the finish line first . . . and that happen on three occasions.

 The Flacco Family Farms owned and bred Loulita (Casey Leonard) won for the sixth consecutive time in the Night of Champions $88,000 Fox Valley Flan final for ICF two-year-old trotting fillies. (Four Footed Fotos)

The Flacco Family Farms owned and bred Loulita (Casey Leonard) won for the sixth consecutive time in the Night of Champions $88,000 Fox Valley Flan final for ICF two-year-old trotting fillies. (Four Footed Fotos)

First it was their Loulita taking the $88,000 Fox Valley Flan championship, the freshman filly’s sixth straight win, making her a very viable candidate for 2020 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors. The farm shares ownership of the talented filly with Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois.

A little later their Lousraptor proved best in the $67,000 Plesac older trotter final and another of the farm’s owned trotters, Louscardamon, finished second.

The Lou’s Legacy yearling that they did sell (for $52,000) when his moniker was Lou’s Obsession, later renamed Fistfullofsollars, and he came away with the $118,000 Kadabra championship.

“Every year we invite 20 to 25 people over to our place on the big racing night,” said Dr. Richard Flacco, the breeding farms owner and decision maker. “We put on a big spread and always have a great time.”

Did he say spread?

Heck, any fly would love to spend the evening being a pest and keep dive-bombing into the piles of scrumptious food.

“My wife (Arlene) makes the best meatballs,” continued the long-time family specialist doctor in the Galesburg, Illinois area. “I rather eat meatballs than cake.”

Now that’s my kind of guy.

From a modest beginning early on in this century, Flacco Family Farms has become a major stalwart of this state’s breeding industry, producing one Illinois champion after another with the emphasis on trotters.

The star of the Flacco Family Farms is their trotting stallion Lou’s Legacy, who has given the family enterprise, and Illinois harness racing, in recent years the likes of Louzotic, Loulita, Lous Abigail, Lousraptor, Lougazi, White Pants Fever, all under the care of trainer Steve Searle, while the son of Windsong’s Legacy, out of the Meadow Road broodmare Lady Love mare was being honored as the Illinois Trotting Stallion of the Year in 2016, 2018 and 2019 and would get my vote, if I had one, for 2020 as well.

Lous Legacy was acquired by Flacco Family Farms in early 2013 and he was a bit of a gamble to be an effective money-maker as a trotting stallion.

“The previous owners asked me if I knew the horse had a low fertility rate and I told them that I did. I thought I could do a few things that might help the trotter and he’s turned out to be just unbelievable for us. His fertility rate is like 10 times better than it was when we got him.

“Lou’s Legacy was bred to 65 mares last year and 50 got into foal. He’s just done unbelievably well as a stallion for us. In my family practice as a doctor I’ve been involved in the fertility of humans and I have used some of that knowledge in my horse breeding business.”

In the three years prior to joining Flacco Family Farms, Lous Legacy was bred to a total of only 32 mares. In 2020 that number has zoomed to up 73 for the Flacco family. In 2019 Lou’s Legacy’s offspring earned $983,173. Last year it was $834,747 with two-year-old trotters bringing in almost $425,000 of that amount.

Dr. Flacco also says much of the breeding farms success comes from “teamwork.”

“Everyone here has a role to play for the farm to do well. I make it a point to listen to everyone who has a thought about the farm or an opinion that they think could make things better, and that includes our employees. I welcome everybody’s input. In the end I do make the final decision.”

The Philadelphia native knows all too well the importance of communication. After all, he’s been a successful family doctor for over 50 years.

Dr. Flacco graduated from the Drexel (Pennsylvania) University College of Medicine in 1969. He served his residency in the Air Force at the now decommissioned (1993) Chanute base in Rantoul, Illinois and he continues this practice in Galesburg, Illinois while specializing in Family Medicine.

This will be my final article for 2020. God willing I’ll be back on Friday, May 8 2021 to cover the 2021 Hawthorne harness racing meet. Until then, my sincere thanks for being an IHHA web-site reader.

There’s Talent in Springfield’s Fall Classic

By Mike Paradise

For many ICF pacers and trotters this year’s Illinois racing season isn’t quite over yet. Instead they’ll compete in Saturday’s Fall Classic raced on the State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture Horse Racing Division had allocated $50,000 in purse money for today’s Fall Classic, attracting many of the top state-bred horses in their respective state-bred divisions. All together 20 races will be run off starting at 11:30 Saturday morning, each with a $2,500 pot.

Double ICF stakes champion Hart’s Heart (Juan Franco) looks to make it three straight wins in today’s Fall Classic two-year-old filly pace in Springfield. The Mike Brink trained filly has been third or better in all six career starts. (Four Footed Fotos)

Double ICF stakes champion Hart’s Heart (Juan Franco) looks to make it three straight wins in today’s Fall Classic two-year-old filly pace in Springfield. The Mike Brink trained filly has been third or better in all six career starts. (Four Footed Fotos)

The first race opener for two-year-old Illinois bred pacers looks like a good one.

In the six horse field are the Nick Prather trained Bootsy Bombay, winner of last weekend’s $80,000 Incredible Tillie Championship and the Mike Brink stable’s Hart’s Heart who finished August off with back-to-back victories in the $32,000 State Fair final and the $29,000 Director’s Award stake. Both freshmen are daughters of Major Bombay.

Regular driver Juan Franco will take Hart’s Heart away from the six-slot while Casey :Leonard (pp 2), gets the catch drive behind Bootsy Bombay with the filly’s usual pilot Travis Seekman not available today.

Another Night of Champion winner goes to the gate in race six when the Plum Peachy champ Fox Valley Exploit tries to solidify her chances for 2020 Horse of the Year for Kyle Husted, the driver, trainer and co-owner of the Sportsmaster filly.

Fox Valley Husted is 8-for-9 in her sophomore season with over $130,000 banked for Husted and Michigander David Brigham. The ICF filly has won 13 of 18 in her first two seasons and hauled in over $215,000.

Don Filomeno’s He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) goes after his fifth consecutive win in the three-year-old male pacing division in race eight. The colt won the recent Carey stake in 1:51.3, equaling his lifetime mark set a few weeks earlier in the $29,000 Governor’s Cup.

The Flacco Family Farms home-bred Lous Abigail (Casey Leonard) will try to avenge her loss to the Mike Rogers trained Beulah Dygert champion El Oh Govner in the first division of the 3-year-old filly trot (race nine). Lous Abigail had won five straight before being upset on the Night of Champions.

Fresh from her Incredible Tillie championship a week ago the ICF freshman filly pacer Bootsy Bombay (Travis Seekman) goes postward in today’s Springfield Fall Classic. Casey Leonard will catch-drive the Nick Prather trainee. Four Footed Fotos)

Fresh from her Incredible Tillie championship a week ago the ICF freshman filly pacer Bootsy Bombay (Travis Seekman) goes postward in today’s Springfield Fall Classic. Casey Leonard will catch-drive the Nick Prather trainee. Four Footed Fotos)

The top two sophomore trotting geldings, Erwin Dygert titleholder Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard) and runner-up Crooked Creek (Todd Warren) go their separate ways today. Fox Valley Quest competes in the first division while Crooked Creek heads up the second split.

The 18th race Fall Classic ICF four-year-old and up mare trot may be short on quantity with four starters bur certainly not on quality with the gifted distaffers Louzotic (Kyle Husted) and Annas Lucky Star both entered.

The Steve Searle trained Louzotic, now four, sports a lifetime record of 24 wins in 42 lifetime starts and over $275,000 earned while the six-year-old Annas Lucky Star goes after career win No. 40 in this, her 74th lifetime outing for the Nelson Willis stable. She’s made over $400,000.

Between them these two Illinois Harness Hall of Fame candidates have combined to win 63 races in 115 trips postward, an remarkable 55 per cent winning clip.

In a recent conversation with Annas Lucky Star’s owner and breeder Danny Graham, the longtime southern Illinois horseman said he plans to race his star trotter at Hoosier Park now that Illinois racing season is over.

“I plan on breeding “Anna” in 2021 but that was the plan this year and I changed my mind,” said Danny. “And I thought she raced just as good this season as she ever did.”

So, let’s not etch Danny’s future plans for Annas Lucky Star in stone just yet.

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.