Good and Plenty

By Mike Paradise

Having quality and quantity is a good thing, especially with horses, and there’s no doubt that trainer Perry Smith as both going for him in the Late Closer Series for $5,000 male claimers.

The veteran conditioner has the morning line favorite in both divisions of tonight’s opening rounds with the former Illinois stakes champion Mystical Walter (Todd Warren) in the sixth race first split and the 11-year-old pacer Dontgetbyme (Ridge Warren) in the eighth.

In fact Perry might have the second morning line favorites in each series event and perhaps even the third betting choice as well.

That’s because the Pennsylvania native sends out Charley’sfastcat (Kyle Wilfong), Krusty The Clown (Ridge Warren) and Dunside Art (Travis Seekman) along with stable-mates Bossa Nova Baby (Todd Warren) and Twinkle Like Astar (Seekman) in race eight.

All seven series hopefuls are also owned by Perry and will slug it out for the winner’s share of a $7,000 purse and finish high enough to gain points to earning a start in the series $9,000 Final slated for Thursday, May 6.

With the coupling of horses in a harness race seemingly a thing of the past on the Chicago circuit you’ll have to determine which one of Perry’s horses will prevail, or for that matter, which other non-Smith trained starter will prove best.

A second $7,000 round of the series is slated next Thursday. With the final field determined by money earned in the series, a victory tonight would lock-up a starting berth in the finale.

Did Perry foresee having four of his horses competing against each other in one and race three more in another?

“That wasn’t my plan when I nominated them,” he answered. “I was hoping there would be more than two divisions but that didn’t materialize. Maybe we’ll get more horses entered in for the second round.

“With $7,000 purses for a $5,000 claimer and a $9,000 final, it was worth the gamble ($200 entry fee) to make all seven of my horses eligible.”

In 2014 Perry annexed the leading trainer titles at both Balmoral and Maywood Parks. Last year he went over the 1,500 plateau in career trainer victories.

Not to be outdone, Springfield based trainer Mike Brink “one-up” Perry with right horses among the three divisions of  tonight’s opening round of the series for ICF trotters who are non-winners of two races as of April 1, 2016 or $10,000 lifetime.

Brink’s Prince Simba (Pat Curtin) is the 5-2 favorite in race one in my line where he’ll be joined by stable-mate Fox Valley Diamo (6-1, Casey Leonard). I’ve listed Brink’s Hail Caesar (Seekman) 7-2 behind Surviver DI (Steve Searle) at 5-2 in race three. He’ll drive his Chocolate Hare (8-1) in race 3 and assigned Pass The Plate (8-1) to Matt Krueger,

In race four I’ve got Brink’s filly Awfully Emotional (Seekman) at 7-2 while barn-mates Powerful Father (Todd Warren) is at 4-1 and Praise Singer (Pat Curtin) is at 6-1.

Late Closer Series Get Underway

By Mike Paradise

A multitude of Late Closer Series get under way this week at Hawthorne beginning with first round action for a pair of events on Thursday evening.

Thursday’s non-winners of two races or $10,000 lifetime series for strictly Illinois breds saw the entry box stuffed in the Hawthorne Race Office with 24 trotters entered, requiring a trio of eight-horse opening round divisions to be carded. They’ll go as races one, three and four.

The Late Closer Series for male pacers with a $5,000 claiming tag enticed 18 entrants with the first leg split into two divisions of nine horses and have assigned races six and eight.

The open company non-winners of two trot series will go in one 11-horse division as the eleventh race.

On Friday five Late Closer Series events get started for strictly filly and mare pacers, two more series openers are slated Saturday for colt and gelding conditioned pacers. Three more Series events will be sprinkled throughout the first Sunday card of the meet.

All together 13 different Late Closer Series will commence in the first full week of the summer meet with opening round purses listed between $7,000 and $8,000.

Brother vs. Brother: It’s very rare to see siblings racing on the same card. It’s even more extraordinary to see two brothers competing against each other in the same race.

Nevertheless that’s the case in Thursday’s second race.

The luck of the draw saw both the 4-year-old trotter Just Like Paradise and his younger 3-year-old brother Hail Caesar land in the second Late Closer division series for non-winners of two races.

Both are sons of the very fruitful Walker Standardbreds broodmare Love You More. Just Like Paradise was a $50,000 yearling buy for Illinoisans Jim Bafia (Minooka) and Gene White (Chicago) when his name was Fox Valley Lovrboy. He’s trained by Dirk Simpson.

Hail Caesar (Travis Seekman) sold for $22,000 at the 2014 Walker Sale to H.W. Wright of Marion, Illinois as Fox Valley Luke.

Hail Caesar is just one of eight trotters competing in the series for Springfield based trainer Mike Brink. Prince Simba (1st) Fox Valley Diamo (1st), Chocolate Hare (3rd), Pass The Plate (3rd) Awfully Emotional, Powerful Father and Praise Singer, all in race four, are the others.

Praise Singer is shown in the postedR.E.B. Photo winning at Balmoral Park last year with trainer Mike Brink at her lines. The filly went on to nail down stake triumphs at both the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fairs.

The broodmare Love You More, a daughter of Conway Hall, has had several of her sons or daughters with successful racing careers in Illinois.

Her first was Fox Valley Love Ya (1:57.1) who competed for trainer Joel Smith. He also had her half-sister Fox Valley Lover (1:55, $285.588), the Springfield and Du Quoin champion at two, and Fox Valley Legend (1:55.3, $132,119).

The 2008 Lady Lincoln Land victor Fox Valley Luxury,1:57.2) and her sisters Fox Valley Lexus (1:57.4) and Springfield champ Fox Valley Lotus (1:57.3) all raced out of the downstate Grummel Stable for owner Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois.

Hawthorne Popular with Bettors

By Mike Paradise

It’s only the first weekend of Hawthorne’s summer harness racing meeting but there had to be a lot of smiles at the in-town race track after a mutuel handle for its opener was better than most anticipated.

Almost $1.2 million was bet on the opening 12-race program and lets me honest, the card wasn’t exactly a knockout to entice the betting public with its trio of low-end trots, a couple of bottom conditioned paces, and a filly and mare feature that carried a modest $7,000 pot.

However, the track was able to card the large fields gimmick players love, and the Chicago area Standardbred fans, horsemen and owners had been waiting three long months for harness racing to start back up in Illinois.

Hawthorne’s racing office did the best with what it had to card the opening weekend programs with the vast majority of top-quality horses in the Midwest competing at the Casino enriched venues in Indiana and Ohio with purses that dwarf those in Illinois.

Nonetheless I wasn’t surprised by Hawthorne’s substantial handle numbers. I’ve never been a fan of a Chicago circuit season going 2 or 3 nights a week for 11 or 12 months instead of an opening and a closing of a meet with a number of racing months in between.

If a 2 or 3 day a week schedule dragged out for months was the way to go why wouldn’t the NHL or the NBA been doing it?

Also, a mile track racing basically in  Chicago (the city boundary ends across the street from Hawthorne Race Course), is going to bring in more fans and handle more money than a half-mile track near the city with its huge population or a big track in the far south suburban boondocks with its small populace.

The fact that The Meadowlands wasn’t racing and that about 10 of the other racetracks in the country going against Hawthorne at this time are either half-mile or five-eighths ovals, made the Chicago circuit track product a more attractive venture for the nation’s harness horseplayer dollar.

Fast Start for Casey: After nailing down his first Hawthorne driving title during the winter meet Casey Leonard started the  summer session with a four-bagger on Friday night, winning with Exclusive Design in the fifth, Jiggles The Clown in the seventh, Carmen O in the eleventh and Extravagant Art.

The 38-year-old Harvard, Illinois native didn’t waste any time visiting the winner’s circle on Saturday. Casey drove the 17-1 longshot Red Dog Ryan to his maiden win in the opener.

Later he won with the Leonard stable’s Dunside Sport in race 7 and Caffeine Kid in race 10.

Pat Curtin bagged four winning drives on Saturday, bringing home Fantastic Rock (3rd), Officially Yours (5th), Dinky Dune (9th) and Jo Jo Spur (11th), all at double-digit prices.

In Easy Fashion: The Jim Ellison Stable’s Freedomformysoul (Todd Warren) led from start to finish in Saturday’s $8,500 “Winner’s Over” eighth race feature.

  (Four Footed Photo)

Somestarsomewhere was second best, beaten two-plus lengths in the 1:52.4 mile. The victory was Freedomformysoul’s fifth of the season.

Qualifiers Update: Seven qualifiers were conducted before Saturday’s card with some very familiar names proving best: Trotters Sara The Spy (1:59.1) and It’saswan (1:59.3), Pacers Jewel Maker (1:57.45), Char N Marg (1:58.1 with a 26.1 last quarter)), Dan D Dune (1:56.1), Holdingallthecards (1:56.1) and Seeyouatthefinish (1:57.3).

The last four qualifier winners were all driven by Casey. Jewel Maker, and ICF freshmen champions Char N Marg and Dan D Dune, each are trained by Nelson Willis.