Illinois “Little Guy” Came Up Big

By Mike Paradise, for the Illinois Harness Horsemen’s Association

Covering harness racing in Illinois for the last fifty years I’ll admit there were plenty of times I silently rooted for the underdog to win a major race or the trainer of a small barn to come away with the big prize at the end of a racing season.


With that said, I’m sure there were many others in the prairie-state Standardbred industry who were also smiling when long-time owner-trainer Dennis Gardner’s young trotter Goomster was honored as the 2022 ICF Two-Year-Old Colt Trotter of the year at last month’s Illinois Horsemen’s Award Banquet in Springfield.


Goomster (Kyle Wilfong) surprised some people, including his owner and trainer Dennis Gardner, by rising to the top of his 2022 class in his first season of racing. (Four Footed Photo)

Going into the 2022 racing season Gardner never envisioned Goomster would end up as the best in his class. Heck, Dennis didn’t even think Goomster was the best two-year-old trotter in his barn.


“I thought his stable-mate Takemetodennyland was going to be the better of the two, “said Gardner. “But Goomster proved me wrong. He just kept on getting better and better as the season went on.”


Gardner got into the harness racing business in the mid-1990’s, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncle. The 55-year-old Onley, Illinois native always had a modest size stable of horses that mostly competed on the Illinois County Fair Circuit with modest success.


Like so many other “little guys” in the business, Gardner thoroughly enjoys what he is doing and always dreamed of having “a good horse.”


“You’re always hoping to get that ‘good one,’” quipped Gardner. “Goomster has come along and become that for me.”


Goomster hauled in $120,125 for the West Salem, Illinois owner and trainer while winning a trio of major ICF stakes along the way. In his previous 23 seasons of racing Gardner’s horses only earned $50,000 or higher in three campaigns, none higher $61,928 in 2012.


Goomster and his freshman buddy Takemetodennyland combined for $157,545 in purse earnings in 2022.


The only time Goomster didn’t get a check in his12 freshman starts came about when the youngster was interfered with early in the $50,000 Governor’s Cup at Du Quoin.


“That happen because his rival, Niko’s Man, went off stride before the start and kind of went sideways into my horse, causing him to break,” said Gardner.”


Goomster finished his first season with 5 wins and 4 seconds in his dozen starts and came up big when it counted the most, capturing the $50,000 summer Kadabra championship at Hawthorne, the $30,000 Springfield crown, and the $144,000 Kadabra final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.


Trainer Dennis Gardner

“His win at Springfield meant the most to me,” said Gardner, “even more than the one on Super Night. It always has been my dream to win a big race at Springfield.”


Goomster’s freshman mark of 1:54.3 came in the Springfield championship. Bred by Vern Miller of Sullivan, Illinois the son of Cassis was the first foal of the Muscle Hill dam Sheeza Muscle Girl.


Goomster headed up a strong one-two punch for Gardner in last season’s Illinois two-year-old colt trotting class. His stable-mate Takemetodennyland made $37,420 in his first season going to the gate 14 times. Another Cassis offspring, Takemetodennyland was a five-time winner, proving best in the summer’s Kadabra elimination at Hawthorne. The consistent youngster was second in his Cardinal division and in the fall’s Kadabra elimination, and third in both the Springfield final and Du Quoin’s Governor Cup.”


Are you the “Denny” in the horse’s name? I asked Gardner.


“Yep, that’s my nickname,” he replied. “One of my good friends who passed away a couple of years ago was Walt Keyser and he always called me that. I named Takemetodennyland as a tribute to him.”


Denny bought Takemeodennyland for $6,500 at the 2020 Illini Classic Sale. The son of Pilgrims Stunner, out of the broodmare Broadway Hall, was bred at the University of Illinois veterinarian school.


“Takemetodennyland is a little handier than Goomster because he can get off the gate so well. Goomster is more of a closer, but he did get better getting out of there as the season went on.


“Takemetodennyland has a little bit of a breathing issue that I hope I can take care of for his 3-year-old season. I’ve recently started jogging both horses, and I want to them and a half dozen two-year-olds that I have, ready to go by June 1st for Springfield.”


Gardner went on to praise Goomster’s driver Kyle Wilfong, who ran away with the leading driver honors at Hawthorne last year. “Kyle did a terrific job of driving Goomster all season long. He always had my horse in position to succeed in a race.”


“Lou’s” Stallion Legacy Continues

By Mike Paradise


Nowadays it’s a near certainty when it comes to the naming of the Illinois Trotting Sire of the Year. For the fifth year in a row and the sixth in the last seven, the Flacco Family Farm’s pride and joy stallion Lou’s Legacy came away with the honor.


And why not?


Lou’s Legacy’s daughter Funky Wiggle (1:51.4, $131,235) deservingly captured the 2022 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year award, to go along with the ICF three-year-old filly trotting prize for her trainer and co-owner Curt Grummel.


These foals are adorable offsprings of the prominent Flacco Family Farms stallion Lou’s Legacy, named the Illinois Stallion of the Year for the fifth consecutive time last month. (Photos courtesy of Flacco Family Farms).

Plus, the Grummel stable’s Marvelous Mystery (1:57.2, $129,722), another Lou’s Legacy youngster, was selected as the prairie state’s top two-year-old filly trotter. Likewise, the Steve Searle trained Lousdobb (1:54.1, $117,235) made it back-to-back years for the son of Lou’s Legacy to be honored, this time in the state-bred three-year-old colt trotting category.


Lous Legacy, a son of Windsong’s Legacy, out of the Meadow Road broodmare Lady Love mare, was attained by Flacco Family Farms in early 2013. The productive stallion’s sons and daughters have earned over $7 million and countless ICF awards since, not too shabby for a horse that was a bit of a gamble to be an effective money-maker as a stallion because of a low fertility rate.


“I thought I could do a few things that might help Lou’s Legacy and he’s turned out to be just unbelievable for us,” said Dr. Richard Flacco, who heads-up the Alexis, Illinois family’s enterprise. “His fertility rate is like 10 times better than it was when we got him,”


In his family practice as a doctor, Flacco has been involved in the fertility of humans and has used that knowledge in the horse breeding business.


Among Lou’s Legacy’s successful Illinois bred foals over the past several years include Funky Wiggle, Louzotic, Lougazi, Lousdobb, Lousraptor, Loulita, Encantado, Lous Abigail, Lousciper, and Marvelous Mystery.


Another plum for the Flacco farm came about when their mare Olives And Caviar (SJ’s Caviar – Winbak Olive) was named the Illinois Trotting Broodmare of the Year for a second straight time.


A Wise Decision: Turning to the prairie state’s pacing category, John and Joan’s homebred Gimmeazzzmooch (Four Starzzz Shark – Fox Valley Moochie) landed the 2022 Illinois Pacing Broodmare of the Year award.


Gimmeazzmooch’s first foal He’zzz A Wise Sky once again repeated as the top ICF aged pacer of the year. The Yankee Skyscraper offspring hauled in over $202,000 as a five-year-old, winning 14 of 28 starts against some of the best in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, and lowered his mark to 1:48.3.


He’zzz A Wise Sky’s three-year-old sister Kizzzmelikeumissme (1:53.3) banked $44,689 in her first year of competition, while half-brother Rollinwithdaponyzzz (1:51.2) earned over $66,000. The Time To Roll gelding was claimed off the Triple ZZZ stable for $8,000 last year and has raced out of four different barns since.


Kizzzmelikeumissme’s first season was cut short when the filly suffered a bone chip after her race in the Downstate Classic on August 3rd at the Altamont fair track. The filly was on the mend when the fall’s important Plum Peachy stake on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions was contested in mid-September.


“She’s a big filly and the race at Altamont was her first time on half-miler,” said trainer John Filomeno. “I was happy with her effort. She finished second to a track record performance (1:58.3). It was her last race of the season. We took care of her injury and she’ll be ready when the Illinois racing season gets way at Springfield.”


Kizzzmelikeyoumissme posted four wins in an even dozen starts including victories at Hawthorne in a $30,000 ICF sophomore filly pace and the summer’s Plum Peachy stake elimination.


Filomeno has another full brother and full sister to He’zzz A Wise Sky and Kizzmelikeumissme on the way. The two-year-old colt Who’zzz This Sky is being prepared for the upcoming Illinois racing season and Filomeno also has his younger sister Minithezzzmoocher. (You gotta love those names).

Will Illinois Trotting Queen Step Down?

By Mike Paradise


Should she keep racing, or step down from her throne?  That question pertains to the fate of long-time Illinois trotting queen Annas Lucky Star.


Was 2022 the last year of her brilliant racing career that saw the now nine-year-old mare come away with yet another year end ICF trotting award (her seventh straight) or does her new calling as a broodmare begin this year?


Those two choices once again had to be tackled by Annas Lucky Star owner and breeder Danny Graham.


The Salem, Illinois native has often changed his mind the past few years from retirement for this talented trotter to one more year of competition, and each time Annas Lucky Star proved that motherhood should wait.



This time there was no hesitation in Danny’s voice when the obvious question was popped.


“We’re going to race her one more year,” disclosed Graham. “She’s real sound and she earned another year of racing. Right now, we’ve got her at Ray Hanna’s place in Altamont (IL). I’ve driven up there a few times to see how she’s doing and she’s doing fine.


“Anna probably won’t be looked upon as the No. 1 Illinois trotting mare going into this season. That title will belong to Funky Wiggle, who is four now. She became the fastest Illinois bred trotting filly last year with her record (1:51.1) mile and went on to be the state’s horse of the year,” continued Danny.


“I’m looking forward to “Anna” and her going at it this year. Hopefully we can give Funky Wiggle some good races.”


The aging star of the Nelson Willis Stable may be getting up there in years older, but Annas Lucky Star, a daughter of Cassis out of the Danny’s broodmare Queen Jamie, has shown time and time again she still has the desire and the ability to be very competitive at a high level, while continuing to haul in plenty of dough.


The gifted mare took home another $112,527 last year while regularly driven by Kyle Wilfong. She has now amassed $627,429 in lifetime purse earnings.  And mind you, in six unbeaten starts as a two-year-old “Anna” made a modest $36,870 since she wasn’t eligible for any of the major Chicago circuit stakes.


As far as 2024 is concerned for Annas Lucky Star, Danny will put the decision on hold for the time being. “That’s a long way off,” said Danny. “I’m thinking right now that this is her last racing season, but I’ve changed my mind about her so many times before, so let’s just wait and see how things develop.”


Queen Jamie Passes: On a sad note, Graham disclosed that his broodmare Queen Jamie, the dam of Annas Lucky Star “had to be put down last August.” Queen Jamie was 25.  “Her foals made over $1.1 million,” said Danny.


Besides Annas Lucky Star, Queen Jamie delivered Anthonyskywalker (1:54.0), $257,556), a Powerful Emotion state-bred trotter who won both Balmoral’s Cardinal and Hanover stakes in 2008 as a two-year-old for trainer Homer Hochstetler. Among others, Queen Jamie also produced Red Victor (1:55.3), Powerful Anthony (1:56.2) and Rocknprincessabbie (1:56.4).


Looking Good: ICF Aged Mare Pacer of the Year Fox Valley Exploit (Andrew McCarthy) was a first-over winner in a $12,500 conditioned pace last Saturday at Yonkers for owners Kyle Husted and David Bingham. Racing out of the barn of trainer Noel Daley, the now six-year-old Sportsmaster mare was timed in 1:52.1 on the New York half-mile track.