Seekman’s Arrow Pointing Upwards

By Mike Paradise for the IHHA


Travis Seekman is a couple weeks into his 18th season as a professional driver and the arrow is pointing upward for the modest Michigan native. The thirty-two-year-old Seekman is coming off his best campaign in the sulky, going over the $1 million plateau in purse money for the first time.


One of the chief reasons why Travis had over 102 winning drives in a shortened racing Illinois season along with $1.11 million in money won, his best ever, was another stellar season by the veteran Gerry Hansen trained trotter ICF Talk About Valor.


Talk About Valor was a 13-time winner last year with Travis Seekman at his lines enroute to being named the Illinois Aged Male Trotter of the Year. (Four Footed Fotos)

For the second consecutive year the gutsy now nine-year-old star of the Hansen stable was named the Illinois Aged Male Trotter of the year and justifiably so. Talk About Valor captured13 of 26 starts and banked over $155,428 for his Monee, Illinois owner Shelley Steele. Nine of those victories came in prairie-state Open trots, all with Seekman at the lines.


Travis took over the driving chores behind the trotter in May of 2021 after the Yankee Valor gelding had been sidelined since mid-September of the previous year. Talk About Valor was scratched out of the Plesac final in Hawthorne’s 2020 Night of Champions after tearing a suspensory.


Seekman’s achievement with the talented trotter over the past two years has been extraordinary—20 victories in 37 tries, a 54+ winning percentage. However, Travis says all the praise should go elsewhere.


“All the credit to Talk About Valor’s success should go to Gerry (trainer Hansen),” said Seekman. “He’s done a great job with Talk About Valor over the last couple of years, especially when you consider all the suspensory problems the horse has had to deal with. Gerry picks his spots with the horse well. When he does race him, the horse is always ready for a big effort.


“Talk About Valor is an easy horse to drive. He’s versatile. You can race up front or from behind and he always gives you his top effort. He’s a game and gutsy horse and it’s been a pleasure to drive him.”


Seekman guided Talk About Valor to an easy four length first place finish yesterday at Hoosier Park with a 1:58.4 clocking. Travis was content to take a two-hole trip behind the pacesetter who went to the three-quarters in a leisurely 1:29.4.


Last year Travis also handled the Tim Roach trained ICF youngster Ghost Shark in his initial season when he made over $65,000 and took a mark of 1:51.3 in a division of Du Quoin’s Director’s Cup.



Travis Seekman had his best money-making season in 2022 when his drives went over the $1 million plateau in purse earnings for the first time. (Four Footed Fotos)

Ghost Shark dropped in first six career starts, racing mostly on the front end before winning out of a hole at Du Quoin in late August and following a week later with a triumph in his Incredible Finale elimination racing ibn similar fashion. He finished second in the championship, his last race as a two-year-old.


“I had little choice but to race him on the front early on because he was strong headed. They made some rigging changes on him, and he became much more manageable. The horse can pace a quick quarter.”


“Ghost Shark was as good as any in his division, one of the best ICF freshman groups in years. He’s grown a little over the winter, but he was a big horse as a two-year-old. He’s starting to mature and was a perfect gentleman in his recent qualifiers.”


Ghost Shark went to the front in his first qualifier on March 18 at Hoosier Park and came home in 27.1 at the end of his winning 1:54 flat mile, pleasing Travis.


“The idea was to race him on the lead and use him for just the last quarter. It was a cold and windy day, and the judges took 2 or 3 seconds off what was needed to qualify, so we were happy with his race.”


Ghost Shark again qualified on another windy morning two weeks later on April 1st, cutting leisurely fractions of 28.4, 29.4 and 30.1, before finishing first in 1:57.2.


“They had 50 mile an hour winds and rain here the night before the qualifiers and I don’t think it calmed down much that morning when we raced,” continued Travis. “We faced a strong wind in the last half and the track was a little off, so his time is misleading. He again was very controllable.”


Ghost Shark made his initial start of the year last week at Pocono Downs dropping a head decision in a $20,000 first leg of the Bobby Weiss three-year-old series.  Tyler Butler got the catch-drive behind the Illinois bred pacer who paced a quick 1:51.1 mile despite not competing since last September.


Community Rallies Around Ravaged Horse Farm

By Mike Paradise for the IHHA

When a tornado roared through the Walker Standardbred Farm in Sherman, Illinois early last Friday evening flattening two barns full of horses and letting loose dozens of broodmares and their foals, it was soon apparent to the farm’s owners Doc and Pat Walker and their staff that their situation was so severe, they needed help, and pronto.

Dark was only hours away and there were dozens of frightened broodmares and their babies who had wandered off, and ultimately would have to be tracked down.

A call for help was posted on the Walker Standardbred Facebook account. It wasn’t long before help arrived. . .and lots of it.

“The response from our community was incredible, “said Kristi Walker Patterson, the farm’s business manager. “I looked down the road and as far as I could see there were people walking towards our farm. They just kept coming, and we’re so thankful that they did.

“Our community came together in a huge way to help locate the horses, begin removing debris, and cleaning up. It wasn’t until 10:30 that night that all horses and babies were eventually located safe.”


Walker Standardbreds of Sherman, Illinois is the largest breeder of harness horses in the Prairie State. (Photo courtesy of Walker Standardbreds)

We’re in the heart of the horse breeding season and the Walker’s 24-stall Broodmare Barn was full of expecting mares and others with their terrified babies. Also, the 30-stall Infield Barn was fully loaded with mares and foals, some days old, when the tornado struck, leaving both barns and their paddocks in shambles.

With no place on the farm to accommodate the rounded-up broodmares and their babies, help again was needed, and once more the Sherman community came to the rescue. Friends and neighbors provided near-by facilities to house the homeless horses although it may be a while before those horses all can come back to the farm.

Luckily the tornado missed both the Walker’s home and that of Kristi and her husband, and there was no loss of human or equine life. Four horses were injured and since have been treated and are recovering. The storm did damage several other homes and business in the Sangamon County village that is located just north of Springfield, Illinois.

“Half the farm’s horse capacity is no longer usable,” said Krisi, the Walker’s middle daughter. “About 80 per cent of our infrastructure is gone and will need to be replaced. As long as there’s positive movement in the future of the Illinois horse racing industry, we plan to rebuild.

“My mom and dad had opportunities in the past to move to other states where harness racing is thriving but instead chose to stay here in Illinois. This is an agriculture community. There are many near-by farms that produce the corn, oats, and grain that our horses feed on. It’s a wonderful community and we’re grateful to be a part of it.’

Coretta Scott King, the wife of the late civil rights activist Martin Luther King, once said: “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

The village of Sherman residents have shown they are one of those special remarkable communities.

  Below are pictures of some of the devastation caused by last Friday’s tornado. (Photos courtesy of Walker Standardbreds)


Baby Boom: On an uplifting note, seven babies have been born at the Walker’s farm since the tornado released its havoc.



No Mystery Who’s Second in This Barn

By Mike Paradise


When a young filly wins 10 of her 12 freshman starts, multiple state-bred stakes, earns over $130,000, and goes on to be named the Illinois Two-Year-Old Filly Trotter of the Year, you would think that she’ll be the star attraction of her barn.


In this case, you would be mistaken.


Despite her spectacular first season of racing, the Curt Grummel trained Lou’s Legacy filly Marvelous Mystery competed in the shadow of her illustrious stable-mate Funky Wiggle.


Funky Wiggle (Kyle Wilfong) dominated the 2022 Illinois bred 3-year-old filly trot division and was named the state’s Harness Horse of the Year for the Grummel family. (Four Footed Fotos)

Also a daughter of Lou’s Legacy, Funky Wiggle not only ran away with last season’s Illinois three-year-old filly trotting honors, her stunning 1:51.4 record mile, the second fastest ever by any ICF trotter regardless of age and sex, went a big way to nailing down the 2202 Illinois Harness of the Year laurels.


Owned by her breeder Dr. Patrick Graham of Lockridge, Iowa, and driven almost exclusively by Hawthorne’s leading driver Kyle Wilfong, Funky Wiggle was simply dominant against other state-bred sophomore filly trotters.


Her nine season victories came in a row, starting in mid-July and ending in the $85,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial final on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions. The daughter of Graham’s broodmare Hoosier Wiggles, amassed $131,235 in her second racing campaign. Her record 1:51.4 mile came in Du Quoin’s Windy Skeeter stake, just a fifth of a second off national Hall of Fame trotter Kadabra’s all-time ICF mile.


Don’t look for Funky Wiggle to venture out of state in 2023.


“We’ll stay close to home with her,” said Curt. “This will be her first season against older horses. We thought we would see how she does. If she steps it up a notch, we’ll stake her as a five-year-old.”


Funky Wiggle didn’t finish her sophomore campaign on a high note, dropping her last five decisions in open company, three in major stakes, and picking up only about $13,000.


“She got sick on me, and I probably didn’t give her enough time to heal and then when I had her going the right way, she popped a quarter.


“Nothing major was wrong with her in those open stakes, just some little things.”


And when you’re taking on the best trotting fillies in the country, those little things can add up to make the path to success an arduous endeavor.


“She was in against the best of the best in those stakes,” continued Curt. “The night she got fourth in the Crossroads, I thought she gave us a big effort. She started in the second tier against the best filly three-year-old trotter in Indiana, the best one in Ohio, and a New York sire filly who the week before set a track record at Hoosier, and Funky Wiggle was beaten less than two lengths.


“This season we’re looking forward to racing against Annas Lucky Star. She’s been something special in Illinois for a long time and she had another great year as an eight-year-old. She’s as consistent as they come.”



Freshman filly trotting champion Marvelous Mystery (Kyle Wilfong) is being pointed for the ICF Violet in June at Springfield. (Four Footed Fotos)

While Funky Wiggle is dealing with up and down winter weather in Illinois, her talented stable-mate Marvelous Mystery is working in sunshine and where it’s much warmer.


“Marvelous Mystery is in Florida with my father (Leo),” said Curt. She grew a little over the winter but she’s not a big horse. She’s median size and that’s the kind I’ve had the best luck with.”


Marvelous Mystery’s only two first season losses came at Springfield and Du Quoin, both one-mile oval dirt tracks, in State Fair Illinois-bred stakes.


“I think the dirt tracks helped Fox Valley Shania some and in both, she drew the rail and had some very good trips. She had two-hole trips in each. In the Springfield final we had the outside nine-hole when we were second to her, and at Du Quoin (First Lady stake) “Shania” raced right behind us and popped out in time to beat us by a head.”


Bred by Dr. Kenneth Rucker and Jana Rucker of River Falls Wisconsin, Marvelous Mystery took a first season mark of 1:57.2 for owners Curt, Craig, and Leo Grummel, proving best in her first eight starts, and ending her campaign with a triumph in Hawthorne’s Night of Champions Fox Valley Flan final and its elimination.


The Grummel family has also developed such prominent trotters as Homicide Hunter (1:48.4, $1.76 million), Run And Tell Pap (1:53.2, $847,727), Fox Valley Veto (1:54.3, $532,978), Fox Valley Yoko (1:55.2, $155,701), Big Lou (1:57.1, $67.507), True Detective (1:58.4, $66,946), Dr Spengler (1:56.2, $97,763) and Dr Venkman (1:58.2, $47, 265).


“I’m currently training 12 horses,” said Curt from his barn in Carrollton, Illinois. “And yes, they’re all trotters.”