The 2020 Night of Champions at Hawthorne is in the history books and unlike last year’s card on a rainy evening and sloppy track, this one was contested over clear skies and on a fast racing surface.
A couple of siblings, Fox Valley Exploit and Allbeastnobeauty became the first full sisters to win a Super Night type championship on the same program.
Here’s how the gala evening unfolded:
A NOC Certainty: If there’s one thing you can count on in Illinois harness racing it is Fox Valley Gemini winning on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions with his driver Casey Leonard.
The now five-year-old icon of the Terry Leonard ICF made it four for-four on a NOC evening and last night’s was a rather easy five-plus length victory in the $68,000 Robert S. Molaro Memorial Final for Atwater, Illinois owner Jim Ballinger.
Fox Valley Gemini ($2.20) wore down the eventual second place finisher Al’s Hammered (Bobby Smolin) in the lane and pulled away in 1:50.1. It was career no. 39 for the Yankee Skyscraper gelding who won the Incredible Finale at two, the Carey at three and last year’s Molaro showdown as a four-year-old.
Make That Six Straight: The second championship of the night, the $88,000 For Valley Flan trot for two-year-old fillies, saw the Steve Searle trained Loulita ($2.20) make it six consecutive victories and a return visit to the winner’s circle for driver Casey Leonard.
Sent off at overwhelming 1-9 odds, the daughter of Lous Legacy, took over command soon after the 30 second first quarter, coasted to a 1:01.1 half and drew off in the lane for her breeders Flacco Family Farms of Alexis, Il who share ownership of the talented youngster with Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois.
The 1:58.2 mile was a new lifetime mark for Loulita. Myonly Sin (Marcus Miller rallied to finish second.
A Bomb Explodes: Saddled with the outside 10-hole, driver Travis Seekman did a terrific job of getting his two-year-old pacing filly Bootsy Bombay in position to win the $80,000 Incredible Tillie and the Nick Prather trained filly did just that, edging the 4-5 favorite Scorecard Dandy (Juan Franco) by a half-length.
Seekman hustled Bootsy Bombay ($12.40) out from the outside slot and was the third horse to have the lead by the 29.3 first quarter. Seekman quickly gave it up to Princess Moose (Kyle Wilfong) and was content to take the two-hole trip with his filly.
Scorecard Dandy had to race first-up down in the three-horse stretch drive with the winner and Princess Moose. As it turned out Bootsy Bombay picked the right time to nail down her first win on Hawthorne’s big track with a 1:56.2 mile.
Bootsy Bombay is owned by James Greer of Peoria, Illinois.
Patience Pays Off: A patient drive by Juan Franco behind the Steve Searle stable’s Lousraptor ($7.40) paid off handsomely for owner and breeder Flacco Family Farms in the $7,000 Plesac championship for older ICF trotters.
Franco ducked Lousraptor at the start as the 3-5 choice Anna’s Lucky Star (pp 9, Kyle Wilfong) worked hard for the lead, lost command, retook it over Tricky Nick and then fought Louzotic (pp 10, Kyle Husted) the last half of the mile before tiring.Lousraptor saved his best for last, closing big down the middle of the track and drawing off by almost three lengths. Louscardamon (25-1, Casey Leonard), another Searle trainee was second.
The four-year-old Lousraptor, was another Searle trained, Lous Legacy sired, and Flacco Family Farms owned and bred Night of Champions winner.
They’re Happy in Palmer: El Oh Govnor ($9.60), nicely handled by Marcus Miller, rallied strong to take the $88,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial final for state-bred three-year-old trotting fillies, snapping the 3-5 favorite Lous Abigail’s winning streak at five in a row.
Lous Abigail (pp 8, Casey Leonard) had to battle her stable-mate Bee Cee (pp 3, Kyle Husted) to get to the front in a 29.1 first panel and both didn’t much left in the late going.
Miller had El Oh Govner in fifth most of the way and when he asked the Mike Rogers trained filly for another gear, she had it, rolling past for Palmer, Illinois owners Donald and Sherri Huddleston in 1:57.4, and knocking more than three seconds off her previous fastest winning time.
The 50-1 longshot Celone Hall (Dan Rawlings) was second best,
Quest Accomplished: Perfectly rated by Casey Leonard, the Tom Simmons trained Fox Valley Quest ($5.00) was a front-stepping winner of the $100,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial for ICF male sophomore trotters,
Fox Valley Quest took over the lead early on from Desert Sheik, went to a 58.2 half and then put away a stretch bid by the first over Crooked Creek, trotting a new lifetime mark of 1:55 flat for Illinois owners Carl Lacey (Athens) and Benita Simmons (Springfield).
The 4-5 favorite Crooked Creek (Todd Warren) saved second over On Higher Ground (Kyle Wilfong), both Mike Brink rained trotters,
Well Spent: When trainer Mike Brink spent $50,000 on a Lous Legacy yearling at the 2019 Illini Classic Sale some in attendance thought he might have overpaid.
Well, it turns out he didn’t because a year later that same young trotter raked-in his sale amount and a bit more when Fistfullofdollars ($6.40) grinded his way to the $118,000 Kadabra championship in 2:01.3 for driver Kyle Wilfong and the Illinois quartet of Brink (Springfield), Darin Taurmear (Liberty) and Jeffrey Clauson (Macomb) and Mark Brown (Chatham).
Longshots Mystical Murray Jamaica Patton) at 25-1 and Loyz Say When (Marcus Miller) at 13-1, were second and third respectively.
Showing His Heels: A soft 30.2 second quarter was the key to the 4-5 public’s choice Well Basically (Marcus Miller) capturing the $71,000 Incredible Finale showdown for freshman state-bred pacers,
Marcus had Well Basically ($3.80) sprinting out from the four-slot and into the lead coming out of the first turn. A modest 29.2 first panel was followed by an even slower second quarter and when the stretch drive came about, there was no catching the Erv Miller trained Sagebrush juvenile owned by Anthony Lombardi of Morris, Illinois and the (Marty) Engel Stable of Northbrook, Illinois.
Frontier Charley (pp 9, Todd Warren) came a long way to be the runner-up.
He’zzz Awfully Good: He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) showed why he was hammered down to 1-9 odds in the $88,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial. The three-year-old Don Filomeno trained home-bred led from start to finish in another dominant performance.
The 1:51.2 mile equaled He’zzz A Wise Sky’s ($2.20) fastest in 19 career starts and 12 have been victories for Triple Zzz Stable of Justice, Illinois.
Looking Peachy: It was another heavy favorite getting it done rather effortlessly in the $108,000 Plum Peachy Final as Fox Valley Exploit breezed in that three-year-old filly pace championship by almost three lengths in 1:53.2.
Driven by her trainer Kyle Husted Fox Valley Exploit (pp 9) had to work hard to get to the top on the backside but once there it was strictly no contest. The win was her eighth in nine season starts for the Sportsmaster filly owned by Husted and David Brigham of Concord, Michigan.
Me Too Sis: The nightcap saw Fox Valley Exploit’s older sister Allbeastnobeauty win for the fifth straight time in the $68,000 Tony Maurello Memorial championship.
Sent off at odds of 3-5, Allbeastnobeauty ($3.20) was driven by her Illinois trainer Todd Warren and despite taking a lot of air in her 1:51.4 mile the five-year-old daughter of Sportsmaster ended up two lengths ahead of Lilly Von Shtupp (Casey Leonard).
The Indiana owned mare won for the tenth time this year, putting her season earnings over the $100,000 mark.
By Mike Paradise
Eleven ICF champions will be crowned tonight as Hawthorne Race Course hosts its annual showcase event of its meeting, the Night of Champions.
Unlike other Night of Champions events, and for that matter Super Nights that preceded it, this one regrettably will be raced without any fans. They’ll be no cheering on-track by owners and their friends and family of the participating pacers and trotters.
Nevertheless they’ll be at the OTB parlors or on iPhones or computers at home no doubt with the same enthusiasm —with munchies and liquid refreshments available—as if they were at Hawthorne.
Former successful Chicago driver Marcus Miller will come back to his home in from Pennsylvania to handle his father Erv Miller’s horses, and some others, on the 13 race star-studded card
Chalk Up Another? Looking at the Night of Champions card and what took place in last weekends of final legs of the ICF stake series, at least on paper it appears to be it’ll be a fruitful night for the betting favorites.
However, there will be upsets, there always are, and some ICF stake showdowns may come about where there may not be a clear-cut favorite at post time.
In particular the Incredible Tillie final for state-bred two-year-old pacing fillies has changed directions a couple of times.
Connie On The Go (Jamaica Patton) started out like an Incredible Tillie standout but health issues in August derailed her express train and her qualifier last week was a bummer.
Hart’s Heart came on in August like gangbusters and won back-to-back State Fair champions but the filly isn’t eligible to the Night of Champions stake series. Bootsy Bombay was second in both of those recent stakes however tonight she drew the 10-hole.
Princess Moose (Kyle Wilfong) has been a very consistent filly in the series and her chances of coming out on top bode well for her connections with the three post.
And then there’s Scorecard Dandy who had one single point (earned with a sixth place finish an earlier one leg) prior to last weekend’s final series leg and all she did last week was to zip past and post a new lifetime mark of 1:55.3. The Gregory Kain trained freshman is the 8-5 programmed post-time favorite.
More Spirited Trots: The Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot for three-year-old males has seen the Mike Brink trained Crooked Creek (Todd Warren) and the Tom Simmons stable’s Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard) slug it out all season, trading victories against each other.
And don’t overlook On Higher Ground, another Brink trainee. The second season trotter has shown he has the ability to beat both of the series favorites if some things can go his way. He did just that about a month ago.
The Incredible Finale freshman colt and gelding pace group has seen three different series winners—the top point earner Frontier Charley (pp 10, Todd Warren), Well Basically (pp 4, Marcus Miller) and Ideal’s Big Guy (pp 1, Casey Leonard)—and close finishes have become the norm.
Can the “Lous” Roll On? Flacco Family Farms has two of its trotting fillies carrying long winning streaks into their respective championships.
Both Loulita and Lous Abgail will look for their sixth consecutive victory when they go to the gate in their respective trotting championships with their regular driver aCsey Leonard.
Loulita looks to be in good shape with the four post in the third race Fox Valley Flan freshman filly championship but Lous Abigail has her work cut out with the eight-hole in the three-year-old Beulah Dygert Memorial trot a few races later.
Pleasing Plesac: Flacco Family Farms also has a strong contender on the $45,000 Plesac for Illinois bred trotters age three and up and that would be the now four-year-old mare Louzotic, another Steve Searle trained trotter. Louzotic knocked off tonight’s likely favorite Annas Lucky Star in last week’s Plesac Prep but landing the 10-hole does put a damper on Louzotic chances tonight.
Pennsylvania based trainer Richard Perfido has again sent his ICF trotter Tricky Nick to Hawthorne for the Plesac. It’s the fourth time in the last five years the Band’s Gold Chip eight-year-old has come to town for the Night of Champions, a race he won the 2017 and came away with purse checks in the two others.
A Sister Act? Fox Valley Exploit will surely get plenty of play in the Plum Peachy final. After all, she has lost only once all season against her division rivals for her driver and trainer Kyle Husted, and was a Night of Champions winner last year as a freshman.
Nevertheless Fox Valley Exploit didn’t fare well in the Plum Peachy draw, getting the nine-slot and one of her main rivals Sleazy Gal (Marcus Miller) did even worse with the ten.
On the other hand Sign Her Up (Juan Franco), the only filly to beat “Exploit” this season, had to put a smile on her trainer Charles Arthur’s face when she secured the one-post.
Fox Valley Exploit’s older sister Allbeastnobeauty will also be the heavy favorite to visit the Hawthorne’s winner circle again after another easy win in last weekend’s Tony Maurello Memorial elimination. Trainer Todd Warren will guide the five-year-old Sportsmaster mare, unbeaten in her last four starts.
Another Gem? Speaking of heavy NOC favorites, add the Don Filomeno three-year-old home bred He’zzz A Wise Sky (Bobby Smolin) to that group. The 2019 Incredible Finale champion has been on a roll with three consecutive triumphs in his Robert F. Carey Jr. sophomore colt and gelding division.
Illinois most popular pacer Fox Valley Gemini is sure to be bet down when he defends his Robert S. Molaro Memorial stake crown. The five-year-old star of the Terry Leonard stable has simply dominated Hawthorne’s Open division again this year.
But what about the old-timer Al’s Hammered?
Since acquired by his driver Bobby Smolin, the former two-time Balmoral Park Super Night champion has shown he still has plenty left in the tank at the age of eleven. Can he put an explanation mark on his remarkable comeback with an upset over Fox Valley Gemini? Landing the pole position compared to “Gemini’s” eight-slot certainly is a plus for the one time sub 1:49 pacer.
We’ll know that answer early on with the Molaro going as the second race.Ever Changing: The $118,000 Kadabra final for trotting colts and geldings offers the richest purse of the evening. It also has been a bit of a crapshoot at times.
The stake’s current point leader Rndmnunpredictable (Casey Leonard) has two victories in series legs but lately he’s had problems staying on stride.
Coco D Lascito, winner of two earlier Kadabra rounds, has been shelved with health issues and so has Bobalou who was sidelined after his five race victory streak was snapped.
Emerging at the right time has been Kyle Husted’s Lousrolando and Mike Brink stable’s Fistfullofdollars.
Lousrolando couldn’t stay flat in the middle of the summer but that problem may be behind him. He’s looked good prevailing in his last two starts in ICF stakes. Meanwhile the $50,000 yearling sale purchase Fistfullofdollars just keeps getting better and better and looks ready to be a major player tonight.
Who will come out on top tonight as a champion? Only time will tell so meanwhile sit back with your favorite beverage and snacks, and enjoy another memorable evening of Illinois harness racing.
By Mike Paradise
Normally my column on the eve of Hawthorne’s Night of Champions would read about “the long wait is over” and “the most anticipated” evening of the Illinois racing season is here.
But we all know this isn’t a normal year.
The most anticipated night of Hawthorne’s season came on June 1st when the governor gave us the go ahead to restart the meeting after a three-month hiatus of harness racing in our state brought about by the ravaging Covid-19 virus.
So this time around let’s call Saturday’s welcomed Night of Champions the second most eagerly awaited harness racing evening of the year in our state. And with about a third of our season kayoed by the seemingly never ending epidemic, this year it came upon us way too fast.
It’s hard to believe that our Illinois harness season ends this Sunday night and it’ll be eight long months before the state’s next season starts up again.
Option Please: Some Illinois owners and trainers of horses that were awarded “byes” in their respective eliminations of the Tony Maurello (mares) and the Robert Molaro (horses and geldings) stake events were surprised to learn they didn’t have the option to race for those $15,000 elim pots and risk not making the series finals.
It seems the Maurello and Molaro stake nomination conditions make it “mandatory” to take “byes” into the finals. The only things that should be mandatory now days is death and taxes, and not in that order
While “byes” are usually considered a “good thing” there can be occasions when an owner and his or her trainer want their horse to compete in the elimination or likely skip a week of racing. Certainly it’s a risk to do so but it’s a gamble the “bye horse” connections should make, not the race track.
For years at Balmoral Park it was always an option given to the trainer of the horse(s) with the most season money earned in a elimination field with 11 to 13 entries to decide to take the “bye” or not.
Heck, I remember one year the Balmoral Race Office had to go down to the fourth or fifth of that stakes season’s leading money earning to finally get its ”bye horses.”
Balmoral had it right. Hopefully Hawthorne will too when the Night of Champions nomination forms come around next year.
Sister Sister? Can ICF sisters both come away with victories on tomorrow’s Night of Champions program?
It’s very possible.
Both the five-year-old mare Allbeastnobeauty (Todd Warren) and the three-year-old filly Fox Valley Exploit (Kyle Husted) will be get plenty of actions in their respective Night of Champion events, the Tony Maurello Final for the Todd Warren trained older sibling and the Plum Peachy final for Husted’s talented sophomore.
Both horses were sired by Sportsmaster and are foals of the broodmare She Likes It All. If each is successful it’ll be the first time full sisters came away with championships on a Illinois Super Night type card.
However, it won’t be the first time for two siblings. We had a sister and brother do it back in 1990 for trainer Mark Fransen and driver Walter Paisley.
It was the two-year-old filly Plum Peachy who captured that year’s $305,843 Orange and Blue Filly Pace and later her older four-year-old brother Buck And Wing won the $50,000 Dan Patch stake.
While Saturday’s Night of Champions will be without any fans at Hawthorne, there was a crowd of 15,499 at Sportsman’s Park on Super Night 1990 and the on-track handle was $2,333,038 on a nine-race card.
And no, neither of the above figures are a typo.