Night of Champion Purses Get Huge Boost

By Mike Paradise

When Illinois harness horsemen and owners look at the purses on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions card they’ll probably rub their eyes in disbelief.

Nevertheless, they can believe what they see and that’s a momentous increase over the estimated purses in all the ICF championships, for Saturday’s showcase evening of Illinois harness racing.

They can thank the Illinois Department of Agriculture 708 Budget Line, for over $1.5 million in funds strictly for use in ICF stake races and the Spring County Fairs through July 1, 2018.

The governor’s office released the funds and Tuesday the Illinois Standardbred Breeder’s Fund Advisory Board and the Illinois Department of Agriculture jointly determined how the money was allocated.

Champions Night LogoAs you’ll see a hefty portion went to the purses on Saturday’s Night of Champions.

For example: The Robert F. Carey for ICF 3-year-old pacing males was to go for $117,100. Now they’ll race for $180,000. The 3-year-old filly Plum Peachy for sophomore filly pacers jumped from $107,500 to $165,000.

Meanwhile, the ICF freshmen didn’t get overlooked. Saturday’s $125,000 estimated Incredible Tillie filly pace shot up by $50,000 to $175,000 and the Incredible Finale for “the boys” is no longer an $111,700 pot, it’s now an even $195,000 purse.

The state-bred trotters got nice hefty hikes in their championships as well, with the 2-year-old filly Fox Valley Flan getting the biggest boost, a $49,200 increase to $135,000. The other three trot championships on the card received increases of $41,200, $38,150 and $38,150.

The lowest purse for any of Saturday’s Night of Champion finals now sits at $60,000.

Altogether $1.38 million in purses are on the line in eleven ICF stake events on Hawthorne’s Night of Championships. That’s a lot of dough and over $472,000 of it came this week from the Illinois Department of Agriculture funding.

What you likely won’t read anywhere else, is that it was the IHHA Lobbyists working hard behind the scenes, that played a huge role getting those $1.5 million in funds released to the Illinois bred harness racing community. The same IHHA lobbyists that often are criticized by some association members as an “unnecessary expense.”

Well, here are $1.5 million reasons why they indeed are a “necessary” expense. This obvious huge development for Illinois harness racing would not have occurred without the IHHA lobbying efforts.

It was also announced this week jointly by Dept. of Agriculture and the Standardbred Advisory Board, that there will be two days of Fall Review races at Springfield to be held on Saturday Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 30.

Still to be worked out, are likely substantial increases in next year’s Violet and Cardinal stakes of both gaits, as well monies for County Fair purses, possible distribution for any ICF stakes during the winter meet, and maybe some new state-bred stakes.

Details on any future allocation of 708 Dept. of Agriculture Budget Line Funds will be posted on the IHHA web-site at when they become available.

Morgan, Miller Coming Here: The driver colony for Saturday’s Night of Champions got a big boost with the word that both former Chicago circuit driving champions Tony Morgan and Marcus Miler are coming to town.

Morgan is closing in on 16,000 lifetime winners and only Dave Palone, with 18,000-plus has a higher total. Tony was named Harness Driver of the Year by Harness Tracks of America four different times—1996, 1997, 2002 and 2006.

Morgan, a long-time past president of the IHHA, was the acknowledged kingpin of Illinois drivers through much of the 1990’s and into the 2000’s before he left the state for the much more enticing purses offered up at the Casino-aided race tracks up and down the east coast.

The now 59-year-old native, hasn’t driven in the Chicago area since the end of the 2005 racing season, some 12 years ago. Horses Morgan has steered, have earned over $126 million. Only 12 drivers have ever had horses earn more.

The 28-year-old Miller left the local circuit for Pennsylvania after the 2012 season. In his previous three years Marcus drove over 1,300 in Illinois with a career season best coming in 2011 when he won the Maywood Park driving title.