By Mike Paradise
Not even a rain storm could put a damper on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions that saw drivers Casey Leonard and Kyle Husted bring home three winners each on the 12-race program and three of the champions overcome the 10-hole.
Here’s how the gala night of racing unfolded:
The $45,000 Robert S. Molaro Memorial kicked off the festive evening of racing with the first of eleven consecutive ICF championships on the card and once more the two-time Illinois Harness Horse of the Year Fox Valley Gemini showed his heels to his foes, this time with a career fastest 1:50 flat mile.
Fox Valley Gemini’s driver Casey Leonard couldn’t have drawn up a better journey for the Terry Leonard trained four-year-old owned by Jim Ballinher of Atwater, Illinois. Casey bided his time with “Gemini” while first You’remyhearthronand and then Unlocked took turns taking the six horse field to a quick 54 flat first half.
Casey had Fox Valley Gemini out of fifth on the backside, still some nine lengths off the leader, got live cover from He Gone Jack and once they hit the three quarter pole (1:22.) Fox Valley Gemini accelerated and pulled away, more than seven lengths the best over Dakota Roadster.
The victory was ”Gemini’s” 30th in only 38 lifetime starts and made the son of Yankee Skyscraper the first pacer to win on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions as a two, three and four-year-old .
Within minutes of the Molaro finish a heavy rain came pouring down and turning the racing strip from “fast” to “good.”
Casey was right back in the winner’s circle at the conclusion of the $82,000 Fox Valley Flan for freshman trotting fillies with Lous Abgail ($5.60), albeit a lot wetter than he was a face earlier.
It was a one-two finish for trainer Steve Searle as stable-mate Bee See (Kyle Husted) took the bridesmaid role, while Fox Valley Lush (Kyle Wlfong) was third in the 2:00.1 mile. The winning margin was almost five lengths.
Saddled with the 10-hole, Leonard hustled out Lous Abgail, likely looking for an up-close hole but none materialized, so Casey sent his filly for the top, occupied briefly by the 99-1 longshot Really Railee. After a 58.4 half, Lous Abgail coasted to 1 28.4 third quarter and had plenty left to post her seventh freshman triumph in ten outings for owners and breeders Flacco Family Farms of Alexis, Illinois.
The track condition was changed to sloppy for the $115,000 Incredible Tillie for juvenile ICF pacing fillies but Fox Valley Exploit ($5.20) certainly didn’t mind as she used a pocket trip for her winning 1:55.4 mile.
Sign Her Up (Juan Franco) had a solid effort to be second, beaten three and one-half lengths, while the pacesetting Sleazy Gal (Kyle Wilfong) did well to be third with her 10-hole start.
Winning driver Kyle Husted also trains the Sportsmaster filly and shares ownership of her with David Brigham of Concord, Michigan. Fox Valley Exploit’s fifth career win propelled her freshman earrings to $99,041.
With last week’s Plesac preview second place finisher Talk About Valor a late scratch the overwhelming 1 to 9 favorite Anna’s Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong) was expected to breeze to an easy victory in the $45,000 Plesac aged trotting championship against only four foes and the Nelson Willis trainee did just that for Salem, Illinois owner and breeder Danny Graham.
Anna’s Lucky Star had the top by the first turn, strolled to a 59 half, opened things up a bit in the third quarter (1:27.3) and was on cruise-control at the end of a 1:56.3 mile, a mere 15 lengths the best. The Cassis mare now has $86,050 on her card as a five-year-old card while her lifetime earnings climbed to $348,975.
Returning to the winner’s circle for a second time Saturday night were driver Kyle Husted, trainer Steve Searle and owners Flacco Family Farms as Louzotic went wire-to-wire in the $95,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial for ICF sophomore trotting fillies, drawing off by more than six lengths..
Louzotic ($2.40) was never seriously challenged in her 1:58.3 win as Husted nicely rated the daughter of Lous Legacy to moderate fractions of 29.4, 59.4 and 1:29.4 in the rain. It was back-to-back Night of Champions victories for Louzotic now with a flashy record of 11 wins in 15 trips postward this season. The 2018 Fox Valley Flan champion’s lifetime purse earnings now stand at $236,809.
The Kennedy Linsey trained three-year-old Lourhianon certainly was the best in the $92,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot championship, overcoming the 10-hole for driver Luke Plano and drawing off by almost seventh lengths despite taking a lot of air.
Another son of Lou’s legacy, Lourhianon ($8.00) sprinted out at the start, grabbed fifth position, came out on the backside, and raced first over to the front-stepping Trixie’s Turbo (Kyle Wilfong) and nevertheless chalked up his sixth win of the season for Grant Park, Illinois owner C. Lawrence Mc Burney and boosted his 2019 earnings to $99,413.
Frontier Manard (Freddie Patton Jr.) and For Trots Sake (Jim Pantaleano) were the second and third place finishers.
When the 1-2 heavy favorite Fox Valley Quest (Casey Leonard) made a break on the first turn on the rain-soaked racing surface the door was open for the first upset in a championship and Crooked Creek (Ryan Anderson) stepped up to get the job done for Mount Sterling owner and breeder Ed Teefey.
The 9-1 longshot Crooked Creek ($20. 40) stalked his Mike Brink stable-mate Desert Sheik much of the 1:59.3 mile, collared him in mid-stretch and pulled away by six lengths in the $108,000 Kadabra final for two-year-old trotting colts and geldings. It was the third consecutive triumph for the Cassis gelding.
Nicely driven by Bobby Smolin He’zzz A Wise Sky ($4.60) proved to be fastest in the lane in the $105,000 Incredible Finale championship for freshman male pacers. The 1:55 victory in the slop was the fifth in a row for the Don Filomeno trained homebred who overtook the 6-5 co-favorite, and eventual runner-up Fox Valley Ren (Kyle Wilfong) inside of the last eighth of the mile.
Smolin got He’zzz A Wise Shy away well-enough from the outside 10-slot to drop the colt into sixth in the early going. When Western Perch (Ridge Warren) popped out of fourth and went after the leader, Smolin followed him up, received a second over trip, and the Yankee Skyscaper delivered the good when it counted for Triple ZZZ Stable of Justice, Illinois.
The $109,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial stake was expected to be a close exciting finish between the division’s top three horses and it lived up to its advance billing as the pace-setting Fox Valley Triton (Casey Leonard) held on for a head victory over Meyer On Fire (Kyle Husted) with the third place finisher Maximus (Kyle Wilfong) right there at the end of the 1:54.1 mile as well.
Trained by Terry Leonard for Illinois owners Dandy Farms Racing (Glenview), Ft Racing Stable (Glenview) and Peter Kouchis (Palos Hills), Fox Valley’s Triton’s freshman purse earnings nearly doubled with the $54,000 winner’s share to $112,324 with his sixth first season victory.
The $100,000 Plum Peachy turned out to be a three-horse “Fox Valley” finish with Fox Valley Halsey (Juan Franco) coming out on top at the end of a 1:54.4 mile. Fox Valley Lil Kim (Kyle Husted) was a head behind with the 4-5 favorite Fox Valley Torrid (Casey Leonard) a head more back for third.
Franco gave the Nelson Willis sophomore filly a great trip, following the first-over “Torrid” through much of the mile, and getting past in the late going for Illinois owners Cynthia Kay Willis (Beecher) and Ronnie and Jerry Graham (Salem).
The $9.80 winner was this author’s “Price Shot” of the night.
Skeeter Machine ($7.60) didn’t have an easy journey but the four-year-old mare still provided Kyle Husted his third championship drive of the night in the $45,000 Tony Maurello distaff final, holding off Whiskersonkittens (Luke Plano) by a half-length in the 1:54 flat mile.
Husted pulled Skeeter Machine out of fifth soon after the first quarter (28.1). The Nicole Agosti trained mare grinded her way to the pacesetter Boogie On Down, passed her in the last turn, and gamely went on to capture the Saturday night finale for Illinois owners Francis Greer (Mount Sterling) and James Greer (Peoria).