By Mike Paradise
Horse racing players tuning in to Hawthorne for the first time Sunday might think the racetrack is practicing “social distancing” with horses in its co-features.
After all, in the seventh race Open Trot with six starters, there will be a gap of five slots between the four horse and the two outside trotters as they go to the gate.
Similarly in the Open filly mare pace that follows there’s a four post opening between the No. 6 six horse Tempus Seelster and the No. 7 Lily Grace, no stranger to being “all alone” at the start in a Chicago circuit race.
Like I’ve written before, we want good horses to come to Illinois but right now is still seems we don’t want them to be too good.
If your horse wins too many local Open’s in a row, he or she is reprimanded and sent to the extreme outside post with its lowly 4.7 percent success rate, rather than, in tonight’s instances, the six (14 per cent) or the seven (9.7 per cent) winning percentage. It’s an attempt to make the race more evenly matched, and hopefully lure more money through the Hawthorne wagering system.
I understand the ploy and if I was running the show I might even do the same thing. While I understand the move, I still don’t like it. Does any of the major tracks in the country do it?
All horses sooner or later tail off for one reason or another. Let a horse owner make all the dough he or she can while the going is good. It only takes one misstep or maybe one health issue to shut down a horse for a long period of time, maybe forever.
In any case, the reality of the current Illinois Standardbred industry can be summed up in five words: “It is what it is.”
So in both of Sunday’s Open events Casey Leonard will have the unwanted distinction of driving two horses from the 10-hole with less than full fields.
Somehow Lindy’s Big Bang, victorious in one Open since March and beaten by more than five lengths in his last Open, landed the 10-slot while Annas Lucky Star (Kyle Wilfong), winner of her last pair and a two-time Open winner since July, acquired the nine. The Nelson Willis trained mare goes after career triumph No. 38 in her 69th trip to the starting gate for Salem, Illinois owner and breeder Danny Graham.
The “underdogs” in the Open Trot are Hot Summer Night (Ridge Warren), Talk About Valor (Travis Seekman), Classic Venture (Bobby Smolin) and Rockyroad Aldo (Kyle Husted), leave from the first four posts, in that order.
Lily Grace has won her last six races and the most recent three were in local Opens. Three weeks ago she overcame the assigned dreaded 10-hole with a 1:51 flat mile, a career fastest for the five-year-old. Her previous three local victories came after the Hawthorne “re-start” when she swept a low-end conditioned series.
In the statistic that counts the most for any horse owner, Lily Grace has made a little more than $27,000 for Trot & Pace Racing of Farewell, Michigan this year, which is about half of what two of her Sunday opponents have banked—Allbeastnobeauty (pp 2, Todd Warren) and Tempus Seelster (pp 6, Travis Seekman). Those two mares gobbled up the bulk of their yearly purse earnings competing at race track venues supported by the gaming industry.
Brown Brinny (Cordarius Stewart), Over Speeding (Kyle Husted) Skeeter Machine (Kyle Wilfong) and Velocity McSweets (Brandon Bates) are the other mares trying to halt the streaking Lily Grace.
A “Juanderful” Night: The fast improving freshman trotter Louita (Casey Leonard) coasted to her third consecutive victory in last night’s opener, the $32,000 Illinois State Fair championship for two-year-old fillies.
Lolita ($3.40) completed her 2:02.1 mile more than six lengths ahead of runner-up Myonly Sin for her trainer Steve Searle and Illinois owners Flacco Family Farms (Alexis) and Dr. Patrick Graham (Pittsfield).
A few races later it became the Juan Franco Show in back-to-back ICF championships.
First the 43-year-old Guatemala native pulled off a surprise victory with Hart’s Hart ($13.00) in the $32,000 juvenile filly pace, the Mike Brink trainee’s maiden victory. The Major Bombay home-bred covered the mile in 1:55.3 for Illinoisans Donna Crebs (Cantrall) and Judy Gonzo (Lincoln) and was almost five lengths better than the second place pacer Bootsy Bombay.
Franco followed that upset up with another when he steered Sign Her Up ($16.60) to a rather comfortable 1:54.1 win over the heavily 1-5 favorite Fox Valley Exploit. Trained by Charles Arthur, Sign Her Up won for the third time as a three-year-old for the Jackson, Mississippi duo of RB Roper and Ms. Fabian Johnson and the $15,000 winner’s share of the purse upped the Sagebrush mare’s two-season earnings to over $95,000.
The final ICF stake of the night turned out to be close one between the two Steve Searle trained stable-mates Lous Abigail (Casey Leonard) and the 30-1 long Bee Cee (Kyle Husted) with the 1-9 public’s choice coming out on top by a just a head in 1:58.1
The triumph was Lous Abigail (2.20) third in a row for her Flacco Family Farms owners and breeders.
Pricey Enough? Saturday night’s second race winner Dash Of Danger was a “Mike’s Price Shot” selection at $20.80.