The U.S.T.A.'s Back To The Track weekend was a hit at Maywood and Balmoral Park both on and off the track as non-stop racing action; giveaways and contests provided plenty of fun for harness racing fans of all ages.
On Friday, July 15th fans at Maywood Park had a chance to meet and greet driver Marcus Miller, who recently became the sixth youngest driver in history to reach the 1,000 win plateau. The personable Miller signed plenty of autographs and answered questions from a long line of fans that arrived early to meet one of Chicago's top reinsmen. Miller also handed out tickets to the first 50 fans over the age of 21 for a "drink on the house" if Miller won a race that night. Not wasting any time Miller captured the third race on the card and made it "Miller Time" for the lucky patrons holding those tickets.
Maywood Park also conducted raffles for various prizes after each race including a trip for two to the Little Brown Jug and the I.H.H.A. provided whips for all winning drivers to hand out to the lucky fans that surrounded the winner's circle after each race.
The action continued on Saturday, July 16th & Sunday, July 17th at Balmoral Park with Crete plant giving out T-Shirts to fans while live bands performing on the track apron provided a festive atmosphere between races. Raffles were also held each night for various prizes including another trip for two to the Little Brown Jug. Food and drink specials and an autograph session with the Balmoral Park driving colony also proved to be a big hit with fans that turned out both nights.
The action on the track was non-stop as well at Balmoral Park as eight divisions of Hanover Stakes were contested on Saturday night.
With a total of 27 two-year-old colt pacers dropped in the box for their respective Hanover a total of three divisions, each with a purse of $25,800, were contested.
In the opening split trainer Steve Carter and driver Tyler Smith teamed up for the first of two victories in this division as Caviart Key, a good looking son of-Dee's Shark, who was a $12,000 yearling purchase for the partnership of Carter, Reid, Grubbs & Carter, front stepped his way to an easy three length score in a blistering 1:53.1.
This twosome clicked again later in the night as Sgt. Matt, a son of Jenna's Beach Boy-Artical, became the national season's leader for a 2yo gelding pacer on a one-mile oval as he cruised to a 3 ¼ length score in 1:52.4 with Smith along for the ride. The Steve Carter trainee is now a perfect five for five in his career after taking several events on the Kentucky country fair circuit to open his career. The youngster is owned in partnership by Reid, Grubbs and Carter.
Trainer Erv Miller scored for Illinois bred program in another division of the two-year-old colt action as his speedy roan colt Crime Of Passion made it two wins straight wins to open his career rolling to a 3 ¼ length victory in 1:53.3. with son Marcus Miller at the controls. The homebred son of-Broadway Passion made a huge quarter move to overcome the outside starting spot in the field of nine as he kept his record spotless for O.J. Miller, Leland Mathias and the Ervin Miller Stable.
A total of 18 two-year-old pacing fillies were entered for their Hanover Stake meaning a split into a pair of nine horse fields with each carrying a purse of $25,100.
In the first division Sawgrass Farms Podges Lady, a $30,000 Lexington purchase, had no trouble overcoming post position eight as she cruised to a very easy four-length victory in 1:55.0 for driver Travis Seekman. The daughter of-Four Starzzzz Hope was used hard early to grab command, settled into the two-hole and then exploded by her rivals in the lane to win for the second time in as many tries for trainer Joe Seekman.
The other division of filly action helped carry on the parade of chalks in these stakes as Donald Caputo's Sleazy Does It, picked a nice time to grab her first career victory, taking advantage of her inside draw to post a three-quarter-length victory in 1:55 for driver Casey Leonard. The daughter of-Da Sleazy One is conditioned by veteran Nelson Willis.
An overflow field of 12 three-year-old pacing fillies was sent postward in their Hanover as the sophomore's battled for a purse of $28,700. An evenly matched group and a big field helped produce the lone upset in the Hanover's as the Mike Brink trained Just By Design continued her recent run of success on the local scene with a thrilling nose decision in a career best of 1:52.3. Given a fine steer by driver Kyle Wilfong, the daughter of-Rock N Roan bobbed and weaved her way through heavy traffic in the lane going eventually drilling through a small opening on the inside of horses to win by a nose. The 7-1 choice on the board won for the third time in eight trips postward this season for the partnership of Brink, Poppleton & Carter.
Wrapping things up on Hanover night were three-year-old pacing colts as a total of 19 sophomores knocked heads in a pair of $27,050 splits.
In the opening division L & L DeVisser's Fox Valley Griffin managed to find room late and then uncork a wicked 27.1 final quarter to draw off to a 3 ¼ length victory for driver Jamaica Patterson. The altered son of-Fox Valley Gale has now been first or second in six of his nine starts this year while earning over $41,000 while under the tutelage of conditioner Nick Giberson.
Illinois bred sensation Dutch Richman closed out the Hanover action with perhaps the most impressive effort of the night as the gelded son of-Fox Valley Estella completely overwhelmed his foes scoring a six-length decision in a career best of 1:50.0 with Marcus Miller at the controls.
Last season's Orange & Blue winner has now won seven of his 12 lifetime starts while banking more than $172,000 for owners Leland Mathias, Harvey Eisman and the Ervin Miller Racing Stable.
State-bred trotters were the featured attraction on Sunday, July 17th as a field of eight colts and geldings met in the $9,000 Brandenburg Stake.
Proving once again that he's the one to beat right now among this sophomore state-bred set South Of The Tracks Racing's Anthonyskywalker continued his dominance as he trotted to a 1 ½ length victory in a career best of 1:54.4 for driver Kyle Wilfong.
The Homer Hochstetler trained son ofhas now won eight of nine starts this season while earning over $54,000 for his connections.
Despite oppressive heat in the Chicagoland area all three nights of racing were well attended by fans, both young and old, who enjoyed the festivities and vowed to be "Back to the Track".