It’s not often that the “star” of your team retires and the squad doesn’t miss a beat. But that’s the case for “Team Leonard” as Fort Silky looks to post his 16th win of the season and lock up a $20,000 bonus when he takes on seven other state-bred pacers in Friday’s (Nov. 15) $30,000 Lester McKeever Stake at Maywood Park. .
Fresh off three straight victories against “open” company in the Invitational ranks at Balmoral Park the seven-year-old son of Ft. Apache Hanover enters the McKeever Stake in peak form for trainer Terry Leonard.
“I think he’s as good as he’s been at any point in the year,” said driver Casey Leonard who has been the gelding’s regular pilot all year long. “He’s had a couple of weeks off in a few different spots this year and that has really helped to keep him fresh all season long.”
Sent to the Leonard barn to start the season by owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler Fort Silky, who had banked nearly $300,000 going into 2013 season, immediately began to flourish under the care of the Leonard operation.
“We knew he was a very good horse from competing against him for the past few years while we had Well To Do Guru racing,” explained Leonard. “From day one he took to our program and he’s only become more and more comfortable with it. He’s a heck of a good eater, he learned to swim and now he’s actually very fond of that and he’s been a good trainer when it comes time to hit the track. He’s as relaxed as can be and he’s just fit in perfectly with us.”
Fort Silky enters Friday’s battle sporting an impressive record of 15-11-2 in 31 starts this season with earnings of $239,795. Despite the gaudy totals driver Casey Leonard believes the career winner of $536,939 could have even more money on his card this season if not for some tough racing luck in several starts.
“He’s was stuck in the second tier in the Cook County Stake (Leg 1 of this series) and wound up finishing second,” said Leonard who is having the best year of his career with 344 victories through Nov. 13th. “Then in the Egyptian (Leg 2) he wound up on the outside in the 8-hole and I had to blast him out of there. We also had a pretty tough trip while under constant pressure on Super Night and still managed to finish second. Still the numbers he’s put up are pretty impressive.”
After taking this series the past three years with their great home-bred Well To Do Guru who was retired earlier this season, the Leonard’s will have a chance pull off the four-peat with Fort Silky who will leave from post position four in Friday’s battle.
“I certainly didn’t foresee being in this position after we retired “Guru” earlier this year,” said Leonard. “He was the star of our stable for so long that it’s almost surreal to have this chance again. The year that Fort Silky has put together has been incredible. He’s been a pleasure to drive and to train and to be able to do this for such respected people like Neva and John makes it that much better.”
The $20,000 owner’s bonus goes to the horse who accumulates the most points in the three-race series. Here are the current standings heading into Friday’s McKeever Stake.
Series Point Totals
Fort Silky 50
Uncle Smoothie 50
Fox Valley Yukon 50
NJ's Big Deal 20
Sports Fanatic 20