For the last two weeks Illinois-bred 2 and 3-year-olds of both genders and gaits have mixed it up for a chance to participate in tonight's Night of Champions.
The top ten money-earners from the two legs have earned the chance for a big payday as $534,000 will be on the line for nine stakes including the Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Pace.
Let's preview the Championship races and the top contenders.
The stakes action kicks off with the $51,000 Lil Bit Tuff stakes for ICF 2-year-old trotting fillies. It features the Doug Hamilton-trainee Tropical Caprice, who established a track record in leg two of this series and Petruccelli, a handy winner in a slower division of this same event.
The latter will be driven by Walter Paisley, a driving icon in these parts for better than three decades. Other possible contenders include Lekka, who was favored in Tropical Caprice's track record performance, but made a break at the start, and Miss Vickie, who has also misbehaved in both legs of this series, but has the speed to be a factor if she minds her business.
The $63,000 Omaha Survivor for ICF 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings is next on the agenda. All eyes will be on the undefeated gelding Fox Valley Slammer, who has effortlessly paced over his freshman rivals.
He'll be opposed by a swarm of Nelson Willis-trained geldings, four total, as they try to gang up on the early division leader. Richie The Clown, also part of the five-prong entry, might prove to be the toughest challenger to the favorite.
Finally, Big Heern, an easy winner in a division of leg two, maybe offer a threat and is driven by Hall of Famer Dave Magee.
ICF 2-year-old trotting colts and geldings go at it in the $52,500 Maxter...and it's a fast group.
Southern Rocketop, trained by Monique Bernardi, enters off a record-shattering performance in leg two of the series. His 1:57.4 mile broke the old mark of 1:59.1 shared by Maxter himself, and tonight's main threat, Definer.
The Kenny Collier-conditioned gelding has been perfect in both legs and would seem the logical threat to the new record holder. Eight other trotters will compete in the freshman trot, but the top two would appear to stand out.
It's back to the fillies for the night's next stakes event, the $65,000 She's So Hot stakes for ICF 2-year-olds.
The filly to beat in this event would have to be Fox Valley Topaz. The daughter ofhas been impressive in her two lifetime starts, both resulting in victories and she'll race as part of a three-for-one Paul Stafford-trained entry.
The most obvious contender for this crown would likely appear in the form of Honey's Luck. Erv Miller trains this three-time winner who's only loss came at the hooves of ‘Topaz', in leg one of the series.
Native Hotspur and Incredible Katie have both been close in the earlier legs and are definite threats.
The most wide-open finals may be the $49,500 Mogo On The Gogogo for ICF 3-year-old filly trotters.
Any number of possibilities exist in this nine-horse contest and favorite's status might fall on Fox Valley Shannon, a Robert Taylor-trained sophomore by. Despite not winning either leg of the series, this three-time winner in 2008 might benefit from a driver change to Brandon Simpson and could return to her winning ways with the big money on the line.
Victoria Hall, a convincing winner in leg two would be a handful if able to duplicate last week's performance. She is one of two trained by baby-trotting guru Roger Welch. Cardinal Speedy, the leading money earner in the field, won her first lifetime start in leg one and will likely be closing from the back of the pack.
Trotters take center stage one last time this evening in the $50,500 Thundercrack for 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings.
You might not have to look any farther for your winner than Maxter. A winner of seven straight, all in dominating fashion, the Welch-trainee has no equals in this division and would seem to have a hammer-lock on the field.
For those willing to go out on a limb, take a close look at Vaporous. Richard Schrock trains this talented, yet mistake prone gelding, and may offer a challenge with a top effort.
We interrupt the parade of Illinois Championship races with the $90,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Pace.
The race features the fastest pacers on the grounds, and maybe the entire Midwest. In last week's Carey Preview, Action Figure vanned in from Hazel Park and promptly disposed of the best pacers from Hawthorne's Open Handicap division.
He stopped the clock in a lifetime best 1:49.4 and will return tonight for trainer Marie St. Charles and driver Brad Kramer. Load The Dice will certainly be a major factor this evening. He has been a gem of consistency and will get Mike Oosting back in the sulky as he looks to reverse last week's decision. My Boy David, Booze Cruzin and last year's Memorial winner Thisbigdogwilfight are three Illinois-breds who are perpetual threats, and have combined earnings of more than $2 million.
The evening's last rolling Pick Three begins with the $69,000 Sportsfancy for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies. It won't be easy to separate the main contenders in this evenly matched stakes final. When the windows close you'll likely find Westside Gritty as the public's choice. A winner of both legs of this series, this filly will be one of two entrants from the Erv Miller barn and has been driven to near perfection by his regular driver Brent Holland. Kelly's Keepsake is the other from Miller's powerful stable and she will look to rebound after being soundly defeated at short odds in a division of leg two. Last year's 2-year-old Illinois-bred filly She's So Hot and Sox Pacing Series hero Townes Party Girl are two who might have the best chance to spring mild upsets.
The stakes finale should be an appropriate climax to the night's action, as ICF 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings meet the starting car in the $53,500 Booze Cruzin finals. The race features the much traveled Mucho Sleazy, who just two weeks ago finished fourth in a world-record edition of the Meadowlands Pace. Last week, the prohibitive favorite of the second leg of this series was soundly beaten by the much improved Prize Art. Ronnie Roberts trains Prize Art as the gelding looks for his fifth win at the current meeting. Both competitors will start towards the outside this evening and that could set things up for Lets Getit Started, a winner of four of his last five races. Sam Widger will drive the son ofand will have the advantage of starting from post five.
Please visit www.hawthorneracecourse.com for a complete list of entries.
Hawthorne Race Course's Summer harness meet paces from Tuesday June 24 and continues through August 7. Live racing will be conducted Tuesday through Sunday, first post 7:20pm, except Sunday, first post 6:30pm.
Hawthorne Race Course is located at 3501 S. Laramie Avenue, Cicero, IL 60804
Mitchell B. Demick, Communications Manager, Hawthorne Race Course