Day At The Track


10:10 PM 05 Sep 2007 NZST
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Issue of the Week with Josh Potts

What’s not to love about a fair?

Tasty food. Rides for the kids. A beautiful, albeit warm afternoon. Vendors selling unique items you have never before purchased in your life, but suddenly you need them in five different flavors. (Yes, Dear, we really should get a bag of the blueberry cheesecake-flavored roasted almonds in addition to the chocolate, maple, vanilla, and strawberry cheesecake-flavored ones.)

I love a good fair. And I love a fair even more when the top trotter in North America makes an appearance in the $600,000 World Trotting Derby, as Donato Hanover did last Saturday.

Now, when Donato Hanover is on the grounds, your first instinct is to go directly to the grandstand, purchase your program, find a seat, and begin handicapping the day’s card. This way, when the big race comes, you can make your wager immediately and not miss Ron Pierce warming him up.

Otherwise, if you are still deciding how to play the race with a few minutes to post, the lines at the betting windows will become long, and you’ll end up missing the top trotter score down because you’re standing in a line behind the fuzzy-haired woman who keeps trying to place a wager by giving the teller a horse’s name instead of its number, and the guy wearing the t-shirt that reads, “Don’t Get Drunk, Get Ugly.”

Noble as your intentions might be, upon walking onto the fairgrounds of the DuQuoin State Fair on World Trotting Derby Day, it is the prudent one who sees to it that he or she is well-nourished first, with only the finest fair food.

Now, I admit, once I had parked the car, my initial reaction was to head straight toward the grandstand and its adjoining “Magic Mile.” But my wife saw the big picture instead.

“Wanna go to 17th Street?” she asked.

Only a fool would say no to that.

If you like barbeque, there are few better places anywhere than the 17th Street Bar & Grill. If you don’t like barbeque, please close this page on your browser, turn your computer off, and immediately seek professional help.

A Southern Illinois staple, 17th Street’s tent on the fairgrounds is always among the best attended. The little woman and I had a few BBQ sandwiches and some fries. The perfect beginning to a fantastic day.

From there, we went to the grandstand to get a couple programs. My wife had work obligations and a few other things going on, so she was not able to watch the races with me. This wasn’t necessarily bad for her.

“I don’t like going to the races with you, because you’re too intense,” she often says. “You don’t even talk to me or anyone else, because you have your nose stuck in the program.”

Uh … huh? No, I don’t. Do I? Huh? Well … so?!

She quickly scanned the program, handed me a couple bucks, and told me to put $2 across the board on the #1 horse in the first race. The horse’s name was Ilikemrough.

Either she was very impressed with this colt’s most recent performance where he was beaten 11 lengths going 2:06.1 at Greenup, or she was trying to send me a message.

I couldn’t tell which.

If I ponder on this too much longer, the only one who’s going to need professional help is me.

We kissed each other goodbye and I went into the grandstand. I studied the program, settled on the longest shot on the morning line, a colt named Sakarens Chip, and went to make my wager.

Ticket in hand, I went to find a seat in the grandstand. So far, there was a pretty good crowd. I found a seat and settled in to enjoy the races.

When the first race was all said and done, Sakarens Chip finished second to the 9-10 favorite, April’s Wil. Do you think I played an exacta saver? Of course not. A smart person would’ve played an exacta saver there, but I, you see, am an idiot. And idiots do idiotic things. This is reason number 7,392 why Derick does the handicapping column here and not me.

By the way, Ilikemrough went off-stride at the start. (Ha! That’ll teach her! OK, really it won’t, but I like to pretend.)

During the post parade of the second race, something happened that is probably only funny to me, and I’m ok with that. The #4 horse in this race, Full Of Gold, is owned by the track announcer, my friend, and one of the all-time good guys in harness racing, Ed Teefey.

Hearing him say, “And the number 4 is Full Of Gold. Owned by Ed Teefey of Mount Sterling, Illinois” was hilarious. Again, maybe it was only I who thought it was funny.

The part that I found less humorous altogether was when I needed Full Of Gold to finish third to complete my trifecta, and it finished second instead. Ugh.

What’s interesting is that my wife has known Ed for years and was the one who introduced me to him.

“Hey, Hon, did you see Ed owns the #4 horse in that second race?”

“Oh. No, I didn’t. Did you play him?”

“Yeah, but I needed him to come in third. Instead, he finished second.”

“You’re an idiot.”

Am I the only one seeing a pattern here?

While I continued to lose at the windows, the racing itself was unbelievable. Ed started to sound like a broken record, because after each race it seemed like he was saying that yet another stakes record had fallen.

Gee, if the “Magic Mile” is playing this fast, I wonder if that other record will fall? You know, the trotting world record of 1:50.2. There had been so much talk of Donato Hanover breaking it, you started to wonder if today was going to be the day that trotting saw its first sub-1:50 mile.

In addition to stake’s records falling, it was great to see some of Illinois’ favorite sons at DuQuoin. Tim Tetrick and Andy Miller are special drivers indeed. Seeing them in person, while once taken for granted, is a special treat when one has grown used to seeing them perform on a television screen. (Let us never take Hall of Famer Dave Magee for granted.)

As if that were not enough, it is not every day that you see the likes of Ron Pierce, George Brennan, Mike Lachance, and Robert Bergh in the Prairie State. Yes, the stars were certainly out in Southern Illinois.

The distaff version of the World Trotting Derby, carded as the afternoon’s tenth race, was a worthy precursor to the day’s big event. While battling for the lead at the top of the stretch with Falls For You, Hambletonian Oaks champ Danae went on a break. Brennan and Exotic Destination picked up the pieces and came home a winner in 1:52.2, a tick faster than the previous stake’s mark by Act Of Grace and John Campbell in 1996.

This record only caused more of a stir amongst the crowd. I couldn’t help but overhear a few gentlemen talking a few seats below me.

“You’re gonna see history today,” one remarked to the other.

The other just nodded his head. Everyone wanted to see Donato Hanover break the record of 1:50.2. As a special treat, we didn’t just want to see a 1:50.1 or 1:50 effort. We were feeling a bit greedy today. We wanted to see 1:49.4 or better.

Watching the horses warm up immediately prior to the 2007 World Trotting Derby, all eyes were on Donato Hanover. Sure, Adrian Chip had a few backers as well. The only knock against that colt seems to be the fact that he was foaled in 2004, the same year as Donato.

Bred by an Amish man in Ohio, and co-owned by star hockey player Peter Forsberg, the story of Adrian Chip was nothing if not interesting. Furthermore, many were sympathetic to the colt’s plight because he had been under quarantine by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, thus disrupting his normal routine.

But the reality of the situation was that people expected Donato to take a stab at the record, not Adrian. Donato was the reason that the stands kept getting fuller as the day went on. And it was the people in the stands that sent Donato off at 1-5.

When the opening quarter of the World Trotting Derby went in :27 flat, everyone was optimistic. Yes, the “Magic Mile” might have one more bit of magic in it after all.

What a difference a quarter of a mile makes. When Donato took a 1½ length lead to the halfway station in :56 flat, it seemed like maybe the record would stay intact.

Donato then took a 1½ length lead to the three-quarter pole in 1:24.2. A middle half of :57 and change was clearly not going to do the trick when it came to breaking the world record. But when Donato kicked home in :27 flat for a 1:51.2 mile, people were cheering just the same.

Sure, Donato Hanover stopped the clock a full second over the world record.

But who cares?

Harness racing’s best had given it their all, fans were cheering, winning tickets were cashed, and fun was had by all.

Sure, we all wanted to see the champ take down the record. But he didn’t on this day, and no one was worse for wear because of it.

After cashing my win tickets (and before you make fun of me for taking $2.40 to win, just remember that comes out to a 20% return on investment – where else can you make a 20% R.O.I. in 1:51.2? This line of logic may be reason number 7,393 why Derick gives handicapping advice here instead of me), I called up my wife.

“Did Hanover win?”

I laughed. The love of my life clearly has no idea just how many ‘Hanovers’ there are in this world.

“Yes, Dear, he won.”

“Did you have fun?”

“You know it.”

“Good. Meet me outside so we can shop.”

My bride and I went all over the fairgrounds, looking for stuff to take home for us, as well as for some of her family members whom we would be visiting with the next couple of days over the Labor Day weekend.

While shopping, we made a pit stop at Joanie’s. If you ever go to the DuQuoin State Fair, after you eat some barbeque at 17th Street, make sure you try a ‘blanket dog’ at Joanie’s. A blanket dog is a hot dog and cheese baked together in a ‘blanket’ of some of the tastiest bread you have ever had in your entire life. Yum.

After I downed the blanket dog, we finished our shopping. Once our arms were loaded down with bags, my wife and I said our goodbyes to a few friends and we made our way to the car.

“So, I guess we’re coming here again next year?” asked my wife.

I am not certain what exactly my verbal response was to her inquiry. But the smile on my face must have been a pretty good indication of how much I enjoyed our afternoon.

Sure, Donato’s presence was the icing on the cake. But the World Trotting Derby and the DuQuoin State Fair would have been fun regardless. And after all, he won’t be the last good horse to make his way to Southern Illinois.

But the look on my face must have told the story.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said.

Yes indeed.

Josh Potts

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