The fourth annual Night of Champions at Hawthorne Race Course on Saturday, August 2 anointed the newest kings and queens of Illinois-breds. Eight divisions of 2 and 3-year pacers and trotters of both sexes battled it out for supremacy.
Stickney, IL--They were led by Southern Rocketop, who for the second straight week obliterated the track record for 2-year-old trotting colts and geldings, and Maxter, who won his eighth straight race and cemented his hold on the 3-year-old trotting division.
In addition, leading driver Mike Oosting and Brent Holland each won three stakes.
Here's a brief recap of each race as the champions were crowned.
$51,000 Lil Bit Tuff stakes - ICF 2-year-old trotting fillies
Walter Paisley's return to Hawthorne's Night of Champions was over before it began, as second choice Petruccelli broke before the start.
Tropical Caprice and Dave Magee brushed to the top but they yielded to Brandon Simpson and Miss Vickie down the backstretch.
Magee never had any racing room with the 1-2 favorite through the lane as Simpson kept the daughter ofon a straight path to the wire.
Miss Vickie finished a half-length clear of Tropical Caprice as she hit the wire in 1:59.4. Fox Valley Lover was third.
Trainer Robert Taylor had been driving Miss Vickie her first four starts, but switched to Simpson for this race. "With trotters, especially 2-year-old trotters, you tried to get them straightened out, lined up in their first few races," he explained.
"She's been a little upset behind the gate in her last couple of races. I made a few little changes on her. I talked to Brandon and he came and trained on her this week.
"He got along well with her so my partner and I decided to turn the reins over to him and see if he could get a little better outcome on her. We added a little weight on her up front, changed her equipment a little bit on her back legs, went to wraps instead of boots, and adjusted her head a little bit."
Driver Brandon Simpson: "I thought Dave's horse was the best. I liked my filly a lot but I thought that I would either have to get him in there or get a trip to beat him. It just worked out that way. They had this filly ready. I appreciate them asking me to drive her and I'm glad the way it worked out."
$63,000 Omaha Survivor - ICF 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings
Fox Valley Slammer was patiently driven by Mike Oosting, brushed to the top down the backstretch, was on even terms with the leader as they approached the top of the stretch, then paced powerfully away to score by five and a half lengths.
She's now four for four, each race more impressive than the last.
Mike Oosting: "He's ahead of everybody right now. I don't know if he'll stay that way, they usually never do. Paul's done a great job ahead of him. He's a little bit leery of the gate right now. He had some problems with the gate moving at different speeds and we got him in there wrong a couple of times. I'm just making sure I take care of him now. Tonight it looked like a good closing track. Nelson had five of them in there. I knew he'd send two or three."
"I knew the Willis horse on the front end." Oosting continued. "I've driven him before. He's a nice horse. He's a fast horse. But I don't think that's his forte. He struggles around the last turn. He hasn't quite gotten it all together yet but he'll be a nice colt when he does. I went three deep and holed to take advantage of the wind but when I did, everybody else did too and I had to go wider than I wanted. Luckily I had the right colt to do it."
Fox Valley Slammer paced the mile in 1:53.4, a lifetime best. Fox Valley Seth was second and Big Heern completed the trifecta. The winner paid $3.40 to win as the prohibitive favorite.
$52,500 Maxter - ICF 2-year-old trotting colts and geldings
Southern Rocketop took the lead and never looked back, setting fractions of 28.4, 58.1, and 1:28 enroute to a final of 1:56.2, breaking his own track record by 1.1 seconds.
Be Bullish made a move before the turn, but only managed to catch Definer, as Southern Rocketop and driver Brian Carpenter rolled out to a five and a quarter-length win. Be Bullish trotted by Definer to complete the exacta. Definer held for third.
Monique Bernardi, "This horse came to us from Claude Powers. He really believed in us. He's a full brother to Spirit Warrior. He had some problems in the beginning but we panned him out, and we put his driver on from the beginning. Between the shoeing, the driver and the trainer, we made it happen. We have a great barn and there are only good things to come.
"There was one driver that made a quote saying that he wasn't afraid of Rocketop. We didn't want him afraid of Rocketop. We just wanted him to respect Rocketop and I think he does now," she continued.
Southern Rocketop returned $3.80 as the public choice.
$65,000 She's So Hot stakes - ICF 2-year-old pacing fillies
Fox Valley Topaz and driver Mike Oosting bided their time while Two Easy Hotspur, Native Hotspur and Incredible Katie took turns setting fractions of 28.3, 58 and 1:27.
On the turn Oosting took the favorite outside, where she quickly powered to the lead. Honey's Luck came on for second two lengths back, while Native Hotspur held on for third.
"She seems to have no end to her. Last week she paced the elimination in 1:53 and just kept right on going," said Oosting. Tonight she got a nice trip, but this is a nice filly."
$49,500 Mogo On The Gogogo - ICF 3-year-old trotting fillies.
Fox Valley London and driver Dale Hiteman pulled off the upset when they grinded their way down the stretch to win in 1:58.4 over Fox Valley Shannon.
The daughter ofis trained by Joel Smith and was bred by Fox Valley Standardbreds, making this the third winner for Illinois' leading Standardbred breeding farm. The margin of victory was three-quarters of a length. Fox Valley Sommer recovered from an early break to manage a gutsy third.
The winner returned $50.40 to win.
$50,500 Thundercrack - 3-year-old trotting colts and geldings
Maxter and Brent Holland patiently waited in third place, allowing Knock Me Down and Mood Man to set splits of 28.3, 58.0 and 1:28.
He then brushed to the top an eighth of a mile from home, finishing in 1:56.3 and winning by a widening four and three-quarter lengths. It was Maxter's eighth straight win and marked the second year in a row the son ofwon on Champion's night.
Maxter is trained by Roger Welch, who also trained last year's winner, Thundercrack.
"I'm really proud of that horse. This is eight in a row tonight. He showed a lot of class tonight," said Welch. "He's got a big heart. He had a long week this week and he really stepped it up tonight and really shined."
"Roger gave me strict instructions before we went out and I didn't listen to one of them. It worked out perfect," winning driver Holland joked.
The longest shot on the board Spirit Warrior finished second and Mood Man held third.
Maxter paid $2.60 as the overwhelming chalk.
$90,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Pace
Load the Dice made it three wins on the night for the team of Engle, Stafford and Oosting, closing from the back of the pack at the top of the stretch to tie the track record for an older male pacer.
Action Figure and Booze Cruzin dueled early, going the first quarter in 26.1 and the half in 53.3. My Boy David took over for a third quarter of 121.1.
Load the Dice launched his outside move to finish in 1:49.1 and win by three-quarters of a length. My Boy David held the place spot after pacing a huge mile, while Action Figure was third.
"We got a huge effort out of this horse tonight. It worked out just like the Dygert," said trainer Paul Stafford.
"They got there on time and we picked up the pieces late. Mike (Oosting) just did a tremendous job with this horse. He can pace on the front, you can quarter move him, or he can come from off the pace like he did tonight."
Load the Dice was another post time favorite and paid $4.00 to win.
$69,000 Sportsfancy for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies
West Side Gritty gave driver Brent Holland his second win in the Champions series tonight.
Kissmeallover went out first, pacing fractions of 27.1, 54.2 and 1:23.1. Holland got the daughter ofrolling in the stretch, closing strongly to win by three-quarters of a length over her stablemate Kelly's Keepsake, with Kennans Kelli in third.
The Final time was 1:52.2.
The Erv Miller-trained filly returned $7.60 as the second choice in the wagering.
$53,500 Booze Cruzin - ICF 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings
Prize Art and Brent Holland took control early, and were able to hold off Mucho Sleazy and Mike Oosting in the stretch.
Prize Art reached the top just past the quarter getting by early leader Froggy Turner. The first quarter was paced in 27.0. Prize Art then rattled off fractions of 55.0, 1:23.1 and a final time of 1:50.2, finishing a head in front of Mucho Sleazy. Big John C was another head back in third.
Ronnie Roberts trains this gelded son of Party Atand as the 3-2 favorite, Prize Art returned an even $5.00 to win.
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