The countdown to Super Night 2005, the biggest night in Illinois harness racing, began on Thursday night (September 8) at Balmoral Park as aged pacers vied for starting spots in the $100,000 Dan Patch and Ann Vonian Stakes which will be contested on Saturday, Sept. 17.
A total of 19 three-year-olds and up were dropped into the entry box for the Dan Patch necessitating a pair of elimination tussles with the top five “boys” in each division moving on to Super Night.
In the opening split Robert and Laura Wagner’s Hot Rob came roaring down the stretch to win by a hard fought neck in a career best of 1:52.1.
Patiently handled by catch-driver Mike Oosting the six-year-old gelding patiently bided his time in the middle of the pack as Four Star Mike and Black Bingo rattled off opening splits of 27.3 and 55.4. “I really went into this race just wanting to get a spot in the final,” explained the veteran reinsman. “As we were rolling along though I could tell that he really felt strong and thought we might have a shot because of the way things were shaping up.”
Oosting maneuvered the Merv Chupp trainee into a rapidly developing outer flow as the field moved around the final turn and the son ofwas a powerful third over as the field turned for home. “As soon as I tipped him off that cover he just really kicked it into gear,” said Oosting. “The leaders were tiring from the fast fractions and we were there to clean up at the end.”
Clean up they did as the 13-1 shot flew home in 26.4 to knock more than two full seconds off his career mark. This one time $7,000 claimer has posted five wins this season while earning over $67,000 for his proud connections. King Johnny (Tim Tetrick) unleashed a big closing burst to finish second while Go Warrior Go (Dave Magee) rallied from ninth to nab the show dough. Also earnings spots in the final were Only Choice and Cold Sweat.
The second division also provided a bit of an upset as 9-2 shot Moxie took advantage of a perfect ground saving trip while posting a 1 ¼ length triumph in 1:50.2.
Given a perfect steer by driver Tony Morgan this classy seven-year-old grabbed command early before relenting to a hard charging Fox Valley Gallant and driver Eric Ledford. “I was really happy to see that it was the favorite and someone I knew could carry us a long way that was coming at us early on,” said Morgan.
After giving way to the 6-5 favorite Morgan was content to ride along in the garden spot while the chalk took all the air. “He’s a big strong horse but he’ll race any way you want him to and he’s very easy to drive,” Morgan explained.
After a pocket sitting journey the Paul Blumenfeld trainee was loaded with pace as he awaited the passing lane. After finding his opening with an eighth of a mile to go Moxie kicked it into high gear, roaring past the pace setter while receiving only mild urging from his pilot. Fox Valley Gallant held on gamely for second while Dominator Plus (Pat Berry) was a hard fought third. Prince Vince turned a nice inside trip into a starting spot in the final while the legendary Taser Gun came on late to nab the final berth.
On the ladies side of the docket a total of 15 distaffers were entered for the Ann Vonian Elimination’s. A pair of $12,500 battles were carded for this event with the top five once again moving on to the big Super Night gala.
The first match-up provided another rags to riches story as one time $6,000 claimer Harmony Oaks Gi Gi continued her amazing transformation with an impressive 1 ¾ length win in 1:52.4 for driver-trainer Mike Oosting.
Taking advantage of her fine early foot Oosting whisked his filly away from the gate and was able to secure a perfect spot along the pylons as Filly Finale and Decent Lawyer traded blows through brisk opening splits of 28.1 & 55.4.
Spying all the action from a perfect spot along the pylons in third Oosting was pretty confident that his mare was going to be a major factor in the late going of this affair. “I gave her a little time off and since bringing her back she’s been able to race every five days or so and she really felt strong out there from the time we hit the track tonight,” he explained.
Locked and loaded with pace Harmony Oaks Gi Gi was all set to pounce once the passing lane opened up for her. With her long powerful strides, the daughter ofroared by the top two drawing clear to win by a deceptively easy margin. Decent Lawyer (Eric Ledford), the 4-5 favorite from her inside starting spot, held on for the place honors while Filly Finale turned in a very solid effort from the outside post to hold on for third. Jessie The Cowgirl and Harmony Oaks Quest also gained spots in the final.
The win was the 10th of the year for the Paul Bertucci owned miss who has banked more than $67,000 in the process. Although he was impressed by his mares performance Oosting knows that they will have their work cut out for them in the final. “I know we were in the easier of the two elimination’s tonight so I’ll be realistic about her chances next week. But if she draws well you never know what can happen!”
The Ann Vonian nightcap brought out the powerhouses in the division and it was Dan Waxman’s recent Breeders Crown Champion, Loyal Opposition, who made her return to the local scene a winning one as she cruised home with a three-length verdict in 1:50.1.
Bet to the exclusion of her six rivals the 1-5 favorite sat near the back of the pack as speedball Lou Annie took the field through fairly easy splits of 27.0 & 55.1.
Despite being near the back winning driver Andy Miller was never really worried about the lifetime winner of more than $2.2. million. “She just had that big race up in Canada last week (Breeders Crown) and I just wanted to be sure that she was able to get her legs underneath her and get settled in tonight,” he explained.
After chief nemesis Parklane Powerful and driver Ron Marsh made a huge move to grab command on the far turn Miller and Loyal Opposition found themselves with almost five lengths to make up on the leader as the field turned for home. With her bright pink bike making her an easy target to keep an eye on this World Champion effortlessly gobbled up ground in huge chunks as she flew home in 26.2 to get her ninth win in 15 starts this year. Parklane Powerful was no match for the victress and was forced to settle for a runner-up role while Kan Wheel (Mike Oosting) was a non-threatening third. Nasti Nicki and Lou Annie earned the final two spots in the final.
Looking ahead to next week Miller was pretty confident about his chances of toting home another Super Night title. “She felt very strong tonight and she’s about as sharp as I can remember her being in quite some time. “Erv (Andy’s brother and the trainer of Loyal Opposition) has done a great job of managing her starts this year and I’m sure he’ll have her at her very best next week.”
Freshman trotting fillies were also featured in elimination action on Thursday night as a pair of $17,400 American National elimination’s were contested as part of the big 11-race program. Once again the top five finishers in each split will be headed to next Thursday’s (Sept. 15) $128,000 finale.
In the opener Merrie Annabelle winner Miss Wisconsin overcame a tough trip to win by a well deserved neck in 1:59.2 for Hall of Famer Mike Lachance.
Leaving from post position eight Lachance was able to float away from the gate while maneuvering around a trio of breaking fillies in the first turn. Looking to tuck in fifth because of the gaps caused by the breakers Lachance had to rethink his strategy as his filly had a different idea in mind. “She’s usually a pleasure and very easy to drive but tonight she was really “hot” from the time she hit the track so I had to let her do things her way,” explained the crafty veteran.
Content to sit outside while steadily gaining ground on the pace setting Venezia and driver Doug J. Ackerman, Miss Wisconsin was starting to relax which in turn gave Lachance a chance to relax a bit. “She dropped a shoe leaving the gate as well,” said Lachance. “I almost lost her once or twice early on so I just let her go on as she wanted.”
Grinding away while first over the Ron Gurfein trainee was within a head of the leader as they straightened away for the stretch drive. After overtaking that filly Miss Wisconsin started to drift out a bit and appeared to be hanging as MJ Kay Gloria came charging up the inside. “I think that was caused by the shoe she was missing. I finally kicked the earplugs out on her with 100 yards to go and she just found another gear and re-rallied for the win,” said a relieved Lachance. Keystone Gratitude (Jan Johnson) came on late to be a strong second while Azalea Gal, the longest shot on the board at 88-1, found room late to finish third. MJ Kay Gloria held on for fourth while Hanover Stake winner Muscle Chip was fifth.
The pride of the Miss Wisconsin Stable of Old Forge, Pennsylvania has won four of her first seven career starts while banking almost $263,000.
The final elimination tussle provided one of the best performances of the night as Joe & JoAnn Thomson’s rapidly improving youngster, Belle Of The Ball, equaled the track standard for a two-year-old trotting filly with a 1 ¼ length victory in 1:56.4.
Leaving from the outside starting spot in the field of nine driver Brett Miller was in no hurry to get his filly into the fray as Fox Valley Shimmy and Southwind Felician slugged it out through opening panels of 29.2 & 57.2.
Finally getting underway as the field moved around the far turn Belle Of The Ball was traveling fourth over in sixth as the field turned for the money. With Hayes Memorial winner Victor’s Finesse providing the live cover for them Miller and Belle Of The Ball were following the 4-5 favorites every move through the lane. After tipping off that cover with an eighth of a mile to trot the Danny Collins trained daughter ofunleashed a 27.4 final quarter to blow the doors off of the competition at juicy odds of 18-1. Victor’s Finesse (Andy Miller) had to settle for the bridesmaid role while Fox Valley Shimmy (Pat Berry) hung on to finish a distant third more than seven lengths behind the winner. Southwind Felician was fourth while Tresokay was 16 ¾ lengths back in fifth.
Also on tap for next Thursday is the $150,000 American National for two-year-old trotting colts. No elimination’s were needed for that event.
Super Night elimination action continues on Saturday with the states top two and three-year-old pacers battling in 13 preliminaries.