With Super Night right around the corner it got me thinking about the last time the biggest night in Illinois racing was contested at Sportsman’s Park when it was still a five-eighths oval.
The year was 1991 and just weeks after that gala evening the racetrack straightaways were torn up so it could be extended to a seventh-eights oval to accommodate the thoroughbreds the following spring.
Some 23 years ago there were only six major Super Night stakes. The 3-year-old trots (Lady Ann Reed and Su Mac Lad) hadn’t been added yet to the annual Illinois bred championships.
The older ICF mare pace was the Ann Vonian, later renamed the Lorna Propes, and the Tony Maurello for colts and geldings was the Dan Patch.
A packed Grandstand and Clubhouse was at the Cicero, IL facility for the 12-race card and saw the 1990 Illinois Horse of the Year Plum Peach win her second consecutive Super Night title by taking the third race $210,000 Grandma Ann Final with Walter Paisley in 1:56.1 for trainer Mark Fransen.
Two races later Panic Attack rolled to her eighth straight triumph in the $342,000 Filly Orange and Blue with Dave Magee in 1:56.3 for trainer Tex Moats. The Masquerade filly would go on to be named the 1991 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year for owners Don Stevens and Norman Levine.
The seventh race $60,000 Dan Patch went to the favorite Dirty Deeds in 1:54 with Dale Hiteman in the bike behind the 7-year-old Robert Black trainee owned by DTN Stable, Roger and Dawn Sampson Stable, Irwin Kay and Stan Williams.
The $225,000 Pete Langley Memorial Final was next and the surprise winner was the speedy, but erratic road gelding Rana Diablo, trained and driver by George Kramer for Chicago owner Frank Calabrese, The front-stepping pacer reported home in 1:55.4.
The $396,000 Orange and Blue Colt Final was the tenth (and not the final) race on the Super Night card and it was Wicked Brew proving best in 1:56.2 for driver Homer Hochstetler. Mickey Rodriguez trained the 2-year-old son of Gold for owner Ralph Sergio of Riverside, I, beating the likes of Woolly Bully, Broadway Circuit and Kavitsky.
Before the 12th race finale, the Grandma Ann Consolation, the sixth and final Super Night championship was decided when the 7-year-old mare Jerrah Belle, with less than $100,000 in career earnings, took the $60,000 Ann Vonian with Lemoyne Svendsen driving for trainer Todd Crone.
The Solar Storm mare was owned by Bobbie Harper, who was the proprietor of an automobile dealership in the far southern Illinois town of Tunnel Hill, about 35 miles north of Paducah, Kentucky.
Before the Ann Vonian Harper told the Sportsman’s Park publicity department: “I named the filly after my granddaughter Jerrah. It’s a six-hour driver to Chicago from Tunnel Hill, but we’ll all be at Sportsman’s for Super Night. I have to be return home early Sunday morning because I’m frying fish for the annual church picnic.”
I bet that was one memorable “Fish Fry” for the town of Tunnel Hill which had a population of 685 at the turn of this century.
by Mike Paradise, for IHHA