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Despite a five week layoff and a sick scratch last week Dane May's Dinky Dune proved that he's a force to be reckoned with among this year's Illinois conceived and foaled harness racing three-year-old pacing colts as he rolled to a 2¾ length victory in 1:53.1 over five other state-bred sophomore pacing colts in Saturday's $8,000 Xpressbet Stake at Balmoral Park. Given a perfect steer by driver Pat Curtin the gelded son of Duneside Perch--Dream Hand settled into the garden spot as Dixie's Boy (Casey Leonard) led the compact field through pedestrian splits of 29.0, 58.0 & 1:26.4.   With the action heating up in the lane Curtin maneuvered the Dane May trainee to the outside of horses where he quickly gobbled up the pace setter with a sixteenth to go. Effortlessly opening up an insurmountable advantage Dinky Dune easily kept heavily favored Earndawg (Todd Warren) at bay while rolling to his fourth win in seven starts this season. Earndawg, the 2-5 favorite in the race was forced to settle for a runner-up role on this night while longshot Casey At Bat (Mike Oosting) grabbed the show dough.   The second choice in the wagering Dinky Dune returned $7.00, $2.80, $2.40 while running his career record to 4-1-1 in 10 starts with earnings of $22,852.   The state-bred stake action continues on Sunday, June 28th with a pair of battles sharing top billing. Sophomore trotting colts kick off the festivities in race one as Fox Valley Qatar and Captain Greedy renew their rivalry in the $8,000 Xpressbet Stake. Later in the evening, sophomore pacing fillies will square off in the $8,000 Mystical Victress Stake which has attracted a full field of 10 led by division stalwarts Lex and Sportsmuffler. The wagering action gets underway at 7:10pm on Sunday night and as always the $1 Pick 4 features a $25,000 guaranteed pool. The Pick 4 is on races seven through 10 on Sunday night. Tom Kelley

A Sunday night program at Balmoral Park full of Illinois conceived and foaled stakes action which mainly put the spotlight on this year's crop of harness racing two-year-olds kicked off with a non-wagering event as a field of five diagonally gaited fillies met in the Star Slinger Stake.   Powering to the front after an opening quarter in 30.3 Providence West Inc.'s Vengeful never looked back as she put up middle splits of 59.1 & 1:29.4 while cruising to a 1¼ length victory in 1:59.3 for Brian Carpenter. Shez A Devil Woman (Dale Hiteman) followed the winner's every move after relinquishing the lead at the quarter to wind up second while Praise Singer (Casey Leonard) finished third.   The winner, who is a daughter of Powerful Emotion--Over The Top was a $5,000 Illini Classic yearling purchase is conditioned by Kenny Collier.   Their male counterparts kicked off the wagering program with a field of seven trotting colts squaring off in the $4,000 Million Dollar Bye Stake.   Instead of looking like a first time starter Quaid Racing's Wrightwood acted like a seasoned veteran as he completely overwhelmed this group, rolling to an 11¼ length triumph in 1:58.4.   Confidently handled by driver Casey Leonard, the son of Powerful Emotion--Racy Roz was content to trot along in third while watching Iron Band (Jamaica Patton) and Prince Simba (Mike Brink) battle through tough early splits of 29.1 & 57.3.   Still third but on the move behind JD Cheese (Travis Seekman) who grabbed command as the field hit the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.1, the Nelson Willis trained colt easily reeled in that one, blowing right by with an eighth of a mile to go then quickly drawing away while leaving his rivals in his wake. JD Cheese was forced to settle for the runner-up role while Todger (Todd Warren) finished third.   After prepping for his debut with a pair of sharp second place finishes in his qualifiers Wrightwood was well backed at the windows returning $4.20, $3.20 & $2.40.   With a total of 14 freshmen pacing fillies entered for the Incredible Tillie Stake the young ladies were split into a pair of $5,000 divisions.   In the first division the Hosea Williams owned and trained Lexington Lady used the passing lane to perfection rallying up the inside in the final strides to put a nose in front of Sara's Terror as they tripped the timer in a snappy 1:55.4.   Perfectly positioned by driver John De Long, the daughter of Lexington Legend--Stephie Kay left alertly and wound up landing in the garden spot as Sara's Terror (Brian Carpenter) led the field through splits of 29.2, 59.1 & 1:28.4.   Patiently awaiting room at the pylons as Sara's Terror and Fox Valleytiramisu (Robert Smolin) battled through the lane, De Long maneuvered his charge into the passing lane where she rallied gamely for the hard fought victory. Sara's Terror was a tough luck second while Fox Valley Addison (Todd Warren) rallied to be third. Coming off a second place finish in her career debut last week Lexington Lady, who was a $2,500 yearling purchase returned $6.00, $3.60 & $2.40 to her backers.   In the second division trainer Nelson Willis, Quaid Racing and driver Casey Leonard struck for their second stakes win of the night as Char N Marg came charging between horses to rally for a one-length victory in 1:56.3.   Using an advantageous draw Leonard positioned the daughter of Sportsmaster-Zip Up Your Pans in the coveted two-hole while Fox Valley Bailey (Dale Hiteman) leisurely cruised through fractions of 30.3, 59.3 & 1:29.1.   Saving ground the entire way Leonard began to search for room with Char N Marg as a first over Fox Valley Gypsy (Clifton Bell) and Fox Valley Bailey continued to slug it out through the lane. With less than a sixteenth of a mile to go, Char N Marg found the room she needed and the good looking filly wasted no time splitting rivals to pick up her first lifetime victory in start number two. Fox Valley Gypsy turned in a very solid effort to finish second while Fox Valley Bailey wound up third.   After flashing a big closing kick in her fourth place finish last week Char N Marg attracted plenty of attention at the betting windows on Sunday night returning just $2.80, $2.20 & $2.10.   Sophomore trotting fillies closed out the stake action on Sunday night with a field of seven meeting in the first Xpressbet Stake of the season.   This battle could not have closed out the action in a more exciting fashion as last year's top two money earners in the division, Fox Valley Yoko and Persuasive Look ended on even terms, finishing in a dead-heat for the win while stopping the clock in 1:55.4.   In a race filled with action right from the start Fox Valley Yoko (John De Long) was able to save ground throughout the opening half-mile as Fox Valley Harrah (Todd Warren) trotted through splits of 29.1 & 58.2. The Curt Grummel trained miss then managed to slip to the outside heading around the final bend, picking up the live cover of a second over Persuasive Look (Casey Leonard) who had been grinding away on the outside of horses since the five-eighths pole.   Sitting third and fifth respectively Persuasive Look and Fox Valley Yoko both took dead aim on Bi Polar Rose (Travis Seekman), who had overtaken Fox Valley Harrah as the field sped by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:26.2.   With the trotters fanning out across the track Persuasive Look and Fox Valley Yoko zipped right by the leaders, drawing clear of the rest of their rivals by 3¼ lengths while finishing in the dead-heat for the win. Tal Wi Wi (Kyle Wilfong), who saved ground throughout the mile finished third.   The win was the fourth in 16 career starts for Fox Valley Yoko (Pizzazzed) who pushed her career bankroll up to $102,240 for owner Patrick Graham. Persuasive Look (Powewrful Emotion) now sports career numbers of 6-5-5 in 20 lifetime starts with earnings of $108,571 for co-owner trainer Homer Hochstetler and partner Robert Buddig. Tom Kelley

Freshmen pacing colts kicked off Saturday's harness racing stake action at Balmoral Park as a total of 16 youngsters were dropped in the box for the Wicked Brew Stake. Thus a pair of $5,000 divisions were carded by Racing Secretary Doc Narotsky.   The opening split went as race two on the 12-race program and the "chalk players" never broke a sweat in this one as Nicole Potts' Royale Rose, the winner of last week's Bingo Johnnie Stake in his career debut, cruised to a two-length victory in a career best of 1:55.1 for driver Brian Carpenter.   Hustled right to the front from post eight, the gelded son of Ashlee's Big Guy--Caribe Royale rattled off splits of 29.0, 59.0 & 1:27.4 while going along unchallenged on the "engine". Despite racing "greenly" and getting out a bit at the half and again through the lane, the Lyle Scurlock trainee sped home in 27.2 to remain perfect in his young career. My Man Red (Mike Oosting) rallied to finish second Silver Sage (Kyle Wilfong) came through along the pylons to get the show dough.   The 3-5 favorite despite having the outside post Royale Rose returned $3.40, $2.10 & $2.10 while running his career earnings up to $4,500.   Brian Carpenter made it a clean sweep in the second division of the Wicked Brew guiding first time starter BS Tyrrific to a hard fought neck decision in a snappy 1:55.4.   Zipped away from post position seven the Christine Buttice trainee was parked through an opening quarter in 29.2 while making his way to the front. In control of things as the field moved onto the backside the son of Richess Hanover--Fox Valley Tyra put up middle splits of 58.0 & 1:27.2 while cruising along on the lead.   Holding sway through the lane a game BS Tyrrific had just enough left in the tank to hold off the pocket sitting Sagebrush Sam (Kyle Husted) and a fast closing Red Red Redneck (Todd Warren).   Coming off a pair of winning qualifiers BS Tyrrific was heavily backed at the betting windows returning just $2.80, $2.20 & $2.20 while opening his career on a winning note for the partnership of Robert, Jeremy & Louis Buttice and Frank Santilli.   Fillies and mares were also in action on Saturday night as a field of eight assembled for the $14,000 Sue Fee Stake. Once again the favorite had problems in here as John Barnard's Ryleigh's Lilly came flying down the lane to notch her second straight Balmoral Park score, winning by 1 ½ lengths in 1:52.4 for Casey Leonard. Ducked off the gate as Rev Me Up (Ryan Anderson) led the field through early splits of 28.2, 57.2 & 1:25.3 Leonard picked up live cover approaching the half-mile mark and quickly moved into contention around the bend, looming boldly in a second over position while sitting third as the field straightened for the money.   As she's done so often in recent years, the five-year-old daughter of Western Hero--Fox Valley Chosen uncorked a wicked 27.0 final quarter as she blew by her rivals to notch her fifth win of the season for trainer Bill Crone. A pair of longshots rounded out the trifecta in this tussle as 17-1 shot Joyful Game (Ridge Warren) flew home in 26.2 to be the bridesmaid while 54-1 outsider Fox Valley Aubrey (Robert Smolin) rallied to be third.   Bet as though defeat was out of the question the 1-5 favorite returned $2.40, $2.20 & $2.10 while upping her lifetime record to 16-10-14 in 77 trips postward with earnings of $121,399. The state-bred stake action really heats up on Sunday, June 21st with a trio of events for the youngsters. Freshmen trotting fillies will get the action underway in a non-wagering test as a field of five battle in the Star Slinger Stake which will go at 6:45 p.m. (central). Their male counterparts will start the regular program with a field of seven diagonally gaited colts squaring off in the Million Dollar Bye Stake. With a total of 14 two-year-old pacing fillies entered for the Incredible Tillie Stake the youngsters have been split into two divisions which will go as races four and five and finally ICF sophomore trotting fillies will close out the action as a field of seven are scheduled to face the gate for the Xpressbet Stake which will go as race six on the 10-race program. Once again the wagering action gets underway at 7:10pm on Sunday night and as always the $1 Pick 4 features a $25,000 guaranteed pool. The Pick 4 is on races seven through 10 on Sunday night. Tom Kelley

Illinois conceived and foaled stakes action continued on Sunday, June 14th, at Balmoral Park as a full field of 10 two-year-old pacing fillies made their career debuts in the $4,000 Misty Misty Misty Stake. After a heated battle it was Ron Phillips and John Carver's highly regarded youngster, Foxvalleytiramisu who wound up with a neck in front at the wire, prevailing in a snappy 1:56.3 after a thrilling stretch drive.   Confidently handled by driver Robert Smolin, the daughter of Sportsmaster--Theladyappealstome shot right to the top from post position six carving out very evenly rated splits of 29.0, 59.1 & 1:27.4 for the recent member of the 1,000 win club.   As a host of foes began to close in on her through the stretch, the full sister to such Illinois bred stars as Fox Valley Topaz, Fox Valley Appeal and Fox Valley Escort dug in gamely, turning aside bids from the favored pocket sitting Fox Valley Addison (Todd Warren) and late rushing longshots Lexington Lady (John De Long) and Char N Marg (Casey Leonard). With the fillies spread four across the track the Robert Phillips trainee managed to keep her neck in front while down at the pylons making her career debut a winning one for her proud connections. Lexington Lady, a $2,500 yearling purchase overcame post position nine to finish a fast closing second while Fox Valley Addison held on for third. Char N Marg also turned some heads as she flew home in 27.1 to wind up just a half-length back at 28-1.   Sent off as the second choice in the wagering after posting a win and a second in her preps leading up to Sunday's debut Foxvalleytiramisu returned $7.20, $4.00 & $2.60 while opening her bankroll.   Tom Kelley

A trio of Illinois conceived and foaled stakes action highlighted a busy harness racing Saturday both on and off the track at the Crete plant.   With the 7th Annual Runnin' With the Horses 5K run held earlier in the day and a large crowd enjoying the live music and fun at the annual "Brewhaha" craft beer festival on the apron fans were able to get their first look at some of this season's two-year-old pacing colts in the $4,000 Bingo Johnnie Stake. Sophomore trotters were also on the docket as a field of 10 met in the $8,000 Southern Rocketop Stake while the top older pacers in training closed out the action in the $14,000 Broadway Preview Stake.   In the Bingo Johnnie, Nicole Potts Royale Rose lived up to his favored status as he rolled to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 for driver Brian Carpenter.   The $3,800 yearling purchase used his inside starting spot to perfection saving ground early as Spending Cash (Todd Warren) led the field through splits of 30.1 & 1:00.1.   After pulling from third midway around the final turn, Carpenter deftly maneuvered the son of Ashlee's Big Guy--Caribe Royale around an off-stride Spending Cash who made a nasty break as the field reached the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.3. With nothing but clear sailing ahead of him the Lyle Scurlock trained colt sped home in 27.4 to take his career debut. Eddie Eddie Eddie (Clifton Bell) finished third but was moved up to second and Sagebrush Sam (Casey Leonard), who was knocked off-stride in the first turn when My Man Red (Mike Oosting) made a break, finished fourth but was moved up to third. My Man Red originally finished second but was disqualified and placed fourth for the incident in the first turn.   The 4-5 favorite returned $3.80, $3.00 & $2.60 after posting a nice win in his qualifier just four days prior to Saturday's debut.   The Southern Rocketop Stake was not so kind to the "chalk players" as 1-5 favorite Fox Valley Qatar made a break leaving the gate allowing Charles Doehring & John D Finn's Captain Greedy to speed right to the top where he proceeded to make every call a winning one in an easy 5½ length romp while stopping the clock in a career best of 1:56.1.   Hustled away from post eight by driver J D Finn the gelded son of Yankee Valor--Tropical Trixie cruised through splits of 29.0, 58.3 & 1:27.2 while going along unchallenged on the front end.   With plenty still in reserve and the division leader distanced at the back of the pack Captain Greedy sealed the deal with a 28.4 final quarter to notch his first win in four starts this season. The bay gelding had been second behind Fox Valley Qatar in his first three outings. Longshot Southern Appeal (Pat Curtin) turned a nice ground saving trip into a second place finish while Southern Special (Brian Carpenter) was third.   With the win Captain Greedy now boasts a career record of 10-2-3 in 21 starts with earnings of $72,643. Dispatched as a healthy 8-1 second choice Captain Greedy returned $19.80, $8.00 & $3.80.   Just a compact field of five faced the gate for the Broadway Preview Stake but the top "older" pacers in the Prairie State still produced an eye-catching mile as James Behrendt's Ice Scraper led from pillar to post while recording a 1½ length victory in a snappy 1:50.0 for driver Brian Carpenter.   Hustled away from the outside starting spot the speedy six-year-old son of Yankee Skyscaper was in total control of the proceedings as he zipped through splits of 26.1, 54.0 & 1:21.2.   Despite having the always dangerous Fort Silky sitting right on his back, Ice Scraper casually shrugged off a belated challenge from the pocket sitter through the final sixteenth of a mile as he reported home with fifth win in 14 starts this season. Fort Silky was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Big Brad finished a distant third.   The 3-5 favorite returned $3.20, $2.20 & $2.10 while running his career numbers to 27-26-14 in 124 starts with earnings of $321,983 while under the guidance of conditioner Mike Brown.   The state-bred stake action continues on Sunday, June 14th as a field of 10 freshmen pacing fillies will square off in the $4,000 Misty Misty Misty Stake which goes as race four on the 10-race program. All the action gets underway at 7:10pm on Sunday night and as always the $1 Pick 4 features a $25,000 guaranteed pool. The Pick 4 is on races seven through 10 on Sunday night. Tom Kelley

On an historic day for the sport of horse racing, Balmoral Park regular Bobby Smolin reached his own career milestone on Saturday, June 6th, notching the 1,000th win of his harness racing driving career as he guided the four-year-old trotter Red Solo Cup to victory in Balmoral Park's seventh race.   The 29-year-old resident of Bourbonnais, IL posted the 999th win of his career earlier in the evening steering Rocknroll Crystal to victory in the fourth race of the night. Both wins came behind Robert Phillips trained horses, a major source of winning drives for Smolin over the past few seasons.   "It's really a great thing that it happened with one of "R. Bob's" (Phillips) horses because he's stood by me so much ever since I've started my driving career," said a very thankful Smolin. "There have been many others like Mike Schulfer, Ronnie Roberts, John Barnard and Alex Adam just to name a few and I'm very thankful to everyone that has allowed me to drive their horses."   The south suburban born and raised reinsman who began his driving career in earnest back in 2007 has posted more than 100 wins in each of the past six seasons. His best year to date came in 2012 when he piloted 168 winners while racking up his only seven-figure earnings season with $1,282,510 in purses that year.   When asked after the winner's circle ceremony if the impending milestone had been weighing on his mind a relieved Smolin seemed to be happy that he finally hit the magical number.   "I had been thinking about it the past few weeks especially every time I would get snapped right at the wire," he joked. "I really think it was supposed to happen tonight though since my wife, my daughter and my entire family were here to help celebrate the occasion."   For his career horses driven by Smolin have amassed nearly $6 million in purse earnings.   Tom Kelley

The Prairie State lost one of its most popular Illinois bred horses of this century with the passing last week of King Johnny, the Illinois bred pacer who played a major role in the early development of "Hall of Fame" harness racing driver Tim Tetrick. King Johnny was the only horse to win the same Super Night championship three consecutive years at Balmoral Park, capturing the Dan Patch (later renamed later the Tony Maurello) Final in 2005, 2006 and 2007 with Tetrick “I found King Johnny down in our field,” said is co-owner and trainer Clark Fairley. “It appears he died of natural causes. There were no signs of a struggle or anything like that.” King Johnny was 17. King Johnny, a son of Kingston out of the Artsplace broodmare Swift Sister, was purchased privately by Fairley and his mother Marlene soon after the horse’s freshman season when he went unplaced in two starts at fair tracks. You would think his consecutive ICF championships would have come in the gelding’s prime years as a 4, 5 and 6-year-old. Amazingly, they came in his last three seasons of racing as a 7, 8 and 9-year-old. King Johnny was purchased privately by Fairley and his mother Marlene soon after the horse’s freshman season when he went unplaced in two starts at fair tracks. You would think his consecutive ICF championships would have come in the gelding’s prime years as a 4-, 5- and 6-year-old. Amazingly, they came in his last three seasons of racing as a 7-, 8- and 9-year-old. King Johnny had health issues that limited his career starts to 93 and he never went postward more than 18 times in a single season. “He only raced five times as a 4-year-old,” said Fairley. “He pulled a ligament in a knee that required a lot of time off. Later on in his career he had a problem with an ankle that needed a lot of attention. King Johnny wasn’t a horse you could race week to week. But when he did go out to race he always gave you his best. “King Johnny was a pussy-cat to be around. All of my daughters at one time or another jogged him. I always knew they would be just fine with King Johnny. He was such a pleasure to have around.” Nevertheless, when it came to competing on a race track, King Johnny was all business and very often in his later years business was very good for the Fairley family. That’s why he’ll always be remembered in Illinois as the Super Night “Kingpin.” In his first three seasons the horse earned less than $37,000, but King Johnny turned into a solid pacer in 2005 as a 5-year-old when Clark turned in his lines to the up and coming then 22-year-old Tetrick. That combination put both horse and driver on the road to stardom. “King Johnny was one of the first big horses I got to drive and was one of my all-time favorites. No doubt about that,” said Tetrick. “He always put out 110 percent and he could find a way to win. He was a talented horse and the fact he belonged to such a very nice family and Clark being one of my very good friends, made King Johnny very special to me. He’ll always have a spot in my heart.” In 2004, as a 6-year-old, King Johnny lowered his lifetime mark by almost three full seconds to 1:50.3 with Tetrick. The next year at 7 he would step into the spotlight on Super Night at Balmoral Park and go on to become a huge fan favorite. King Johnny won the 2005 Dan Patch with Tetrick at odds of 6-1 over the public’s choice Fox Valley Gallant in a 1:51 mile. As an 8-year-old in 2006 the Fairley trainee pulled away to defend his older pacing crown by 6-1/2 lengths in 1:50.1 after he took a new mark of 1:49.2 a week earlier in his elimination. In 2007 Tetrick was in his second year of driving almost exclusively outside of Illinois, nevertheless the Flora, Ill., native got off his scheduled drives in Canada to come back home to drive King Johnny on Super Night and his beloved horse didn’t disappoint him. As a 9-year-old King Johnny made Super Night history when he became a “three peat” victor of the Dan Patch in 1:50, finishing almost two lengths ahead of such ICF stars as My Boy David and Thisbigdogwilfight. After the race, Tetrick told that Super Night crowd, “It’s amazing that every year he gets better and better. This horse has got so much heart. You don’t find horses like him. He’s got physical problems and is not the best gaited to go fast like he does. He’s a freak, that’s what he is.” Earlier in the summer of 2007 at Springfield Tetrick steered the 9-year-old to a lifetime best mile of 1:48.4, the horse’s last year of competition. King Johnny was then retired by Fairley and went on to enjoy the rest of his days frolicking in the fields of the Lema, Ill., conditioner’s farm until the horse’s untimely death. Mike Paradise

On a night in which temperatures plummeted into the low 40's and were accompanied by strong winds and soaking rains that made it seem more like mid-October than the end of May, a pair of Cardinal Stakes put Illinois conceived and foaled trotters and pacers in the harness racing spotlight at Balmoral Park on Saturday, May 30th.   Trotters were first on the docket as a field of eight diagonally gaited sophomore colts lined up behind the gate to battle for a purse of $16,200.   Once again the Herman Wheeler owned and trained Fox Valley Qatar proved that he's just too much for this division as he came powering through the slop to post a two-length victory in 1:57.4 under some confident handling by driver Todd Warren.   Ducking off the gate after showing high speed in his first two starts of the year the gelded son of Pizzazzed -Armbro Bahrain was content to trot along in sixth as longshot Allpowernoemotion (Ronnie Gillespie) led the field through splits of 30.0 & 1:00.1.   "There was no way I was leaving with him for a third straight week," explained Warren. "He was really "hot" last week and it's a long year so I didn't want him to get roughed up again."   Continuing to sit in mid-pack, Warren finally moved last year's division champ to the outside, picking up cover while third over as a hard charging Tricky Nick (Mike Oosting) quickly opened up a two-length advantage as he rolled by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.2.   With a 20mph tailwind in the homestretch Fox Valley Qatar quickly found his best stride and began gobbling up ground on the far outside of horses. Zipping right by the leader with a sixteenth of a mile to go Fox ValleyQatar left his rivals in his wake as he reported home in 27.3 to post his third win in as many starts this season. Captain Greedy (J.D. Finn) rallied to finish second while Tricky Nick held on for third.   Bet as though defeat was out of the question the 2-5 favorite returned $2.80, $2.20 & $2.10 while running his career numbers to 11-1-0 in 12 starts with earnings of $100,315.   In the winner's circle Warren was quick to sing the praises of his trotting star.   "He's just a pleasure to drive and he's perfectly fine sitting in a hole like he did tonight," said Warren. "He's very easy on himself and he's come back great after that awesome two-year-old season. I would expect him to have a lot of success with this group."   Sophomore pacing colts were featured in the second Cardinal Stake of the night as a field of 10 three-year-olds braved the elements for a purse of $18,400.   In a thrilling hotly contested affair the Dane May owned and trained Dinky Dune shook loose very late in the mile then came flying on the outside of horses to win by a head in a career best of 1:53.1 despite the sloppy surface.   Leaving alertly from post eight driver Pat Curtin had control of the early proceedings, battling Lucpark (Mike Oosting) through an opening quarter of 27.4.   "Going into the night Dane and I were kind of undecided on whether to wrangle him off the gate or to charge out of there and try to be up close," said a very happy Curtin. "With the weather and track conditions turning out the way they did we figured we better have him right up there in contention every step of the way."   Sitting in the pocket while Lucpark continued through middle splits of 56.3 & 1:25.1 the gelded son of Duneside Perch--Dream Hand was raging with pace as the bunching field began to move through the lane.   With Lucpark, Dixie's Boy (Casey Leonard) and Earndawg (Todd Warren) battling three across the track a patient Curtin was still searching for room with the fit and fresh Dinky Dune.   "I thought about trying to split those three because there was an opening for just a minute but I figured they would close that up on me in a hurry," explained Curtin. "So I just decided I was going to have wait a little longer until I could slide to the outside of all them because this horse can really rattle once he gets in gear."   Finally securing room on the outside of horses Dinky Dune unleashed a wicked kick, putting up a 27.4 final quarter to nip the favored Earndawg in the final strides. Last season's champ was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Dixie's Boy finished third.   Coming off an impressive elimination win the previous week Dinky Dune took plenty of action at the windows returning $6.40, $3.60, $2.80 while running his career record to 3-1-1 in nine career starts with earnings of $18,852. Tom Kelley  

Once again Balmoral Park will offer another lucrative guaranteed Pick 5 pool of $25,000 on Saturday, May 30th. Because the 50 cent minimum wager was not hit last Sunday night a nice carryover of $11,081 will be added to Saturday's pool. The popular low cost Pick 5 harness racing wager will be offered on races four through eight on Saturday night.   In addition to the Pick 5 guarantee, fans will have a chance to walk away with a big payday right after that as Balmoral will also offer its usual Sunday $15,000 guaranteed pool on their $1 Pick 4 wager. The Pick 4, which is on races nine through 12 on Saturday night features a low takeout of just 15%.   Handicappers across North America can get a head start on their competition with free 12 line program pages for the guaranteed pools courtesy of the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative and Track Master on the handicapping section at www.ustrotting.com.   Post time for Saturday's opener at Balmoral is 7:10 pm (central). There will be plenty of televisions with Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Western Conference finals on as well so Blackhawk fans will not miss a moment of the action during the game. Saturday is also another Miller Lite Saturday Night with live entertainment on the apron as well as great food and drink specials throughout the night.   Balmoral Park has also announced that beginning on Saturday, June 6th, the Pick 4 guarantee on Saturday's will be boosted to $20,000 instead of the current $15,000 guarantee that has been in place. Tom Kelley    

Rudy is not a small man. At 48 years old, his grin comes easier than a reach to the floor to retrieve the Balmoral Park Harness Racing Program that fell when his attention was turned, momentarily, to an interloper. Introductions were made by a track employee. Rudy, a regular, agreed to a chat, saying, "I'll tell you everything you need to know." Except his last name. The Beecher resident makes "three or four hundred (dollars) a day" betting harness racing, so a degree of discretion is his preference. "This is definitely one of the most comfortable facilities in the country to bet horses," Rudy said, sweeping a hand first toward the bar and rows of tables overlooking Balmoral's mile oval, then the other over a booth outfitted with a sofa, club chairs, five TVs each featuring a track elsewhere in the country and a betting machine. "They don't charge for the booths during the week. You can't beat that." Judging by the afternoon crowd on Preakness Saturday, Rudy's love for the 89-year-old Crete facility has not seemed to migrate to younger, or fairer, gamblers. "Yeah," he said with a shrug, "this ain't the place to come watch women." Tom Kelley, a Tinley Park resident who has worked at Balmoral for 29 years and is the director of publicity at Balmoral and Maywood Park, couldn't argue. "Unfortunately," he said, "it is an older, male crowd. "The key to getting the live racing product to survive is going to be generating a younger crowd." Whirlaway started here Balmoral Park, then called Lincoln Fields, opened in 1926, with the backing of the manager of Churchill Downs and several partners from the Kentucky Jockey Club. In 1936, Lincoln Fields would bring the first photo-finish camera to Illinois, and in 1940, Whirlaway, who went on to win the 1941 Triple Crown, won the first race of his career there. Lincoln Fields hosted thoroughbred racing until 1942, when World War II restrictions moved its schedule (or "meet") to Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero. A move to Washington Park in Homewood, and a grandstand fire at Lincoln Fields, delayed the return of racing to Crete until 1954. The next year, it was sold and rechristened Balmoral Park. Three ownership groups have since come and gone. Harness racing — horses pulling a sulky and driver, rather than carrying a jockey — arrived in 1973. Thoroughbred racing left for good in 1991. But business was good, at least until casino gambling started drawing away customers in the 1990s. "We'd draw 8,000-10,000 at Sportsman's on Saturday nights in the '80s," Kelley said of the now-shuttered Cicero track. "Now, we do 2,000, 2,500." Balmoral Racing Club Inc., which operates Balmoral and Maywood, filed for bankruptcy in December, the result of a reported $82 million lawsuit brought by four Illinois casinos seeking restitution for fees levied against the casinos by then-Governor Rod Blagojevich. The fees were extended through 2008 only after a Blagojevich associate sought a $100,000 campaign contribution from Balmoral's majority owner. The ownership group is now reportedly looking for buyers for its properties. Beyond that, Kelley and other Balmoral employees are anxiously watching the status of two gambling bills under consideration in the Illinois House, one of which would bring slot machines to race tracks. The legislative session ends Sunday. "If we get slot machines here, we generate more revenue," Kelley said. "Part of that goes to the purses. Bigger purses means we get better drivers, horses and trainers." Even if slots never come, the pursuit of revenue — and customers — goes on. Something for everyone To that end, on Memorial Day weekend, Balmoral launched its Miller Lite Saturday Nites, promotion, which will run through August. The evenings will feature live music — heavy on country acts — a $2 food menu and $2.50 bottles of Lite, MGD and Coors Light. The track, open seven days per week for simulcast wagering and Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 31 for live harness racing, has more than a dozen promotions lined up through October. Among the highlights are: • June 13: Runnin' with the Horses 5K (run the grounds, finish on the track while horses warm up for the night's racing). • June 13: Brewhaha Beer Festival (featuring craft beer from local brewers). • June 21: Father's Day Prime Rib Buffet • July 11: Bark at the Park (bring your dogs to Balmoral). • July 25: Pepe's Taco Eating Contest. • Aug. 15: Elvis Night (featuring Curt Lechner). • Sept. 12: Super Night (all Illinois-bred horses, racing for estimated purses totaling more than $1.3 million). • Oct. 17: Wine Tasting with Cooper's Hawk. An evening at the track can be inexpensive. Grandstand admission is free, as is parking, unless you choose the valet ($5). Bets can be as little as 10 cents. Of course, there are higher-end options. Luxury suites, with food and drink options ranging from pizza and soda to fine dining and a full bar, can be had from $14 to $70 per person. There are buffet and casual dining options. Corporate outings can accommodate as many as 1,000 guests. Fun? You bet! And then there's the main entertainment. "It's all about trying to make money," Rudy said. "The problem is, it's a thinking man's game. People like to sports bet, and they just pick a side. Here, you've got eight, 10 or 12 sides." Mike Antoniades, a Worth resident and the racing analyst at Balmoral and Maywood, tries to simplify things for the track newbie and the smart money alike. "Here's the difference between a night at the races and a night at the casino," he said. "There's a 20-minute space between races. It's more a social event than a gambling event. "At a casino, they're not going to let you sit 20 minutes before your next bet. There, it's a slot every six seconds. Your exposure is enormous." But, if mindless action is your game, you could merely bet the recommendations Antoniades makes for each race, noted in the program. "It's documented over 20 years, if you play the things I say, you'll stay about even," he said. Or you could take a flier on Antoniades' pick for the easiest "fun" bet to make. "Without question, it's the 10-cent superfecta," he said. A superfecta requires the bettor to correctly pick the first four horses and their order of finish in a given race. With a quick pick, a bettor could avoid studying the race program altogether, and could win more than $100 on an average race at Balmoral if his or her numbers come in. But, if you want to do the picking yourself, Antoniades said, "Look at the UDRS (Universal Drivers Rating System) numbers." Listed beside each driver's name, those numbers, he said, "Equate with a batting average in baseball. Bet the .300 hitters." That squares with the suggestion of Casey Leonard, who eclipsed the 1,000-win mark in 2013, just four years after becoming a full-time driver. "Betting the top drivers, that's a huge angle," Leonard said. "In thoroughbred racing, the horse's talent plays the biggest part. With us, track position is much more important. A lot of races are won or lost in the first quarter-mile." But gambling just one of the deals But, hear lifelong horsemen tell it, concentrating only on gambling is missing the point of a night at the track. "These horses, the good ones, have a distinct determination," Leonard said. "They have a competitive nature that you really don't see in other domesticated animals." Dave McCaffrey, the president of the Illinois Harness Horseman's Association, is equally passionate about the people behind the horses. "It's very family-oriented among horsemen," McCaffrey, a trainer with more than 30 years experience, said. "We've got third- and fourth-generation trainers and drivers." McCaffrey ticked off the reasons he loves harness racing: it's less expensive to get into than thoroughbred racing; the horses, standardbreds, are sturdier and less prone to injury; an owner can be a driver, while a thoroughbred owner, "unless you're 100 pounds and have an incredible amount of experience," could never be. But, on this warm spring day, McCaffrey settled his gaze on the picnic tables in front of the grandstand and pondered the months ahead. "In the summer, this becomes a great outdoor sport," he said. "You can stand on the apron of the track, eat a cheeseburger and hear the hoofbeats go by, hear the screams of the crowd. "It's very much a spectator sport, with a tremendous amount of excitement and nuance." By Phil Arvia Reprinted with permission of the Daily Southtown newspaper

With some good sized crowds filling the apron for a festive Memorial Day weekend of fun-filled activities at Balmoral Park, a pair of harness racing Illinois conceived and foaled stake events for three-year-olds shared top billing on the racing oval.   Trotters grabbed the spotlight on Sunday, May 24th as a very evenly matched field of nine diagonally gaited fillies squared off in the $16,400 Violet Stake.   Continuing the fast start she's enjoyed in her second season Cynthia De Marlie and Jason Van Winkle's Bi Polar Rose shot right to the top and proceeded to make every call a winning one as she reported home with a four-length decision in a career best of 1:57.3 for Travis Seekman.   Gunned away from post six the daughter of Polar Winner--I Still Owe carved out splits of 29.4, 59.2 & 1:28.4 while rolling along relatively unchallenged on the front end.   With plenty still in reserve, the Ronnie Roberts trained miss trotted home in 28.4 while drawing away from stretch challenges by Persuasive Look (Casey Leonard) and Fox Valley Yoko (John De Long) who wound up second and third respectively.   Hammered at the betting windows, Bi Polar Rose returned $4.60, $3.00 & $2.40 while running her career record to 6-3-3 in 15 starts with earnings of $93,457.   On Saturday, May 23rd a total of 12 state-bred colts and geldings met in a pair of $7,500 Cardinal Stake eliminations. The top five finishers in each division will return next Saturday night to battle in the $18,400 final.   In the first division the Dane May owned and trained Dinky Dune continued his second season improvement as he came charging through the passing lane to record a two-length triumph in 1:53.4 for driver Pat Curtin.   Given a perfect steer, the gelded son of Duneside Perch--Dream Hand settled in third early on but as the pace slowed Curtin zipped the bay gelding to the front leading the field through an opening quarter in 30.0.   The action continued to heat up through middle splits of 58.0 & 1:26.4 as a hard charging Dixie's Boy ( Casey Leonard) showed the way with Dinky Dune right on his back in second.   Through the lane Dixie's Boy managed to fend off the first over challenge of 6-5 favorite Lucpark (Mike Oosting) but a fit and fresh Dinky Dune was full of pace and ready to roll as he moved down to the passing lane. Sealing the deal with a wicked 26.4 final quarter Dinky Dune cruised right on by the pace setter to notch his second career win in eight starts. Lucpark came on again late to edge Dixie's Boy for the place and show spots. Rockin Cassinova & Mighty Hot Shot also earned spots in next week's final.   In the second elimination last year's division leader Earndawg showed that he's ready to defend his crown as he posted a very comfortable 1 ½ length victory in 1:54.1 with Todd Warren at the controls.   After easing away from the gate in third while stablemate King Of The Swamp (Ridge Warren) led the field through opening splits of 28.4 & 58.2, the Roger Welch trained gelding grabbed command of the proceedings as the field moved around the final bend.   After taking the field by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:26.4 the son of Sportsmaster--Pacific Sister K gamely held off his rivals with an impressive 27.2 final quarter to notch his 10th win in 20 career starts for the partnership of Bo & Pat De Long and Ernest Miller. Frosty Dune (Casey Leonard) saved ground throughout then rallied nicely to finish second while King Of The Swamp held on for third. Also gaining spots in the final were C Note and Comecatchme.   The 50 Cent Pick 5 wager was not hit on Sunday, May 24th so there will be a carryover of $11,081.42 added to next Saturday's (May 30th) Pick 5. Because of the carryover BalmoralPark will guarantee a $25,000 pool for next Saturday's Pick 5. Handicappers across North America can get a head start on their competition with free 10 line program pages for the guaranteed pool courtesy of the USTA Strategic Wagering Initiative and Track Master on the handicapping section at www.ustrotting.com beginning on Thursday, May 28th.   Tom Kelley  

Our first glimpse of 2-year-olds took place at the Tuesday morning qualifiers at Balmoral Park and 8 of the 11 harness racing freshman that went postward were out of trainer Bob Phillips’ barn. The first four finishes in the first two qualifiers all were Phillips trainees. The 1:59.2 first freshman victor in the opening qualifier was My Man Red, a son of Sportsmaster who sold for $9,000 under the name of Fox Valley Lance to Blackfoot Farms of Chicago and Phillips. John De Long guided the ICF colt and also was behind the second race freshman filly winner Shakeitformegear (Geartogear) who paced a 1:58.2 mile with a 27.1 last quarter. Cutting the fractions in the second qualifier was the filly Fox Valley Tiramisu, a highly regarded daughter of Sportsmaster owned by Phillips and John Carver, a $50,000 yearling purchase. Fox Valley Tiramisu is out of the broodmare Theladysappealstome, making her a full sister to 2008 Breeders Crown 2-year-old champion Fox Valley Topaz. “Tiramisu” paced a 27.3 last quarter when she finished one length behind her Indiana bred stable-mate. The fastest of the six qualifiers conducted belonged to 3-year-old colt Mystical Jet, who drew off by six lengths in 1:57.2 for driver Casey Leonard and trainer Jill Arnold. Mike Paradise

Illinois conceived and foaled stakes action was in full swing on Sunday, May 17th, at Balmoral Park as a pair of state-bred events for harness racing three-year-old trotters and pacers shared top billing on the 10-race program.   Leading the way were ICF pacing fillies as a full field of 10 second season ladies met in the $17,800 Violet Stake. As she did in last week's prep for this tussle, Kay Willis's Lex overpowered her rivals in this event, storming up first over to grab command on the far turn and then drawing clear late to win by 2¾ -lengths in a career best of 1:52.3.   Confidently handled by driver Kyle Wilfong, the daughter of Lexington Legend--I Bet U left alertly from post five tucking in third as a hard charging Fox Valley Aubrey (Robert Smolin) sped to the top from post 10, leading the field through splits of 27.2 & 56.4.   After cruising along relatively unchallenged through the opening half, things heated up on the last bend as Lex came rolling up first over to challenge while the field charged by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:25.0.   Quickly overtaking the pace-setter, the Nelson Willis trainee zipped away to a two-length length advantage. The issue was still in doubt though through the final sixteenth of a mile before last season's Filly Orange & Blue runner-up imposed her will on her challengers, drawing clear late to win for the third time in five starts this season. Sportsmuffler (John De Long), who was used hard in the early going from post seven turned in a big effort to finish as the bridesmaid while Fox Valley Aubrey held on for third. A multiple stakes winner during her freshman campaign the homebred bay returned $3.00, $2.20 & $2.10 while upping her record to 7-4-2 in 14 starts with earnings of $83,100. Sophomore trotting colts were also on the docket Sunday night as a field of nine lined up behind the gate for an $8,000 Betzotic Stake.   Once again the Herman Wheeler owned and trained Fox Valley Qatar showed that he's the one to beat among his peers, rolling to a deceptively easy "neck" decision in a career best of 1:56.0 with Todd Warren at the controls.   Using the inside starting spot to his advantage the gelded son of Pizzazzed--Armbro Bahrain grabbed control of the proceedings after eyeballing RT Habenero (Kyle Wilfong) and Tricky Nick (Mike Oosting) battle through an opening panel in 28.4.   After allowing a hard charging Captain Greedy (J.D Finn) to grab a short lived lead, Warren had Fox Valley Qatar back out and rolling to the top as the field moved through middle splits of 57.0 & 1:26.4.   Through the stretch, last year's divisional champion appeared to be well in hand despite a shortening margin, casually shrugging off a late challenge from the pocket sitting Captain Greedy to record his 10th win in 12 career starts. Captain Greedy was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Allpowernoemotion (Ronnie Gillespie) turned in a nice effort to rally for the show dough.   With the win Fox Valley Qatar boasts a record of 10-1-0 in 11 lifetime starts with earnings of $92,215. Bet as though defeat was out of the question, the bargain priced $7,000 yearling returned $2.60, $2.10 & $2.10 to his legion of backers.   Tom Kelley

Illinois conceived and foaled stakes action continued on Sunday, May 10th at the harness racing meeting at Balmoral Park as a field of eight state-bred three-year-old trotting fillies lined up behind the gate for the $8,000 Betzotic Stake.   After a fourth place finish in her seasonal debut, the Homer Hochstetler trained Persuasive Look was ready to roll in her second start of the season as she came charging out of the fog to post a half-length victory in a career best of 1:57.2 for driver Casey Leonard.   After getting away in mid-pack as Shez So Sassy (Todd Warren) led the field through an opening split in 30.0 Leonard moved the homebred daughter of Powerful Emotion--Blacknbluegenes second over behind the race favorite Bi Polar Rose (Travis Seekman) as the field rolled by the half-mile mark in 59.1.   With the favorite clearing to the front midway around the final bend, Persuasive Look gapped a bit allowing Shez So Sassy to slide out of the pocket while providing "live" cover as the field hit the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:27.4.   Once the field straightened for home and came dashing out of the heavy fog that had settled over the track early in the card Leonard was able to rouse Persuasive Look into her best stride and the good looking bay steadily wore down the pace setting Bi Polar Rose with a 28.4 final quarter to notch her first victory of the season. Bi Polar Rose held on gamely to finish second while Shez So Sassy grabbed the show dough. Overlooked a bit in the wagering despite some very impressive freshman credentials, Persuasive Look returned a generous $14.40, $4.40 & $2.80 to her backers. The ultra-consistent filly now boasts a record of 5-4-4 in 15 career starts with earnings of $100,826 for the partnership of Homer Hochstetler and Robert Buddig. Sophomore pacing fillies were also in action on Sunday night as a field of eight battled in a Violet Stake "prep". When the "fog" cleared from this event it was Kay Willis's Lex who emerged victorious, posting a 2 ¼ length front stepping score in 1:53.4 for driver Kyle Wilfong.   Fox Valley Aubrey (Robert Smolin) finished second while Sportsmuffler (John De Long) was third. Last season's divisional leader, Mr Leland's Filly wound up an even fourth in this event.   Tom Kelley

Sophomore pacing colts grabbed the spotlight on Saturday, May 9th at Balmoral Park as a full field of 10 harness racing  state-breds squared off in the $8,000 Taser Gun Stake.   Originally carded for last week's Maywood card, this battle turned out to be worth the wait for last year's divisional champion Earndawg, as the bay gelding scored by a hard fought half-length in a career best of 1:52.3.   Confidently handled by driver Todd Warren the altered son of Sportsmaster-Pacific Sister K was sent to the top after watching a fast leaving Dakota Roadster (Robert Smolin) speed by the opening panel in 29.2.   The lead was short lived for Earndawg as a hard charging Dixie's Boy (Casey Leonard) swept up to grab command on the backstretch, leading the field through a half-mile in 57.4.   The pace continued to quicken as the field moved around the far turn with Dixie's Boy showing the way. Earndawg was enjoying a pocket sitting journey at that point while longshot Casey At Bat (Tim Curtin) led the outer flow into contention as the field hit the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:25.2.   Through the lane Dixie's Boy continued to show the way but Earndawg was ready and raring to go as Warren secured racing room on the outside with an eighth of a mile to go.   Quickly blowing by the pace setter, the Roger Welch trainee instantly opened up a two-length advantage. Last year's Orange & Blue winner was not "out of the woods" yet though as he was all out at the wire to hold off a huge late move from 37-1 shot Dinky Dune (Pat Curtin) who came charging up the inside to finish second. Lucpark (Mike Oosting) also closed well to finish third, 3 ¼ lengths behind the winner.   Dispatched as the third choice in a very evenly bet match-up Earndawg returned $6.80, $3.60 & $2.10 while running his record to 9-4-2 in 19 career starts with earnings of $221,975 for the ownership group of William P & William C De Long and Ernest Miller.   Live racing continues on Sunday, May 10th, at BalmoralPark with a 10-race card getting underway at 7:10 p.m. (central). Sunday's $1 Pick 4 features a guaranteed pool of $25,000. The state-bred stakes action will also continue on Sunday with a field of nine sophomore trotting fillies slugging it out in the $8,000 Betzotic Stake which goes as race six. Sophomore pacing fillies will also be in action in the fifth race as a very competitive field of eight ladies will battle in a Violet Stake "prep".   Tom Kelley

Saturday’s delayed Taser Gun stake at Balmoral Park didn’t come up short this time in numbers or in talent. A full field of 10 ICF pacing colts and geldings will battle it out in the ninth race $8,000 headliner with a good portion of the wagering very likely going to the harness racing favorites Earndawg (3-1, Todd Warren), Lucpark (4-1, Mike Oosting) and Dixie’s Boy (5-1, Casey Leonard). Earndawg came away with division honors as a 2-year-old and deservedly so. He raked-in over $217,000 for Wisconsin owners Bo Delong (Clinton) and Earnest Miller Jr. (Mount Horeb), and Pat De Long of South Beloit, Illinois. A son of Sportsmaster, Earndawg captured the Colt Orange and Blue and Cardinal Finals at Balmoral, a division of the Madison at Hoosier and the Abe Lincoln at Maywood. Earndawg finished third in the first ICF sophomore stake of the season two weeks ago, his first outing in five months. That Betzotic stake turned out to be an easy win for the Joel Smith Stable’s Dixie Boy. The son of Duneside Perch was almost 4 lengths the best in 1:5:54.1. Casey Leonard will again handle Dixie’s Boy. The 37-year-old Illinois native was also listed to drive The Big Sleazy, Casey At Bat and Mighty Hot Shot but opted to stick with the James and Terri Blackman’s Dixie Boy, a three-time season winner for the residents of O’Fallon, Illinois. Du Quoin Governor’s Cup champion Lucpark packed a big late kick in his season debut last week against open company and mostly older horses, The Erv Miller trainee came from next to last at the half to finish second, pacing a :26.4 last panel. “He had a nice hold on me the whole way and he closed really well,” said Lucpark’s driver Mike Oosting. “We’re going to race him off (the pace) for a little while and when the bigger money races come along do what we have to do to win those races. I didn’t drive him as a 2-year-old. Dave Magee did before he retired,” continued Oosting. “Erv (trainer Miller) thought that Lucpark was the kind of horse that I would get along with well. “The horse has nice size. He does it right and he has a good attitude. Lucpark may not have been the best in his division last year but he might be this year. The horse is sound. I’m looking forward to driving him.” Another son of Sportsmaster, Lucpark put over $76,000 on his card as a freshman for Chicago owner Rocco Ruffalo. Earndawg landed the 3-slot in the Taser Gun with Dixie’s Boy to his right with the 4-post Lucpark starts a few slots further with the 7. The first two posts will be manned by Rockin Cassanova (8-1, Ridge Cassanova) and The Big Sleazy (8-1, Kyle Wilfong). Dinky Dune (10-1, Pat Curtin) and Casey At Bat (12-1, Tim Curtin have the 5 and 6. The 8, 9 and 10 went to Mighty Hot Shot (12-1, Matt Krueger), Dakota Roadster (6-1, Bobby Smolin) and Fox Valley Elijah (15-1). The Taser Gun state-bred stake had been a fixture on the Maywood Park schedule for years but when only horses entered it last Friday the appropriate switch to Balmoral Park was made. By Mike Paradise

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