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The decision to write back the 3-year-old ICF Taser Gun stake for this weekend and move it to Balmoral Park when last Friday’s scheduled event at Maywood had only 4 entries has turned out to be a wise change in plans and a winning situation for horsemen, track management, and Chicago circuit harness racing fans. While the number (4) of Taser Gun entries was deemed insufficient by the Maywood Park Race Office, that certainly wasn’t the case for this Saturday at Balmoral. A full field of 10 horses entered and the stake for state-bred colt and gelding pacers will be a strong betting race in its debut the big track in Crete, IL The ninth race field, listed in post-position order, will be comprised of Rockin Cassanova, The Big Sleazy, Earndawg, Dixie’s Boy, Dinky Dude, Casey At Bat, Lucpark, Mighty Hot Shot, Dakota Roadster and Fox Valley Elijah. Saturday’s Taser Gun will share top billing with a pair of “Winner’s Over” events. The fourth race trot has Ants Iner Pants, Master Of Excuses, Double H Cash Hall, Celebrity Hercules, Hudson Jesse and the likely favorite Justice Jet, in that order. The eighth race pace will line up with Legal Transfer, Lucky Crusader, Preemptive Bid, Fort Silky, Time To Roll and Best Man Hanover with posts 1 through 6, respectively. Messy Qualifiers: Tuesday morning’s rain put a bit of a damper on Balmoral’s qualifiers but a number of ICF 3-year-olds did splash their way to some solid times. Three seconds of qualifying time were allowed by the stewards because of the rain-soaked “sloppy” racing strip. Homer Hochstetler’s 3-year-old filly trotter Fox Valley Harrah, who played second fiddle stablemate Persuasive Look as a freshman last year, was almost 8 lengths the best in the first qualifier in hand to Casey Leonard. Fox Valley Harrah trotted a :28.2 last quarter in her 2:01 mile. The Lady Lincoln Land runner-will compete in this Sunday’s Betzotic stake. Last year’s Springfield and Du Quoin freshman filly trotting champion Fox Valley Yoko had to race against pacers in her qualifier. While the Curt Grummel trainee ended up 8-plus behind in a 1:57.2 mile, she came home in :28.1 with John De Long and was timed in 1:58.4 in the slop. Quaid Racing’s Angel Demon (Mike Oosting), the bridesmaid at Springfield, Du Quoin and in Balmoral’s American National, competed in her third recent qualifier and hit the timer in 1:57.2, beaten 3/4’s of a length by the veteran mare Miss Pat Weisar. The Jim Eaton Stable’s 3-year-old C Note (Mike Oosting) pulled away to a 1:58.2 clocking in his qualifier. C Note ended his freshman campaign last October with the third place check in the Cardinal Pace at Maywood. C Note, a full brother to 2008 Langley Consolation Super Night champion Determined This ($392,114), was a $20,000 purchase by Phil Langley at the 2013 Walker Sale. Dry in Springfield: Rain wasn’t a problem Tuesday in the middle of our state where four qualifiers went postward on a fast track at Springfield. The quickest clocking of 1:57.4 was trotted by the Mike Rogers Stable’s Shez So Sassy who drew off by almost 4 lengths in front-end fashion. The now 3-year-old Powerful Emotion filly went 4-for-6 last year as a freshman and came away with the Illinois Stallion Stake title at Charleston and the Downstate Class crown at Lincoln. Shez So Sassy also will make her 3-year-old bow in Sunday’s Betzotic. Todd Warren will drive. Shez So Sassy, who sold under the name Fox Valley Sonora to Donald Huddleston, is a half-sister to Sassy Kat, the 2011 Lady Ann Reed Consolation title, who is also owned by the Palmer, IL resident. Mike Paradise

The state-bred stakes action continued on Sunday, May 3rd at Balmoral Park as a pair of Illinois conceived and foaled events for both harness racing trotters and pacers shared top billing on the Sunday night card. In the opening event, the Herman Wheeler owned and trained Fox Valley Qatar, last year's freshman champion, picked up right where he left off, posting an easy 3¾ length wire to wire victory in 1:58.2 over five other sophomore trotting colts in the $8,000 Iggy Magoo Stake. After being hustled away from the outside post in the compact field of six by driver Todd Warren, the bay son of Pizzazzed--Armbro Bahrain appeared to be on "idle" while leading the field through pedestrian splits of 30.3, 1:00.2 & 1:30.3.   Still fit and fresh despite the fact it was his first start back after a seven-month layoff, the good looking trotter sealed the deal with a brisk 27.4 final quarter to open his second season on a victorious note. Captain Greedy (J D Finn), the winner's main opposition during their first season of action, once again was forced to settle for the runner-up role after a pocket sitting trip while Fox Valley Theboss (Casey Leonard) staged a mild rally to finish third.   The $7,000 yearling purchase now boasts an eye-catching record of 9-1-0 in 10 career starts with earnings of $88,215. Dispatched as though defeat was out of the question Fox Valley Qatar returned $2.80, $2.40 & $2.10 to his legion of backers.   In the nightcap of Sunday's stake action a field of eight ICF three-year-old pacing fillies met in the $8,000 Betzotic Stake in what figured to be another tune-up in preparation for the first "major" ICF stake of the season, the Violet Stake.   When the smoke cleared it was Ronald Phillips & Jesse Ferge's Fox Valley Aubrey who emerged victorious as she parlayed a perfect pocket sitting journey into a passing lane victory, scoring by a length and a half in a career best of 1:55.0 for Bobby Smolin.   Taking full advantage of the pole position Smolin placed the daughter of Yankee Skyscaper--Assailed in the garden spot as the headstrong Lex (Kyle Wilfong) sped through splits of 29.0, 57.1 & 1:25.2.   After watching last year's divisional champion Mr Leland's Filly (Casey Leonard) make a break while on the move first over around the final turn, Smolin made the "winning" decision as he elected to sit in and wait for the open stretch. With the leader beginning to get a little leg weary in the final sixteenth of a mile, the Bob Phillips trained Fox Valley Aubrey came charging up the inside for Smolin, blowing right by the embattled leaders to score for the 12th time in 17 career starts. Lex held on gamely to finish second while Southern Girl (Mike Oosting) finished third. The third choice in the wagering from the inside starting spot, Fox Valley Aubrey returned $9.80, $4.40 & $3.00 while running her career earnings up to $32,244. Tom Kelley

The 3-year-old season for a trotter doesn’t always mirror his or her harness racing freshman campaign. “It’s a new ball game. You never know how the second season will play out,” said veteran downstate trainer Mike Brink who sends out half of the six starters in Sunday’s Iggy Magoo at Balmoral Park on Sunday, the initial stake for 2015 for ICF male sophomore trotters. With the elimination of entries on the Chicago circuit instead of getting “three for the price of one,” Brink’s trio of Broadway Emption (12-1), Fox Valley Theboss (9-2, Casey Leonard) and Vick Valor (9-2, Scot Banks) will go their separate ways in the wagering, likely as longshots. Between them the Brink threesome only went 1 for 26 as 2-year-olds and the 1 win, by Vick Valor, was only a 2:08.2 mile on the Jerseyville Fair Track. “Broadway Emotion, a brother to Tour Hall trained the best of the three for this race,” said Brink who will guide the Powerful Emotion gelding away from the one-slot. “I made some changes on him and I think he could be a much better.” Standing in the way of Brink’s triad are Captain Greedy (2-1, J D Finn), Southern Special (15-1, Dean Magee) and last year’s ICF freshman colt trotting champion Fox Valley Qatar, winning of his first 7 career starts that included both State Fair titles and Plesac Final. Sunday’s Iggy Magoo will be the first outing for Fox Valley Qatar since early October when he was second best in the Lincoln Land Final to RT Habenro. Owned by trained by Herman Wheeler, “Qatar” put almost $85,000 on his first season card. The son of Pizzazzed trotted in 1:59.2 in last Tuesday’s qualifier, finished over 14 lengths behind the 1:56.3 winner Cant’s Catch K, a pacer. The fact that Fox Valley Qatar’s qualifier, like 3 other on Tuesday, had both pacers and trotters competing in a race makes it difficult for a handicapper to analyze. “I was happy with it,” said Wheeler, a native of Louisiana. “They went faster than I thought they would. I was expecting my trotter would be going in 2:00 or 2:01, so I’m pleased with 59.2. “We had a lot of rain this spring back home so I couldn’t get him on the track as much as I liked but when I did he trained well. I didn’t want to rush him back. It’ll take him a few starts to round into form.” Sharing the Sunday spotlight with the Iggy Magoo is the third race Betzotic, headed-up by Mr Leland’s Filly (3-1, Casey Leonard) and Lex (7-2, Kyle Wilfong) along with the “Winner’s Over” trot where the early 7-5 favorite Justice Jet (Ryan Welch) tries to grab his 7th win in 9 season starts. Well-Prepared: Sportsmuffler, last year’s Filly Orange and Blue runner-upon Super Night, had a dominating 1:58.1 winning qualifier with regular driver John Delong Thursday night before the Maywood Park. Owned by trainer Jesse De Long of Wisconsin and the Hamm Family Trust of Missouri, the Sportsmaster filly is expected to make her first 3-year-old start in next Sunday’s Violet elimination, a stake she won as a freshman. Mike Paradise

This weekend's ICF harness racing stakes action at Balmoral Park continued on Sunday, April 26th with a field of seven diagonally gaited sophomore fillies squaring off in the $8,000 Koochie Stake. After a nice tune-up in a conditioned event in her seasonal debut, Cynthia Demarlie and Jason Van Winkle's Bi Polar Rose was ready and raring to go for this event as she grabbed command from the start and never looked back in route to a four-length victory in 1:59.0 for driver Travis Seekman.   Taking advantage of post position two, Seekman hustled the daughter of Polar Winner--I Still Owe away from the gate and the filly was comfortably in front by two-lengths as she rolled by an opening quarter in 30.0.   Allowed to have things her own way on the "engine" the Ronnie Roberts trained miss proceeded to effortlessly click off middle splits of 1:00.2 & 1:30.1 while gaining confidence with each passing station.   Through the lane last year's Lady Lincoln Land Stake winner was straight and strong, trotting home in 28.4 while under mild urging at best from Seekman. Divinely Floozy (Tim Curtin), the winner of this year's Speedy Rodney Stake sat in the pocket throughout but could not muster up enough to challenge the eventual winner while Meabh (Mike Oosting), who spotted the field some 16 lengths at the opening call after making a break behind the gate, rallied nicely to finish third.   A model of consistency in her first season of racing Bi Polar Rose now sports a record 4-2-3 in 12 career starts with earnings of just over $70,000 for her proud connections. The third choice in a fairly wide open betting race, Bi Polar Rose returned $7.60, $4.20 & $2.80 to her backers.   Tom Kelley    

Sophomore pacing colts kicked off Saturday's harness racing stake action at Balmoral Park with a field of seven lined up behind the gate for the $8,000 Betzotic Stake. This battle wound up being nothing more than a stroll in the park for James & Teri Blackmon's Dixie's Boy as he posted a decisive 3 ¾ length front stepping score in 1:54.4 over the "good" surface.   Getting away fourth as Dakota Roadster (Robert Smolin) led the field through an opening quarter in a pedestrian 30.0 driver Casey Leonard moved Dixie's Boy to the front as the field settled onto the backstretch.   Gliding along comfortably on the lead through middle splits of 59.2 & 1:27.2 the gelded son of Duneside Perch--Dingy's Model had plenty in reserve for the stretch drive, cruising home untouched in 26.4 to secure his fourth career win in start number 17. Last year's divisional leader Earndawg (Todd Warren) finished up well to edge Dakota Roadster in a tight photo for the place money.   The Joel Smith trained bay returned $8.40, $3.80 & $3.00 while upping his career bankroll to $19,814.   Older pacers were next on the docket as a field of six veterans renewed acquaintances in the $14,000 Rambling Willie Stake.   As he's done so many times over the years James Behrendt's Ice Scraper managed to get loose on the lead and there was no catching the speedball on this night as he reported home with a three-quarters of a length victory in a snappy 1:50.0 on the wet chilly evening.   Gunned to the front by Brian Carpenter the six-year-old son of Yankee Skyscaper rattled off splits of 26.3, 55.2 & 1:22.1 while going along unchallenged on the "engine".   After widening his advantage at the top of the stretch the Mike Brown trainee gamely dug in through the lane, sealing the deal with a 27.4 final panel to post his fourth victory of the season. Big Brad (Robert Smolin) rallied nicely to finish second while the pocket sitting FortSilky (Casey Leonard) was forced to settle for the show dough.   The win was the 26th of this gelding's illustrious career and with Saturday's payday Ice Scraper now boasts career earnings of almost $310,000. The third choice in the wagering in his return to the local scene Ice Scraper returned $7.80, $3.60 & $2.60 to his backers.   A number of last season's top freshmen pacing fillies were also in action on Saturday night's third race.   Renewing the rivalry they established last season Kay Willis's Lex wound up getting the best of last season's champ Mr Leland's Filly, posting a 4 ½ length wire to wire victory in 1:53.0 over a track listed as good. The win was the fifth in 11 career starts for the Nelson Willis trained miss. Mr Leyland's Filly was a late charging second while Galley Wench was third in this prep.   Live racing continues on Sunday, April 26th, 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 seven sophomore trotting fillies slugging it out in the $8,000 Koochie Stake which goes as race two.   Tom Kelley      

The third time was the charm to kick off the start of this season’s harness racing ICF 3-year-old colt stakes program. The initial stake was to be raced a month ago but that Taurus Bomber event and Maywood’s scheduled Sportsmaster two weeks ago both had to be scrapped because of insufficient entries. Not so with tonight’s Betzotic for state-bred pacing colts and geldings. The fourth race co-feature lured a field of seven including last season division champ Earndawg, winner of just about every major ICF freshman stake and a couple of open added money events as well—Maywood’s Abe Lincoln and a division Hoosier’s Madison. Tonight’s start will be the 2014 Orange and Blue Colt champion’s first in five months for the Roger Welch Stable. The son of Sportsmaster had a pair second place finishes in April qualifiers paced in 56 and change and will be the 2-1 first flash favorite. Another Welch trainee, Rockin Cassinova (9-2, Mike Oosting) also makes his 3-year-old debut and so does Fox Valley Elijah (8-1, Tim Curtin), and M A Bay (10-1, Ridge Warren). The Betzotic will be No. 7 Dinky Dune’s (8-1, Kyle Wifong) second season start. No. 2 Dixie’s Boy (6-1, Casey Leonard) and No. 4 Dakota Roadster (7-2, Bobby Smolin) already have 19 season starts between them and a pair of victories each. The Joel Smith Sale’s Dixie Boy has looked very good at times and not-so-good in others. I asked Casey for his thoughts on the Duneside Perch gelding. “When I drove him towards the end of last year I really liked him,” said Casey. “I thought the horse had a big motor. When he came back earlier this year I didn’t get the call. Dale (Hiteman) did. The horse really struggled and when I got to drive him again when Dale left (for Indiana) he was horrendous that night. “He dropped the lines on me when the field got to the paddock. That was it. I knew something was wrong and I asked his caretaker to have the horse scoped. When they did and found out he bled and they put the horse on Lasix. “He then raced great and won in 53.3. Last week I thought he was the best horse in the race. We got the trip I wanted and he cleared the horse he was following but then he turned loose on me. They scoped him and sure enough he bled again. “If he’s right Saturday, I think he’s one of the better horses in the race. I hope they can get his bleeding situation taken care of. He can go with those horses if they do.” The Betzotic will share Balmoral’s Saturday spotlight with the $14,000 Rambling Willie the first ICF stake race of the year for older pacers. Two-time Super Night champion Iam Bonasera (Travis Seekman) has been installed as the 9-5 program favorite. Taking on in race nine Iam Bonasera is Whirlwindiplomacy (10-1, Dean Magee), Big Brad (6-1, Bobby Smolin), Fort Silky (3-1, Casey Leonard), Ice Scraper (2-1, Brian Carpenter) and Ricky Bobbie (8-1, Mike Oosting). Saturday’s second race for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies will be the season debut of last year’s division champion Mr Leland’s Filly (5-2 Casey Leonard). The Erv Miller trainee put over $177,000 on her card in her freshman campaign and came away with the $162,000 Filly Orange and Blue crown on Super Night. (Of the 12 races contesed on Maywood’s Friday card 8 winners were  Mike Paradise top selections, 2 were listed second and another was a third choice.) Mike Paradise

However, it appears those days are behind us. Many of the Illinois bred sophomore pacers and trotters are now ready to race and those who aren’t, look to be only a week or two away. All three of this weekend’s state-bred stake races are a “go,” including the $14,000 Rambling Willie for older ICF pacers. Three weeks ago the Song Cycle, the first 3-year-old and up ICF stake, didn’t fill. Nevertheless, Saturday’s ninth race Rambling Willie saw six pacers pass the entry box, including the current big three of the ICF heavyweight division—Iam Bonasera, Fort Silky and Ice Scraper. The 9-5 morning line favorite Iam Bonasersa made a break near the top of the lane last week, costing him any chance to pick-up his third “Winner’s Over,” in a row. The 8-year-old Nelson Willis trainee did regain his stride quickly and rattled off a 26.1 last panel finishing third behind Best Man Hanover and Fort Silky. “It was just a speed break and nothing to be that concerned about”, said Iam Bonasera’s regular driver Travis Seekman. “Every once in a while he out-paces himself before he gets completely straighten out coming out of that last turn. “I kind of rushed him trying to keep up with the field because I didn’t want to have them get to too far ahead. He can come off a break quick, like he did, and always make up some ground.” Iam Bonasera drew the two-slot Saturday with the speedball Ice Scraper, programmed at 2-1, Brian Carpenter) landing the five and Fort Silky (3-1, Casey Leonard) getting the four. Ice Scraper hasn’t started at Balmoral since April 7 when he was third in a “Winner’s Over.” In fact 6 of his 9 season outings have been in Ohio at Miami Valley Raceway where he’s posted 2 of his 3 season wins. Fort Silky’s stable-mate Whirtlwindiplomacy has the pole position in the Rambling Willie with driver Dean Magee. Bob Phillips Big Brad (6-1, Bobby Smolin) leaves from the three, while Dave Brook’s Rickie Bobbie (8-1, Mike Oosting) has the outside six-slot. Last season’s 2-year-old ICF colt division champion Earndawg makes his sophomore debut in Saturday’s fourth race $8,000 Betzotic stake. He’ll open as the 2-1 public’s choice with regular driver Todd Warren. I’ll have more on this 3-year-old colt stake in Saturday’s column. Sunday’s $8,000 Koochie for 3-year-old ICF trotting fillies lured a field of eight and was carded as race two. Mike Paradise

The story begins on April 2, 1922 when a baby boy named Harold was born in Chicago. The lad grew up a child of the depression and a bit of a prankster as he and his buddies would place garter snakes in their schoolteacher's desk drawers, play hooky from Lane Tech to go to Riverview Park, and sneak into movie houses by sliding down the coal chutes.....as he approached his 20th year, the son of a WWI aviator entered the army as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and he served in Europe, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and earning a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. It was thought that his two frozen feet might result in their loss but fortunately they were saved but the cause of grief for years to come.... After the war, Harold returned to Illinois and married his childhood sweetheart, Marian and the two raised four children in the suburbs of Chicago.   Harold's love of country was evident in his active participation in the Military Order of The Purple Heart and he became a Commander of the local Chapter located in South Chicago Heights.   MOPH became his passion and his patriotism was instilled upon his kids, Dale, Gary, Judy and Lori. If there was a parade, he was in it. If there was a service for Veterans, he was there......but his other passion was a love of Harness Racing, as a fan.   He and his MOPH buddies would frequently leave their Chapter meetings and head over to Washington Park, in Homewood, Illinois to catch the last few races.   As time went on, he'd have his oldest son, Dale tag along with him and together the well bonded father/son duo would visit the Chicagoland Harness tracks regularly.   After the fire that destroyed Washington Park, Balmoral Park in Crete became the track of choice as it was only 15 minutes from the family home.   Both Harold and Dale were there when Balmoral first turned on the lights back in the late 1960's and as Harold grew older and ultimately retired from work at Chicago's Federal Reserve Bank, his regular almost daily place for fun and relaxation was in the second floor clubhouse at Balmoral. In fact, less than one week before his death at the age of 79 in February, 2002, Harold was there in his usual perch, hot black coffee on one side, ashtray and smokes on the other and his racing programs in the middle.   Shortly after his funeral that was one day after Dale's birthday, the subject of how he could be best remembered was a topic of discussion between Dale and his wife LaVonne, whom Harold held in the highest regard. The answer quickly became - a Memorial Race with a Blanket Presentation in the Winner's Circle - at Balmoral Park. It was initially thought to be a one-time remembrance with a small group of family and friends present. On that particular night, driver Tony Morgan, one of Harold's favorites won the race and a driver's whip autographed by many of the top drivers in Chicago was presented to the family. The whip is displayed to this day on the wall in Dale's office.   After its first run, Dale and LaVonne decided to do it again, and again, each year and rather than just recognize Harold to expand the event and its meaning to say Thank You and recognize all Purple Heart Veterans throughout the land. We knew Harold would want it that way. How long we can continue to host an event like this is unknown but as long as the family can, it will.   For the past several years, members of the MOPH were present and display the flags during the National Anthem performed 'live' in the Winners Circle. This year, there will be more MOPH members and their guests than ever before in attendance.   So this year, for the 14th consecutive year, the Zahn Purple Heart Memorial will be raced at Balmoral, on Saturday, April 18th and guests from at least four States will be present.   We like to think Harold will be there in spirit as he watches the proceedings from the Great Racetrack InThe Sky!     Dale P. Zahn

The opening weekend of ICF stakes action continued on Sunday night at Balmoral Park as a field of six state-bred sophomore trotters met in the $8,000 Speedy Rodney Stake. As we've seen in the past these trotting events can provide some surprises and Sunday's test was no different as Phil Langley & Jim Eaton's Divinely Floozy pulled off the 19-1 harness racing shocker, winning by 1¾ lengths in 1:58.   Dismissed by the betting public after making breaks in her only two career starts, the daughter of Yankee Valor--Selma was smooth as silk on Sunday night, getting away third in the compact field for driver Tim Curtin as Meabh (Mike Oosting), the overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the race, led the way through snappy early splits of 28.2 & 57.4.   Moving confidently off the pylons as the field trotted midway around the final bend, the $3,500 yearling purchase looked like a million bucks on this night, zipping right by the pace setter as the field rolled past the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:28.0.   Through the lane the Jim Eaton trainee was straight and strong as she began to draw away from the overwhelming favorite and then calmly held off a late bid from Patient ID (John De Long) to notch her first career victory. Patient ID was a nice second, giving the fillies a 1-2 finish in this race, while Southern Special (Brian Carpenter) came on late to finish third.   Unraced as a two-year-old bigger and better things could be on the horizon for Divinely Floozy who returned a healthy $40.80, $13.60 & $5.80 to her backers. Tom Kelley  

State-bred pacing fillies stepped into the spotlight late on Saturday night as a field of eight sophomores battled in the $8,000 Direct Balance Stake to get the 2015 harness racing stake season underway at Balmoral Park. When the smoke cleared it Kristopher Heim, Connie Hochstetler and James Michels Southern Girl who emerged victorious as she came storming through the lane to win by a length in a career best of 1:55.0.   Content to sit near the back of the pack as the heavily favored Lex, (Brian Carpenter) led the field through splits of 28.2 57.2 & 1:26.1 driver Casey Leonard finally moved Southern Girl into the outer flow as the field neared the top of the stretch.   After being some 16 lengths off at the opening station, the daughter of Sportsmaster-Biloxi, took dead aim on the pace setter as the fillies moved through the lane picking off one rival after another as she charged home in 27.4 to secure her third win in four career starts. A tired Lex held on well to finish second in her first start back after more than six months on the shelf while Galley Wench (Todd Warren) was third.   A $34,000 yearling purchase who was unraced at two, Southern Girl now has three wins in four lifetime starts for trainer Rob Ritoff with earnings of $8,329.   The state-bred stake action continues on Sunday, April 12th as a field six diagonally gaited sophomores will square off in the $8,000 Speedy Rodney Stake which goes as race three 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

What a difference a week makes.  Last Saturday’s Direct Balance stake for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies wasn’t raced when only four distaffers were entered. The Balmoral Park Race Office smartly wrote the stake back for tonight and was rewarded when twice as many horses were dropped into the harness racing entry box. If you want to watch eight-horse field of state-bred sophomores’ slug it out you’ll have to stick around close to the midnight hour because the $8,000 stake was placed as the 12th and final race of the program. The first step to Super Night’s Grandma Ann stake should be worth the wait. Making her second season debut is Kay Willis’ Lex, last year’s Filly Orange and Blue bridesmaid who made nearly $65,000 in her freshman season. Lex finished worse than third only once in 9 tries, winning 4 of those races. This will be the homebred first start since last Super Night. The daughter of Lexington Legend out of the Willis’ Artsplace broodmare I Bet U, had an impressive 1:58.2 winning qualifier on Wednesday morning, drawing off by seven lengths with Brian Carpenter had driving her to the wire. Brian liked what he saw from the Nelson Willis Stable’s filly. “Lex qualified super,” said Carpenter. “She was on idle in her qualifier. The filly is like a Cadillac to drive. “I never drove her in her 2-year-old season. Kyle Wilfong drove her and the filly had a very good year. This was the first time I was ever sat behind her. “At first Nelson wanted to leave out of there with her but when we had a bunch of trotters leaving inside of her who might go out and scatter the field he told me to go easy taking her out. It turned out that nobody left and we ended up on top pretty easily. She was just pacing through the bridle at the finish. She looks like she’s just a push-button filly.” Among the 3-1 morning line favorite seven rivals in the Direct Balance is the fast-improving Southern Girl (Casey Leonard), trained by Bob Rittof, the 7-2 programmed choice, and the Roger Welch Stable’s Galley Wench, a 1:56 flat victor in her initial career start on March 22 at Balmoral. Southern Girl was taken back in her March 22 debut and was tenth and last, some 10 lengths behind at the three-quarters, but when she was asked for pace she delivered a wicked :26.1 last quarter in her fifth place finish. The Sportsmaster filly then served up back-to-back first-over triumphs, the last a 1:56.1 clocking. Galley Wench, a $30,000 yearling purchase by Bo and Pat De Long, went to Hoosier after her strong winning local bow. The filly finished a solid third in her first leg of a Series but was saddled with the 10-hole in the Final, raced on a sloppy track, and was a non-factor. The 4-1 early third choice, Galley Wench, will also take on her Welch-trained stable-mate Sporty Project (6-1, Pat Curtin). She’s also owned by Bo De Long but will race uncoupled on the wagering. Gracie On My Mind (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Duneside Perttie (6-1, Mike Oosting) and The Doe (5-1, John De Long) leave from posts 1, 2 and 3, in that order while Simply Burbon (15-1, Richard Finn)with the outside 8-slot complete the Saturday finale field. Mike Paradise

Illinois kingpins Iam Bonasera and Fort Silky will square off again Saturday night at Balmoral Park but it won’t be the $14,000 Song Cycle ICF stake as expected. For the second consecutive Saturday that initial stake for older state-bred male harness racing pacers didn’t fill. Instead the two stalwarts of the older Illinois pace division will tangle in the track’s $9,400 Winner’s Over, an event won by one or the other the 3 three times it’s been raced. The Leonard Stable’s Fort Silky held off the wo-time Super Night champion Iam Bonasera in the first two contests in March before the Nelson Willis trainee turned the tables in the March 21 feature with a come-from-behind 1:50.4 clocking. Iam Bonasera started off his 6-year-old campaign with four unsuccessful starts at The Meadowlands where he didn’t earn a dollar for his owners Erv Miller and Bert Hochsprung who sent him to his home state where he’s nailed down 26 of his 34 lifetime victories. Since joining the Nelson Willis Stable Iam Bonasera hasn’t missed a check, posted 4 wins, and is back to the top of his game. “Nelson (trainer Willis) has really done a good job of getting the horse back in top form,” said his driver Travis Seekman. “Right now he’s as good as he was when I drove him last fall when he was here (Seekman then guided the horse to his Maurello elimination victory but didn’t get the call on him for the Super Night Final). “Iam Bonasera likes Balmoral. I didn’t know why he didn’t do well out east. Maybe they just go too fast. Or maybe he doesn’t like the racing surfaces as much as he likes this one. “Right now all I really have to do is be patient with him. Wait unto they straighten out and race for home and then let him go. Usually if I can keep him 3 or 4 lengths off the leader, he’ll do just fine. He can close better than most horses at Balmoral.” Despite the recent supremacy of Balmoral’s “Winner’s Over” event, neither Iam Bonasera (9-5) nor Fort Silky (5-2, Casey Leonard) will open as the morning line favorite. That honor goes to Cam B Zipper who has been dominating for trainer Jim Ellison and driver John De Long since the 7-year-old gelding came in from Ohio at the beginning of March. He’ll be at 7-5 first flash odds. Cam B Zipper rattled of Balmoral wins in 1:51.3, 1:51.2 and 1:50.4 and likely could have gone faster in all three races for owners Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois; Pennsylvania Howard Taylor and trainer Ellison. The first three slots in Saturday’s seventh race will be manned by Flying Rocket (12-1, Ridge Warren), Preemptive Bid (12-1, Mike Oosting) and Best Man Hanover (6-1, Todd Warren). Sharing the Saturday spotlight will be $8,000 Direct Balance stake for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies, the 12th and last race on the card, along with the sixth race $9,400 “Winner’s Over” for pacing fillies and mares. Not Worth the Wait: Maywood’s shift to a later 7:30 pm first post became a 7:41 pm first post last night. By 8:30 the third race just got over. All the maneuvering of post times in the end saw a not-so-hot Thursday night handle of less than $420,000. By Mike Paradise

State-bred pacing fillies will get the 2015 stake season underway at Balmoral Park on Saturday, April 11th as a field of eight sophomoreâs will line up behind the gate for the $8,000 Direct Balance Stake which goes as race 12 on the harness racing card.   Kay Willis's homebred Lex, a multiple stakes winner during her freshman season, has been accorded the morning line favoritism in this event as she makes her sophomore debut after a resounding seven-length triumph in her qualifier here at Balmoral on April 1st. The daughter of Lexington Legend closed out a very successful two-year-old campaign in which she posted a record of 4-2-2 in nine starts with nearly $65,000 in earnings, with a second place finish in the year's richest event for the ladies the $162,000 Filly Orange & Blue on Super Night. Brian Carpenter is scheduled to handle the driving duties for the Nelson Willis trainee as she starts from post position five.   The Rob Ritoff trained Southern Girl has turned home heads with back to back wins coming into this event and the lightly raced daughter of Sportsmaster figures to garner plenty of attention at the betting windows. A $34,000 purchase at the 2013 Land Of Lincoln sale, the good looking brown filly debuted with a fifth place finish here on March 22nd before posting a pair of impressive come from behind scores for the ownership group of Kristopher Heim, Connie Hochstetler and James Michels. Casey Leonard gets the call on Saturday as Southern Girl leaves from post position six.   Another to keep an eye on is Galley Wench who hails from the red-hot barn of conditioner Roger Welch. This filly also fetched a big price at the 2013 Land Of Lincoln Sale bringing a $30,000 bid from William C and William P Delong who have enjoyed plenty of success here in the Prairie State in the last few seasons. This daughter of Sportsmaster debuted with a last to first victory on March 22nd before shipping to Hoosier Park where she posted a third place finish in the opening leg of the Rosie Harness Series. A sloppy track and the dreaded 10-hole combined to do her in in the final of that event as she wound up a disappointing seventh. Todd Warren will be in the sulky behind Galley Wench as the pair starts from post position four.   Rounding out the field from the pylons out are Gracie On My Mind, Duneside Perttie, The Doe, Sporty Project and Simply Burbon. Tom Kelley

Taking advantage of some sizzling fractions by others, the 23-1 longshot Flying Rocket flew past in deep stretch to pull off a huge harness racing upset in Saturday night’s featured fourth race at Balmoral Park. Smartly driven by Ridge Warren, who turned 26 last Christmas Day, Flying Rocket took a full three seconds off his previous lifetime mark when he hit the finish wire in a quick time for the mile of 1:50.4 for trainer and owner Art Gregory Jr. of Lowell, Indiana. At the start Warren took the son of Sand Shooter back from the four-slot and dropped into eighth in the 10-hole field while Major Monet, Big Brad, Ricky Bobbie and Preemptive Bid all battled each other in the early going, taking turns at gaining the top with very rapid fractions of 27.1 and 53 flat to the half-mile pole. Ridge had Flying Rocket on the move on the backside and the Indiana bred quickly ate up the ground and was put into striking position turning for home, some 5-plus lengths behind the leader Big Brad who had command at the half-mile marker and again at the three-quarters, reached in 1:21 flat. John De Long took the favorite Ricky Bobbie out of the pocket in the lane and had the front with an eighth of a mile to go but couldn’t hold off the late rushing Flying Rocket who came down the middle of the track to pick-up his first victory for his current barn. Gregory plucked Flying Rocket out of an $8,000 claimer in mid-March and three starts later the 4-year-old gelding visited the Balmoral Park’s winner’s circle much to the delight of those longshot players who were rewarded with a $49.20 payoff for  a $2 wager Ricky Bobbie, beaten a half-length, got his nose in front of the 28-1 longshot Life Is Good Today for second in the conditioned pace for non-winners if $8,000 in their last 5 starts.. A fourth race $2 Trifecta ticket of 4-3-5 paid off handsomely at $3,787 while the 10 cent Superfecta of 4-3-5-9 put $589 in your pocket for just a thin dime. The ICF pacer Ice Scraper became the fastest horse in the two year history of Miami Valley Raceway with a 1:50.2 victory in last night’s Open Pace on the Ohio five-eighths mile track. In observance of Easter Sunday there is no live racing at Balmoral Park today. Happy Easter everybody. By Mike Paradise

The harness racing industry is filled with its up and downs, especially with its horses. Such was the case with the Joel Smith Stable’s Kennan’s Max, a world record holder in 2002 as a 2-year-old and the runner-away winner of his ICF freshman trotting male division. However, three starts into his 3-year-old campaign the homebred son of Vaporize out of the broodmare Lake Hills Suzanne was basically done racing for Smith, his Indiana owners Phil Wiley and Ken Spurlock, who bred the champion Illinois trotter with Erich Boehm of West Palm Beach, Florida. Kennan’s Max had an outstanding 2-year-old season, sweeping Springfield where he set a world record for a 2-year-old trotting geldings with a 1:55.3 clock in the $60,000 Final and it came in just his third career start. “I remember that day very vividly,” said Joel. Kennan’s Max finished five-plus length ahead of Customize, who would become his chief ICF freshman rival. Kennan’s Max also captured Balmoral’s $130,000 Lincoln Land Final with his regular driver Jason Dillander, again by more than 5 lengths over Customize in mid-September. A week later “Max” breezed in the $25,000 Darn Safe at Du Quoin. In the $54,000 Cardinal Championship at Maywood Park Customize gave Kennan’s Max all he could handle. A nose decision went to ‘Max’ and Dillander over Customize and Dave Magee. A triumph in Balmoral’s $35,500 Sarah Myers stake followed for Kennan’s Max who was third in the $150,000 American National behind the winner Cantab Hall, the Illinois bred trotter’s final race of the 2002 freshman season. “Kennan’s Max owners staked the horse to just about everything as a 3-year-old except the Hambletionian,” continued Joel. The trotter’s schedule that year could have had Kennan’s Max going in such prestigious open company stakes as the Stanley Dancer, World Trotting Derby, Bluegrass and Breeders Crown. Nevertheless Kennan’s Max sophomore season ended not very long after it began. “The horse dropped a back suspensory in his third start back as a 3-year-old and was pretty much finished after that”, said Joel. “We brought him back as a 4-year-old and tried to race him a couple of times but that didn’t work out.” Kennan’s Max made an even $180,000 in 16 career starts with all but $1,650 coming as a 2-year-old. “Max is still running out here in the field at my farm,” said Joel. “And he has company. My old pacer Master Mark Grace is running along with him.” Now there’s another name that stirs up some great looking back memories, especially for Cubs fans. By Mike Paradise

Freehold, NJ --- John DeLong was 19 years old when he won the driving title at Running Aces in its inaugural season in 2008. Now at the age of 26, the Wisconsin native has 1,282 victories to his credit and is No. 2 in the standings at Balmoral Park, one win behind leader Casey Leonard, and tied for fifth at Maywood Park. Last year DeLong set a career high with $1.94 million in purses and won a number of Chicago-area stakes, including the American-National for 2-year-old male pacers with Roland N Rock. He established his career high of 283 victories in 2013. His most lucrative triumph came in the $130,000 Lorna Propes Championship with Let’s Go Higher -- and he teamed with the pacing mare for a repeat score in the event in 2014. In January, DeLong received the James Laird Memorial Award for Excellence from the Wisconsin Harness Horse Association. DeLong’s family, which operates a worldwide agricultural-distribution business based in Clinton, Wis., has been involved in harness racing for decades and is one of only two families enshrined in the Wisconsin Harness Racing Hall of Fame. DeLong’s father Jesse (better known as Jay) is a trainer and occasional driver and DeLong got his first-ever win in 2005 with a horse trained by his uncle William (aka Bo). In addition to driving, DeLong works with the family’s stable of 25 horses in Clinton. He recently took time to talk with Ken Weingartner of the USTA’s Harness Racing Communications division. KW: Your career got off to a great start with being the leading driver at Running Aces. What was that like? JD: Running Aces has been good to me. We’ve won a lot of races up there with our horses that we own. That’s the biggest thing, winning races for dad. KW: Is he a good person to drive for? JD: (Laughing) He has his comments here and there, but he usually leaves the driving to me. If I mess up, he’ll let me know. But I try not to let that happen. He understands that I have a certain style and I take into consideration that we have a lot of young horses and I want to bring them along and teach them. KW: To win the driving title at 19, did that give you a lot of confidence or add pressure? How did that affect you going forward? JD: I’m sure it gave me some confidence. I still hadn’t made the decision whether I was going to do this fulltime. That was a summer job for me, going up to Running Aces and racing horses for my dad. He gave me a stable of 12 horses and I brought them up there. I was going to go to college or race horses. I ended up choosing race horses. KW: Did you take any (college) classes? JD: I went for a winter semester and I decided not to go back. I took an agricultural industry course. I wanted to do something with agriculture in case I wanted to work with the feed business. KW: Was it a difficult decision? JD: For me? No. To convince my parents? Yes. At first they were a little worried about it. I think now they’re happy with what I’ve done. KW: You got your 1,000th win last year. What did that accomplishment mean to you? JD: It meant a lot. I’m pretty sure I’m the first one in my family to win 1,000 races. That was a pretty big thing for me. I’m one of the only ones who does this fulltime as a career. That means a lot to me. KW: Considering your family is in the (Wisconsin) Hall of Fame, I guess that’s even more of a big deal for you. JD: We work hard at it and take a lot of pride in it, that’s for sure. KW: What’s it been like racing in Chicago? JD: Last year I had a really good year. I improved from the year before. The last two years I’ve been able to win 250 or 280 races each year. It’s been good. The money’s not great, but when you’re winning races, that’s the biggest thing. Everybody is hoping we get some relief here sometime. KW: What was it like to settle into Chicago? JD: Compared to the fairs and Running Aces and other places like that, it was tough. I live an hour and a half from Maywood and a little over two hours from Balmoral. It’s a lot of long nights and a lot of driving. I have to make it count. It’s tough. There are very good drivers down there. I would tell you if it was easy, but it’s tough. It’s a tough place to win races. KW: You’ve been able to win your share. What’s been the highlights? JD: I’d say No. 1 is dad’s mare Let’s Go Higher. She’s won back-to-back Super Night championships. She’s probably the biggest one. She spent most of her time out East racing at Saratoga and Yonkers and other tracks, but has come back here and won on Super Night. For dad to own her, that’s the biggest thing for me anyway. We had a horse called Party Hangover. She won my first Super Night (in 2012). Last year I won my first American-National with a horse that came off the Iowa fair circuit, Roland N Rock. KW: You picked up an award in January. What did that mean to you? JD: It’s nice to be recognized for all your hard work. I really appreciate it. It means you’re doing things right as far as I’m concerned. When you’re winning awards, you’re doing things right. KW: What do you do with all that time in the car? JD: Most of it is spent in traffic. (Laughs.) I talk on the phone and listen to music. A lot of music. If I have someone that drives for me, I do a lot of entering and looking horses up. I worry about stuff for the barn. KW: It’s a shame you can’t take college courses… JD: Yeah, while driving the car. There you go. That would be good. KW: What type of music do you like to listen to? JD: Country, mostly. A little bit of everything. KW: What is the most challenging part of being a young driver? JD: When you first start driving all you want to do is win, win, win. Sometimes that’s a lot harder than it seems. When I first started driving dad always told me that first you’ve got to drive for checks and the wins will eventually come. When I first started driving I always tried to keep that in the back of my head. I think things have turned my way, hopefully. It’s also getting respect from the other drivers. A lot of times when you’re 19, 20, 22 years old, you’re driving with people that are twice your age. It’s important to gain their trust and know you’re not out there driving like an idiot. KW: How do you think you’ve improved over the years? JD: I would think patience and doing better with trotters. I really like driving trotters and over the last year or so it seems like I’ve done really well with trotters. Probably even more than with pacers. A lot of times if you can get one good trotter you can make a lot of money. KW: Is there a reason you’ve become better with trotters? JD: I think training my own horses has helped me a lot with that. I think that’s made me a better driver, training my own horses and learning patience that way. In the races I’ve learned a lot too. When you get to the stage where you’re driving 10 or 12 a night, you’re learning on the fly and that teaches you a lot. The more opportunities you get, the better you’re going to be. KW: Tony Morgan said something like that too, and he just got his 15,000th win. So you’re on your way. JD: (Laughs.) That’s a lot of races. I thought 1,000 was a lot. It seemed pretty far away when I first started. Now I’m eager to get on to the next 1,000. I’m on my way pretty good to the next 1,000. KW: Do you have any goals for this year? JD: I have a lot of horses that I own myself. I have seven New York-breds; I’m pretty excited about those horses and would like to see them do well. One of my other goals would be to try to get into Hoosier Park more. This summer, my plan is to try to. I’ve got horses with a few guys I drive for and they want to race there. I went last year and I drove a few horses. I drove one stakes trotter (Homicide Hunter) that made almost $100,000 there for Curt Grummel. I’d like to get into Hoosier more and pick up more drives there, but it’s tough. I don’t know a whole lot of people there. KW: What do you most enjoy about driving and working with the horses? JD: The biggest thing I enjoy is driving babies and stakes horses. Seeing a horse come along. Even if they’re not the best horse at the beginning of the summer, bringing them along and hoping to see them the best later in the year. In Illinois, that’s the time when you want to be the best, on Super Night. KW: Have you ever wanted to do anything else? JD: Not really. When I was a little kid, we would send our horses to Chicago (to race) and two towns over there was a dog track that had an off-track betting parlor. We would go over there and watch the races at night. Ever since then, I was hooked and this is what I wanted to do. KW: How old were you then? JD: I was in fourth or fifth grade, probably 8 or 9 years old. I watched Dave Magee and those guys drive horses when I was little and I thought it was awesome. I just hoped one day I would get the opportunity to have people watch me on TV driving horses. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. KW: Now maybe some kid is watching you and thinking the same thing. JD: Yeah, that would be cool. KW: Well, thanks for all your time and good luck with everything. JD: Thank you. Any time. by Ken Weingartner, Harness Racing Communications 

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