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The curtain came down on at Balmoral Park last night with $1,347,100 bet on the last program of 2016 and likely the final live harness racing card in the long history of the racetrack. It was the third highest mutuel handle of the year. Only Super Night and American National Night were higher. A dense fog and a steady drizzle didn’t dampen a large and enthusiastic crowd that filled the track’s apron in the Balmoral Park finale. They watched Bobby Smolin give the 4-1 longshot Fiveknuckleshuffle (11.60) a winning pocket-trip in the eighth race conditioned pace feature, overtaking the 3-5 heavy favorite Ice Scraper in the late going of the 1:51.1 mile. The soon-to-be 8-year-old ICF pacer’s win was his eighth of the year for owners John Cross of Onley, Illinois, Bonnie Harlow and Robert Moser, both of Hannibal, Missouri, and trainer Mike Brink of Springfield, Illinois. Fiveknuckleshuffle proved to be fastest from the gate and parked Ice Scraper (Brian Carpenter) through a quick 26.2 first quarter on a sloppy track before taking the two-hole. The public’s choice got a 28.4 breather to the 55.2 half and reached the three-quarters in 1:23.1 but couldn’t hold off the late charming Illinois bred pacer. In the only trot race of the night John Barnard’s Hudson Jesse ($3.80) easily won for the third time in her last four starts in the sixth race for Casey Leonard and trainer Bill Crone. The six-year-old mare was almost two lengths the best over 3-1 longshot Changed It All in the 1:56.1 mile. The $2,850 winner’s share of the $5,750 purse left Hudson Jesse just $161 short of $300,000 in career earnings. Driver Casey Leonard and trainer Nelson Willis were honored in Balmoral’swinner’s circle for capturing their respective titles a second consecutive year. In the Balmoral Park finale Matt Krueger had the hottest hand among the drivers, chalking up three winners. Leonard, Smolin and Carpenter each had two. By Mike Paradise

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 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

Maywood Park’s initial harness racing ICF stake race of the year met the same fate as Balmoral Park’s 12 nights earlier. It was a no-go. Only a pair of 3-year-old state bred male pacers—Dakota Roadster and Dixie Boy—entered the $8,000 Sportsmaster, scheduled for Friday night. The same two sophomores were the only entrants for the $8,000 Taurus Bomber slated for March 28 at Balmoral. Neither ICF 3-year-old colt stake will likely be rescheduled. Still Growing: No one hit last week’s 20 cent Jackpot Pick 6 at Maywood and carryover for the wager is now at $10,807 for Thursday night’s opener. The 20 cent wager covers the first six races on the card. Better Than Anticipated: Friday’s seventh race conditioned pace feature came up stronger than expected when Kanaris and Firstclassallthway (pictured, courtesy of R.E.B. Photos) were among the seven horses entered. Both pacers come out of a high-level $15,000 conditioned pace at Hoosier. Kanaris (programmed 5-2,Travis Seekman), the 1:48.3 track record-holder at Scioto Downs for a 4-year-old gelding, is making his fourth season start for trainer Joe Seekman and Tripoli Stables of Norridge, Illinois. The now 5-year-old homebred picked up a check in the 2013 Windy City Pace and comes off a 4-year-old campaign where he earned over $124,000. Firstclassallthway (2-1, John De Long) earlier this year rattled off three consecutive victories in Bamoral’s “Winner’s Over” events for Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois. The Jim Ellison trainee has won at least 3 races at Maywood the previous three seasons. Among his 39 career victories are a half-dozen triumphs in Balmoral Invites. Galactic Star, winner of 7 of his last 11 outings at Maywood Park, landed the one-slot in the $7,100 conditioned pace for non-winners of $8,000 in their last 5 starts with regular driver Todd Warren. The Perry Smith trained gelding will open at 4-1 odds Fox Valley Norman (8-1, Ridge Warren), Ready (6-1, Mike Oosting), Gypsy Leather (12-1, Ryan Anderson) and Montero Blue Chip (12-1, Casey Leonard) complete the seventh race field. Qualifier News: Lady Lincoln Land champion Bi Polar Rose won her qualifier yesterday morning with Travis Seekman at Balmoral with a 1:59.4 clocking on a track listed as “good.” The Ronnie Roberts trainee is being pointed for the $40,000 (est.) Violet Trot in May. Roberts also had one of the two fastest qualifying winners Wednesday morning when the 3-year-old Indiana bred colt Sir Mammo proved best in 1:55.3 with Todd Warren. Sir Mammo was the third place finisher in last year’s American National 2-Year-Old Trot. Also finishing first in 1:55.3 in another qualifier was the Jim Eaton Stable’s Painkiller (Casey Leonard). The 4-year-old Always A Virgin gelding ended up almost 3 lengths ahead of last year’s Orange and Blue Super Night champion Earndawg. That Roger Welch trainee was timed in 1:56.2 getting ready for his sophomore debut. 1,000th in Sight: Bobby Smolin i(pictured) s grinding is way towards the coveted 1,000 plateau in dash winners. The Oaklawn, Illinois native who turned 29 a few weeks ago (March 23) enters Thursday’s Maywood Park 10-race program with 974 wins as a driver. Coming into 2015 Smolin has posted six consecutive years of 100-plus winning seasons. By Mike Paradise

The veteran harness racing pacer Don’t Worry B Happy looks to get revitalized Friday night with a drop to a mid-level conditioned when he revisits Maywood Park. The 7-year-old Nelson Willis trainee faces an above average field in the eighth race for non-winners of $4,000 last five but if you go by past history Don’t Worry B Happy looms large for his driver Brian Carpenter. Maywood Park is what I like to call a “get-well” track for Don’t Worry B Happy. Every time the son of The Panderosa can’t find a winner’s circle for Barrington Hills, Illinois owner Shirley Le Vin, his trainer ships the horse to Maywood Park where Don’t Worry B Happy usually “gets well.” Don’t Worry N Happy didn’t make his Maywood Park debut until 2013 as a 5-year-old. The horse had won an $18,000 Hoosier Park Open that April and then went into a long slump, dropping 11 straight races in either Indiana or at Balmoral Park. However in October of that year he ended the losing streak in his initial Maywood start. The horse would make 3 more starts in 2013 at Maywood and hit the board each time. After a winter break of 3 and 1 1/2 months off Don’t Worry B Happy started off his 2014 season at Maywood and was a winner, this time with Sam Widger at his lines. The horse then dropped his next 9 decisions but “got well” in a late July starts with driver Todd Warren, when the pacer returned to—you guessed it—Maywood Park. Don’t Worry B Happy then raced at Balmoral in August, September and into October, this time take a licking 8 races in a row. However, the horse as expected “got-well” in a mid-October race at Maywood. The gelding then went back to his home base at Balmoral and dropped 5 uninterrupted decisions before taking the hour-plus long van ride from Balmoral to Maywood where, to no one’s surprise, won two December starts after a second place finish in late November. With three successive losses at Balmoral to start the 2015 season, the horse is back on the circuit’s half-miler where he hopes to “get well” against a nice field comprised of Total Sin (programmed 6-1), Silver Devil (7-2), Cotton Eyed Joe (10-1), So Be It (8-1), Fox Valley Norman (3-1) and Montero Blue Chip (12-1). Silver Devil (John De Long) is making his 2015 debut for trainer Nick Giberson. Last year the son of Duneside Perch captured the $34,380 Aged Cardinal and was second to Fort Silky in the Cook County stake, the opening leg of the Maywood Pacing Series. As a freshman Silver Devil won a Betzotic stake at Maywood and followed that up with victories in the Circuit City and Grey Ghost at Hoosier Park. Cotton Eyed Joe (Bobby Smolin) took the Orange and Blue Colt Championship as a freshman on Super Night 2013 and opened his 2014 season with back-to-back wins in small Maywood Park ICF stakes. The Bob Philips trainee was second-best to Unlocked in last year’s Super Night Langley Final. By Mike Paradise

The $15,000 Fox Valley Memory stake for ICF fillies and mares makes a belated return on the last night of the year at Balmoral Park Wednesday with seven pacers looking to pad their bankrolls before they turn one year older the next day. All seven raced on the weekend either 3 or 4 nights ago. Wednesday’s early fifth race favoritism is divided between State Street Liz (programmed 5-2, Bobby Smolin, Just By Design (3-1, Dave Magee) and Ryleigh’s Lilly (4-1, Casey Leonard), all December winners in top-level conditioned paces on the big track in Crete, Illinois.   Grandma Ann Super night champ Party Hangover (Todd Warren) is at 5-1. Both Fox Valley Amanda (John De Long) and Feel Like Dancing (Kyle Wilfong) open at 6-1, with Kimberly R (Mike Oosting) the only double digit odds (12-1) mare in the program. The last time these same Illinois bred mares met was in the $13.250 splits of the Sue Fee stake back on November 22. Ryleigh’s Lilly posted an almost two length victory in 1:53 over State Street Liz in one division while Dallas Jones, who came up sick last Saturday and was scratched, took the other division on a rain-soaked track. A winner in the “Winner’s Over” two weeks ago, Ryleigh’s Filly was a disappointing seventh in last week’s event with Casey. “She’s wasn’t herself last week,” said Leonard. “The mare prefers a hard, fast track and we haven’t had that kind of racing surface at Balmoral for a while. She does fit against Wednesday’s field if she comes up with one of her better efforts.” Starting from the two post against mares like State Street Liz, Just By Design and Party Hangover who all do their best racing up-close, could put Casey in a tough spot of either being first-over with Ryleigh’s Lilly or staying inside and maybe risk getting shuffled to the back of the pack. “We’ve just have to see how the race unfolds,” said Casey. Ryleigh’s Lilly is seeking her eighth win of 2014 in her final start of the year for trainer Bill Crone and owner John Bernard of Orland Park, Illinois. Both Chris Choros’ State Street Liz (pp 7) and Ken Rucker’s Party Hangover (pp 4) have chalked up nine season wins. The soon to be four-year-old Fox Valley Amanda (pp 5) boasts the highest season bankroll among the eight ICF fillies with $116,196 in earnings for the Joel Smith Stable with a big hunk of that amount ($44,500) coming from her victory in the $89,000 Maywood Filly Pace in mid-June. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

Illinois conceived and foaled trotters and pacers were back in the spotlight on Saturday night at Balmoral Park as the Crete plant played host to four stakes or consolations for Super Night participants as part of the big 13-race harness racing program.   Freshmen pacing fillies kicked off the action with a field of nine going postward in the $13,900 Thrifty Way Stake.   Avenging a pair of recent tough trips that led to sub-par efforts Quaid Racing's Angel Demon came steamrolling down the center of the track to record a 3 ½ length victory in a career best of 1:54.2 for driver John De Long.   Saving ground the entire way, the daughter of Sportsmaster--Miss Swift appeared to be hopelessly shuffled out of contention before De Long managed to shake loose from the pylons.   Storming down the center of the track Angel Demon blew right by a leg weary Girls Hunt Too to pick up her first career victory. Longshot Desi Dune (Todd Warren) turned in a nice effort to finish second while Girls Hunt Too was third.   Now in the barn of conditioner Erin Elliott, Angel Demon returned $5.00, $3.60 & $3.40 while pushing her bankroll to $48,113.   Trotters were next to hit the track as a field of seven diagonally gaited three-year-old fillies battled in the $20,000 Lady Ann Reed Consolation.   Making amends for her costly break in the rich Super Night final of this event, Donald Huddleston's Macie Rae was on her best behavior as she made every call a winning one, reporting home by 4 ¾ lengths in 1:57.1.   With trainer Mike Rogers climbing into the bike for this battle the daughter of Powerful Emotion--Fox Valley Poetry stormed right to the front, putting up splits of 29.1, 58.1 & 1:27.0.   After opening up a big lead at the top of the stretch, Rogers let his filly drift a bit through the stretch and she responded beautifully to that careful handling as she widened her margin while notching her 11th victory in 15 starts this season. Bands Alexis (Todd Warren) tried to follow the winner's every move but was forced to settle for a runner-up role while Fox Valley Skylar (Dale Hiteman) finished third.   Heavily backed off her sparkling record Macie Rae returned just $2.80, $2.80 & $2.20 while upping her career earnings to $89,520 with career win number 19.   Freshmen pacing colts jumped into the fray with a field of nine youngsters battling in the $13,900 Yates Eagle Stake.   Taking advantage of a perfect two-hole trip, Fox Valley Elijah came rolling through the passing lane to win by 1 ½ lengths in a career best of 1:54.2.   Perfectly positioned by driver Todd Warren, the gelded son of Sportsmaster--Eternal Gift had all the best of it while C Note (Travis Seekman) carved out splits of 29.0, 58.3 & 1:27.0.   Fit and fresh off that journey the Nelson Willis trainee gradually wore down the pace setter, drawing clear in the shadow of the wire for his second lifetime win for the partnership of Kay Willis, Engel Stable Of Illinois and Haugen Stables. C Note held on gamely to finish second while Casey At Bat (Dean Magee) found room late to rally for the show dough.   Part of a Willis owned entry Fox Valley Elijah returned $9.60, $4.20 & $4.00 while moving his bankroll to $15,890.   Last but not least were sophomore pacing colts as a field of nine three-year-olds squared off in the $22,400 Pete Langley Memorial Consolation. This race provided the biggest shocker of the night as 19-1 longshot Fox Valley Cupid parlayed a perfect trip into a thrilling nose decision in a career best of 1:52.3.   Hustled off the wings of the gate by Robert Smolin the gelded son of Yankee Skyscaper--Fox Valley Cherub landed in the garden spot right on the back of favored Uncle Ugly as that one put up hot splits of 26.3, 55.1 & 1:23.2.   Moving into the passing lane the Mike Schulfer trainee gradually wore down the favorite and then held on for dear life as Overloaded (Kyle Wilfong) came flying late to just miss. The other half of that Tom Simmons trained entry; Fox Valley Van (Dale Hiteman) was a fast closing third.   The win was just the second in a 34-race career for Fox Valley Cupid who has still managed to earn a "cool" $115,830 for owner James Strazlka, Mike Schulfer, James Skvarla and Nancy Magnus. Those lucky enough to back the bay sophomore were rewarded with mutuels of $40.80, $12.80 & $5.80.   Saturday's 50 cent Pick 5 wager was not hit so there will be a carryover of $6,168 added to Sunday's pool. Thus, there will now be a GUARANTEED POOL OF $50,000 for Sunday's Pick 5 wager. The Pick 5 is contested on races 2-6 on Sunday's.   Past performances courtesy of Trackmaster for the 50 Cent Pick 5 and the $1 Pick with its $25,000 guaranteed pool can be found at ustrotting.com   Tom Kelley  

Continuing his "dream season" while overcoming what could have been a harness racing career ending injury the Robert Phillips owned and trainer Al's Hammered posted his second career Super Night title taking the $112,000 Tony Maurello Championship by two-lengths in 1:49.2. That time equaled the stakes record for this 3yo & up event. .   With his owner-trainer choosing post position five for this event the trip worked out perfectly for the big late rusher as he sat mid-pack while Fort Silky (Casey Leonard) and Iam Bonasera (Marcus Miller) battled through blistering fractions of 26.3, 54.4 & 1:21.4.   Moving first over on the final turn driver Robert Smolin put Al's Hammered into contention alongside the pace setting Iam Bonasera as the field turned for the money.   "When I saw those fractions up front I really thought I was going to be home free," said Smolin. "He's got no problem going first over so I really was where I wanted to be."   As he's done so often this season, the five-year-old son of Droppin'thehammer seemed to find another gear as he eyed the finish line, putting away the leader and then drawing clear in the final 100 yards for his 14th win of the year. Iam Bonasera held on gamely to finish second while FortSilky was third.   The 2012 Langley Memorial champion boosted his career bankroll to $476,497 with his second Super Night championship while returning $3.40, $2.40 & $2.10 to his legion of backers.   Al's Hammered and Bobby Smolin equaled the stakes record of 1:49.2 while capturing the $112,000 Tony Maurello Championship on Super Night.   Tom Kelley  

If their elimination heat was an indication of things to come, then Saturday's showdown between Al's Hammered and Forty Silky in the $112,000 Tony Maurello Stake at Balmoral Park should be a real heater. Last week the two Illinois-bred brutes battled it out in a torrid frenzy that saw the Bob Phillips-trained Al's Hammered prevail by 1½ lengths in 1:49.1 over the John Prentice-harnessed Fort Silky. Purchased by Phillips for a mere $2,000 at the 2010 Illini Sale, Al's Hammered has $426,627 in career earnings with a mark of 1:48.4 taken at age 3, en route to winning the $178,000 Langley Memorial on Super Night 2012 by 9½ lengths. He was also a solid third in the $241,000 Orange & Blue on Super Night 2011 as a freshman. Now 5, the gelded son of Droppin'Thehammer had an abbreviated schedule in 2013, after sustaining an injury in a Feb.2 race. Al's Hammered damaged his superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) and annular ligament of his left front leg. This injury is catastrophic to a racehorse, with recovery taking up to 18 months, and the tendons rarely return to their original functional elasticity. "The tendon was devastated; it looked like a shotgun hit it," remarked Dr. Greg Skelton, Bob's veterinarian. "Al's Hammered was a step away from a total breakdown." "We ultra-sounded it, and Greg suggested we cut the annular ligament," Bob, 69, explained. "Al's leg was the same size as his knee all the way to the ankle." "We thought it was best to cut the annular ligament, which alleviates pressure on the tendon sheath," Greg stressed. "If you don't cut that, the horse might get sore because mechanically the tendon can't move through to the ankle. Cutting removes restriction to the leg, allowing for more ease of movement." Greg also suggested injecting the leg with a series of PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments. "Time was my first thought for recovery, and I thought using PRP would heal it better," Greg acknowledged. To prepare for a PRP treatment, a veterinarian takes blood plasma, an anti-coagulant, and a bit of white surface from red blood cells known as the 'buffy coat,' (which has DNA and healing proteins, white cells and platelets)--all from the injured horse. Via ultrasound, the vet injects a dose of PRP into the back of the leg, between the ligament and SDFT, inside and outside of the sheath. "I did this twice a month for six months," Greg confirmed. "By concentrating the plasma, the horse's own system heals the leg. I told Bob not to hold his breath; that this was a pretty big injury." "This treatment was amazing," Bob said. "After three months the leg was nearly back to normal. Nobody could believe how much it had sucked down." Nearly ten months later, Al's Hammered scored a winning 1:54.2 qualifier at Balmoral. On Nov. 16 he posted a 1:55.3 victory; followed by a 1:51.2 win on Nov. 23; a Dec. 7 win in a seasonal best 1:50.3; and a Dec. 14 triumph in 1:51.3. In just six starts he earned $31,395, pushing his 2013 earnings to $40,915. "I give a lot of credit to Bob," Greg offered. "There are not many trainers who would walk a horse themselves and take the time with him Bob has. Amazingly, this horse had no other injections--just the PRP treatments. The horse was a model patient and Bob was patient in the recovery process." This year, Al's Hammered has added another $117,400 to his bankroll, with 13 wins in 19 tries. "By far, he's the best horse I've ever had," Bob said. "I think he's better now than before the injury. You can train horses all your life and never get one like him." The indomitable Fort Silky, who has $668,100 in career earnings, with 47 wins, 44 seconds and 28 thirds from 197 lifetime starts for owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler, will try to stop Al's Hammered from garnering another Super Night triumph. The 8-year-old son of Ft Apache Hanover won the $25,000 Egyptian Stake on Aug. 29 at Maywood, stopping the timer in 1:50.4, just two-fifths of a second off the half-miler's track record, prior to his Maurello elim last week. A starter in the Maurello for the past three years, he'll be looking for his first Super Night Crown tonight. by Kimberly Rinker, for Balmoral Park  

With one major Super Night championship on her résumé the year-old ICF mare Party Hangover is looking to add another next Saturday on Illinois’ most anticipated evening of racing at Balmoral Park. Party Hangover, the 2012 Grandma Ann champion for trainer Jesse De Long, had won her first six first pari-mutuel starts after owner-trainer Ken Rucker sent Party Hangover back to Illinois under the care of his wife Catrina and driver Todd Warren before her second place finish last night in her Propes elimination. Dune In Red (1:51.2), given a pocket trip by Dave Magee, overtook Party Hangover in the lane to win the second elimination while defending Propes champion Let’s Go Higher breezed in 1:52 flat in the first split. I asked Catrina to fill me in about Party Hangover. “We bought Party Hangover privately near the end of last year and sent her out East to race,” said Catrina. “She did very well there this year making almost $28,000. But she’s been ever better since she’s been back in Illinois.” In her seven starts ion the Chicago circuit this year Party Hangover has raked in almost $40,000 for the Rucker family. What has made the mare so good in her home state? “In Pennsylvania there was no consistency with drivers,” replied Catrina. “You would get a different driver every week. A couple of times our mare got locked-in with a ton of pace but nowhere to go. You look at those lines it would appear she wasn’t racing well but she was racing great. “Here in Illinois it’s a different type of racing on a different type of track. Party Hangover is a mare that you can race any way you want, on the front or out of a hole. “Todd (Warren) has been great with the mare and he likes her a lot, too. He told us she’s done everything he’s asked her. “We scratched her out her Springfield race when the day of race got moved because of the rain they had down there. We wanted her fit and ready for the Parklane Powerful and she was, coming up with her second new lifetime mark (1:51.2). “We put her in a qualifier last Wednesday to keep her sharp because there wasn’t a race for her last Saturday and we didn’t want to go three weeks in between starts. “Party Hangover is kind of like the barn star right now and she likes being pampered. “A baby can jog her but once you turn her she’s all business on a racetrack. If you train her with another horse she won’t let that horse get past her. She’s just a monster on the track.” As a 3-year-old Party Hangover was an eight-time winner for the De Long stable and put over $161,000 on her card with the bulk of that money coming with consecutive wins in the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fair championships, and triumphs in both her Grandma Ann elimination and its final. Nailing Down Another: Al’s Hammered (Bobby Smolin) uncorked a season fastest 1:49.1 mile last night in his Maurello elimination victory, avenging his recent loss to Fort Silky in the Egyptian stake at Maywood. The win was No. 13 of the season for Al’s Hammered, owned and trained by Bob Phillips, and likely sewed up his role as the morning line favorite for Saturday’s $120,000 Championship. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The countdown to the biggest night of the year for Illinois conceived and foaled pacers and trotters began in earnest on Saturday night at Balmoral Park as a bevy of elimination action brought out some of the Prairie State's best. Freshmen pacing fillies started the Saturday night action with a total of 15 youngsters entered in a pair of $15,000 Filly Orange & Blue elim's. The top five will be back on Super Night to battle for a $163,000 (est) jackpot. In the opening split Jesse De Long & Hamm Family Trust's Sportsmuffler made her local debut a winning one as she rolled to an easy 4 ½ length victory in a career best of 1:54.3. Perfectly placed In The Pocket by driver John De Long, the daughter of Sportsmaster--Whatifthere'smore exploded past the pace setting Cowgirl Chic in the lane as she rolled to her sixth win in nine lifetime starts. Cowgirl Chic held on well to finish second while Girls Hunt Too (Dale Hiteman) was third and Star Gram (Brian Carpenter) was fourth. Angel Demon (Ryan Anderson), the 1-2 favorite in the field of eight, stopped badly after a first over bid on the far turn but still managed to gain a spot in the final with her fifth place finish. In the second division Leland Mathias and Paymaq Racing's Mr Leland's Filly continued her dominance of this division as she cruised to a 2 ¼ length victory in 1:56.1 for driver Casey Leonard. Sent from third to first after a tepid opening quarter the Erv Miller trained daughter of Sportsmaster--Incredible Katie appeared to have plenty in reserve through the lane as she toyed with her rivals while posting her fifth win in seven lifetime starts. BS Tyrichess (Brian Carpenter) turned a pocket sitting trip into a second place check while Lex (Kyle Wilfong) was forced to settle for the show dough after a bold first over bid at the top of the stretch. Luvniecestopieces (Ryan Anderson) was fourth while Fox Valley Redhead (Dale Hiteman) finished fifth. A field of 10 was sent postward in the $15,000 Pete Langley Memorial for three-year-old pacing colts with the top nine finishers joining Fox Valley Cupid, who opted for a bye, in next week's $147,000 (est) final. Living up to his overwhelming 1-9 favoritism Megan Rogers Racing Stables Unlocked completely dismantled this field as he reported home with an effortless 6 ¼ length victory in 1:50.3 for driver Dave Magee and trainer Erv Miller. The issue was never in doubt in this one as the good looking son of Duneside Perch--Miss Major Power worked his way to the front after the opening quarter and proceeded to widen his margin at each call while posting his fourth straight victory over these rivals. Fox Valley Deuce (Casey Leonard) followed the winners every move after relinquishing the lead on the backstretch but was no match for the heavy favorite while garnering the second place check. Svaya Knows (Travis Seekman) rallied late to finish third. Also gaining spots in the final were Fox Valley Van, Uncle Ugly, Overloaded, Cotton Eyed Joe, BlueRiver and Sleazeburgernfries. The older pacers renewed acquaintances as a total of 16 veterans were dropped into the box for a pair of $15,000 Tony Maurello Stake elimination's. Once again the top five finishers will be back for what should be a very entertaining $112,000 (est) final next week. In the first division the Bob Phillips owned and trained Al's Hammered came flying down the lane to win by 1 ¼ lengths in a seasons best of 1:49.1 with Bobby Smolin at the controls. Content to bide their time near the back of the pack through some quick early splits, Smolin put the five-year-old son of Droppin'thehammer--Alberts Magic into contention at the top of the lane. Uncorking the big late kick he's come to be known for Al's Hammered proceeded to wear down FortSilky (Casey Leonard) in the final sixteenth of a mile for his 13th win in 19 starts this season. FortSilky was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Big Daddy Woo Woo (Ridge Warren) was third. Ice Scraper (Todd Warren), who carved out the fast fractions held on for fourth while Ricky Bobbie (Pat Curtin) was fifth. In the nightcap Bert Hochsprung and the Erv Miller Stables classy veteran Iam Bonasera picked a nice time to grab his first win of the season as he rolled to an easy 1 ½ length victory in 1:51.3 with Travis Seekman at the controls. Perfectly positioned In The Pocket while Big Brad (Robert Smolin) carved out pedestrian splits of 27.4, 57.0 & 1:25.1, Seekman maneuvered the seven-year-old Cole Muffler--Shesoluvabull gelding to the outside with an eighth of a mile to go and the lifetime winner of more than $670,000 did the rest, storming home in 26.1 to get the win. Big Brad settled for second while another Miller trainee, A Cool Card (Dave Magee) was third. Crankin' It Up (Kyle Wilfong) was fourth while Doubletrouble (Todd Warren) was fifth. Next up were the two-year-old pacing colts as a total of 19 hopeful's met in a pair of $15,000 battles. The top five in each race will return for what is expected to be next week's biggest purse of the night at $187,000 (est). The first split provided a thrilling finish as the Roger Welch trained entry of Earndawg and Rockin Cassinova finished one-two with Earndawg getting the 1 ½ length score in a career best of 1:54.0 for the partnership of Bo & Pat De Long and E.J. Miller Jr. Sitting near the back of the back of the pack after starting from post position eight, driver Todd Warren did a magnificent job of guiding the altered son of Sportsmaster--Pacific Sister K through the lane charging from eighth to first in the final quarter-mile for his third win in nine lifetime starts. Rockin Cassinova (Dale Hiteman) parlayed a nice ground saving journey into the place check while Dakota Roadster (Robert Smolin) rallied for third. Also gaining spots in the final was the pace setting Dupage's Z Tam (Casey Leonard) and Thisishowweroll (John De Long). The second elimination was also a barnburner and when the smoke cleared it was Rocco Ruffolo's Lucpark who prevailed by the slimmest of noses in 1:55.1 for driver Dave Magee. Given a Hall of Fame steer by Super Night's leading driver, Lucpark left quickly from post nine and settled in nicely at the pylons until the top of the stretch. That's when Magee went to work with the Erv Miller trained son of Sportsmaster--Treasure The Best, deftly maneuvering off the cones then squeezing through a tight hole with an eighth of a mile to go before wearing down the pace setting King Of The Swamp (Todd Warren) in the last stride for his fourth win in eight lifetime starts. C Note (John De Long) shook loose late to finish third. The last two spots in the final went to Mighty Hot Shot (Brian Carpenter) and Fox Valley Elijah (Dale Hiteman). A total of 23 distaffers were dropped into the box for a trio of $15,000 Lorna Propes Stake elimination's with the top three and one fourth place finisher (drawn by lot) advancing to next week's $120,000 (est) championship. In the first division Jesse De Long's Let's Go Higher, the defending champion in this event, returned to town for trainer Heidi Rohr and promptly served notice that she's going to be tough to dethrone as she posted a 4 ¼ length wire to wire victory in 1:52.1. Confidently handled by driver John De Long, the six-year-old daughter of Cole Muffler--Ten Speed shot right to the top and promptly rattled off splits of 28.3, 57.1, & 124.4 before sealing the deal with a brisk 27.2 final panel for her 22nd win in the past two seasons. No Respect (Kyle Wilfong) followed the winner every step of the way but was forced to settle for the bridesmaid role while Tamarac Sassy (Casey Leonard) was third. Fox Valley Touche finished fourth. In the middle split Wilson Racing Stable, Norm Neff and Mark Eichberger's Dune In Red parlayed a perfect trip into a 2 ½ length victory in a snappy 1:51.2 for driver Dave Magee. Sent hard from post five, the chestnut daughter of Duneside Perch--She Has The Look elected to let a hard charging Party Hangover (Todd Warren) go just after the quarter. That put the Tim Wilson Jr trained miss in a perfect spot the rest of the way. Magee then maneuvered the four-year-old out of the pocket and she responded beautifully as she zipped right by the odds on favorite for her fourth win of the season. Party Hangover held on for second while State Street Liz (Robert Smolin) was third. Zumba finished fourth. In the final elimination of the night fittingly went to another Dave Magee driven mare as he guided Joshua Carter's Just By Design to a one-length victory in 1:52.3. As was the case for nearly all of the night Magee had the roan six-year-old perfectly positioned In The Pocket while Fox Valley Absolut carved out splits of 28.2, 57.2 & 1:25.0. Fit and fresh as she waited for the passing lane, the Mike Brink trained miss cruised right by the pace setter for her third win of the season. Fox Valley Absolut held on for second while Toshie Special (Dean Magee) finished third. Auniqueaquistion finished fourth. The elimination action continues on Sunday, Sept. 7th with a $15,000 Su Mac Lad elimination. That tussle will go as race six on the 10-race card which begins at 7:10 p.m. (central). No eliminations were needed for the Lady Ann Reed for three-year-old trotting fillies or the Grandma Ann for three-year-old pacing fillies. The latter did have a "prep" on Saturday night which was taken by Sawgrass Farms Molly Go Lightly and driver Matt Krueger in 1:55. By Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park    

Al's Hammered uncorked a swift 26 3/5 seconds last quarter on a cold Saturday night to pound out his second consecutive victory in the Balmoral Park Invitational ranks. Regular driver Bobby Smolin, of Bourbonnais, bided his time with the 4-5 public's choice and kept him in seventh, and last, until the top of the lane and when he called on Al's Hammered ($3.80) the four-year-old pacer responded with his strong winning move in the $17,000 ninth race feature. The 16-1 longshot pacesetter Kanarsis was second in the one minute, 51 3/5 seconds mile, 1 1/2 lengths behind winner, owned and trained by Bob Phillips, of Crete. From the Publicity Department Balmoral Park

The slogan “You’ve Come a Long Way,” wasn’t written with the Illinois-bred filly My Little Bit in mind but as the old proverb says: “If the shoe fits, wear it.” And the (horse) shoe does fit the Erv Miller star freshman according to her driver Casey Leonard. “This filly has come a long way from her last start at Maywood Park when I drove her,” said Casey after steering My Little Bit to a comfortable one-length win in last week’s first Violet elimination. “My Little Bit had the 8-hole the first night at Maywood and when she came out of that turn for the first time and saw the grandstand, she wasn’t sure what was going on. She has a much better idea now of what’s she’s doing.” Her June 27 race in Maywood’s Juxtaposition stake was My Little Bit’s very first start. She ended up sixth, beaten almost 15 lengths by the winner April May Dune, and was timed in 2:00.4. Last Friday she won in 1:55.2 and pretty much coasted the second half of the mile. It was season win No. 5 for the Sportsmaster filly who captured both State Fair titles with Marcus Miller and was second with the 22-year-old in the $200,000 Orange & Blue Filly Final on Super Night behind Thesleazyprincess, one of her main threats in Friday’s Violet Championship. My Little Bit was also second in late July in the $65,000 Loyal Opposition stake with Casey at her lines. “I’m really happy to be back driving this filly” said the 35-year-old Leonard. “She can get out of there really well and she won her elimination pretty easily. The race didn’t go as I expected so when one of the longshots (Fox Valley Rockn) made a quarter move at us I couldn’t let her (the 38-1 longshot) go so I let my filly out a notch.” My Little Bit needed a :28.1 first quarter to get command and a :28.3 second quarter to keep it. After that :56.4 first half, the issue wasn’t in doubt. You can count on fastest fractions throughout in tonight’s $48,000 Championship. The 2-1 morning line favorite My Little Bit can use her speed from the inside three-slot to likely race on or close to the front again which is where we also probably see last week’s second elimination victor Molly Go Lightly, the 3-1 programmed second choice. “The filly is sharp right now,” said driver Mike Oosting after Molly Go Lighty’s four-length victory in 1:55.4. “She’s a handy filly. “You can race her pretty much anyway you want.” The Nelson Willis trainee could very well get another favorable trip with the pole position and that's probably why we’ll see Oosting at her lines instead of Willis’ another filly in the race Thesleazyprincess (6-1). The Orange and Blue Filly champion landed Maywood’s dreaded eight-hole for new driver John Roberts, making her chances of a fourth season win an arduous task. She’ll race on Lasix for the first time Friday. The third program choice is Jesse and John De Long’s Party Hangover Two (p.p. 5), second behind My Little Bit a week ago Hoping to pull off a surprise victory in the ninth race Violet Final are Fox Valley Flora (15-1, Brain Carpenter), Fox Valley Amanda (12-1, Dale Hiteman), Green Valey (20-1, Bobby Smolin) and Fox Valley Shiver (8-1, Todd Warren). Pricey Pick: The 14-1 longshot Fox Valley Lena (John Roberts) was a $30 top winner for us last night at Maywood Park. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

State-bred trotting colts were in the spotlight on Sunday, Sept. 29th as a field of eight youngsters looked for spots in next week’s $105,000 Lincoln Land Stake final and 46-1 long shot Ryleigh's Lilly scored a major upset in the Direct Dottie final. With four of the eight starters making early breaks in the race things were up for grabs from the word go. When the smoke cleared it was Ron Marino & David Hermann’s Nino Marino who emerged with a three-quarter-length victory in 1:59.3 for driver Dean Magee. Benefiting from a perfect pocket sitting trip as Big Bad Bob (Dale Hiteman) put up splits of 29.3, 58.2 & 1:29 the Randy Tuftie trained son of Pizzazzed—Never Ms Still overtook the pace setter with an eighth of a mile to go and eventually drew clear for his second win in five lifetime starts. Big Bad Bob held on for second while Battleshoe King (Buddy Simpson) was third. Also gaining spots in the final where they will be joined by Tour Hall, Bobby BBreeze and Fox Valley Veto were Photo Surprise, Battleshoe Crown, Polars BigSpender and Finnster. Sophomore pacing fillies were also in action on Sunday night as a field of 10 Illinois conceived and foaled three-year-olds battled in the $14,000 Direct Dottie Stake. This test produced the biggest surprise of the night as John Barnard’s Ryleigh’s Lilly lit up the tote board at odds of 46-1 with a half-length victoryin a career best of 1:54.1. Reserved through the early going by driver Robert Smolin the daughter of Western Hero—Fox Valley Chosen moved up third over through the final five-eighths of a mile. Exploding off her cover in the lane, the Bill Crone trained miss flew home in 27.1 to secure her second win in 16 starts this year. Aliyah Maria (John DeLong), who provided live cover for the winner was a game second while Zumba (Matt Krueger) rallied from far back to be third as the early speed collapsed in the lane. Returning $95.20, $30.00 & $15.60, Ryleigh’s Lilly helped key a $7,394.00 trifectapayout. by Tom Kelley for Balmoral Park

State bred pacers and trotters were front and center on Saturday, July 27th as Balmoral Park presented its Southland Festival of Racing. A total of five championship tilts were contested with more than $290,000 in purse money up for grabs as the Prairie States top two and three-year-old pacers slugged it out in one of 2013’s biggest nights. Trotters kicked off the racing action with a field of seven diagonally gaited three-year-old colts and geldings battling in the $51,000 Kadabra Stake. Just as he’s done throughout his entire second season H. Bill Wright and Mystical Marker Farms King Mufasa proved to be way too much for this group as he trotted to a 1 ¼ length triumph in 1:55.2 for driver Mike Oosting. Unhurried early the gelded son of Powerful Emotion—Foxy N Diamonds settled in sixth as Semper Fit (Dave Magee) led the field through opening splits of 28.1 & 58.0. Oosting then put the Mike Brink trainee into gear as the field headed down the backstretch and the division leader responded beautifully, charging right by the pace setter on the final turn while taking the field by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:26.2. “We were going into a pretty decent wind there so I just allowed him to trot on as much as he wanted to,” said Oosting. “I didn’t even realize we were going a 28.2 third quarter. That’s how smooth he is.” Under a hand drive through the lane, King Mufasa turned aside a challenge from entrymate Powerful Poe (Todd Warren) as he reported home with his seventh win in eight starts this year. Powerful Poe was forced to settle for the runner-up role for the sixth time this year while Skyline Road (Casey Leonard) was third. “I was a little concerned when Powerful Poe came up alongside us but then he just took off again,” said a happy Oosting. “He knows what he’s got to do and he just keeps going out there and doing it. Not only is that a credit to him but to Mike (Brink) as well. He’s kept him quiet and sound all year long and he’s just as sharp now as he was early in the year.” With the win King Mufasa now has seven wins and one second in eight starts this year with earnings of $95,410. With no place or show wagering King Mufasa returned $2.10. Next up were two-year-old pacing fillies as a field of 10 youngsters squared off in the $65,000 Loyal Opposition Stake. After a furious stretch drive Engel Stable of Illinois ’ Thesleazyprincess gave Oosting his second stakes triumph of the night as she recorded a 3 ¼ length victory in 1:54.3. After rushing to the front after an opening quarter in 27.3 Oosting allowed a hard charging Fox Valley Amanda (Dale Hiteman) to grab command as the field reached the half-mile mark in 56.2. That pocket sitting journey nearly turned into a nightmare for the Nelson Willis trained miss as Fox Valley Amanda began to tire after passing the three-quarter mile mark in 1:25.1. “Those two up front (Fox Valley Amanda & Western Dame) were starting to tire and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get carried to the open stretch,” said a relieved Oosting. “That’s when I decided to back my filly off a little and we were able to get out of that spot.” Patiently sliding off the pylons with an eighth of a mile to go Oosting maneuvered the daughter of Sagebrush—Da Sleazy One three wide around her rivals and the long striding filly quickly swept past the tiring leaders for her second win in three career starts. My Little Bit (Casey Leonard) shook loose late and rallied to be the bridesmaid while favored Western Dame (John De Long) finished third. “That was a giant effort from a two-year-old filly,” Oosting commented in the winner’s circle. “I really wound up starting and stopping her three different times during that race but she still had an answer for them when she needed it most. That was huge.” The second choice in the wagering returned $5.00, $3.40, & $2.10 while upping her bankroll to $37,450. Oosting did not wait long to strike for a third time taking the $63,500 Mini Me Stake for two-year-old pacing colts in the next event of the night guiding Obermeier & Quaid Stables good looking youngster, PQ Three to a half-length triumph in a career best of 1:54.2. Floating away from post position nine Oosting had the son of Yankee Skyscaper—Sweltering underway as R Duneshine (John Roberts) and Traffic Cop (Todd Warren) battled through opening splits of 27.3 & 56.2. Picking up cover from Badger Quinn (Kyle Wilfong) as the field moved into the turn Oosting did not wait long to attack from his second over position, moving three wide as the field reached the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:25.3. “I knew Todd’s horse (Traffic Cop) was going to be tough to beat so I did not want to let them get away from us,” explained Oosting. “I would have loved to have sat in there longer but I wanted to be in top gear when we straightened up for home.” Setting sail for the wire the Erv Miller trainee paced home in 28.3 to secure his third win in five lifetime starts. Traffic Cop was a hard fought second while Badger Quinn held on for third. After the win Oosting was quick to praise Miller for the conditioning job on PQ Three. “Erv has done a nice job with this one,” said Oosting. “He was a nice horse the first time I ever sat behind him but he’s even better now. They’ve taken pretty much all of the equipment off of him and he’s very simply rigged now. He’s just an absolute pleasure to drive.” The 2-1 second choice returned $6.00, $2.80 & $2.20 while moving his record to 3-2-0 in five starts with earnings of $41,874.  Balmoral’s leading reinsman continued his “one-man-show” in the fourth event of the evening, this time guiding John arver’s Auniqueaquistion to a one-length victory in 1:53.1 to take the $60,000 Ann Vonian Stake for three-year-old filly pacers. Confidently handled by her red-hot pilot the daughter of Cole Muffler—Shessoluvabull made a bold move to the front after watching Feel Like Dancing (Kyle Wilfong) lead the field through an opening quarter in 28.0. Rolling through middle splits of 56.1 & 1:24.0 the Donna Lee Ozment trained miss was forced to brace for a first over challenge from her chief rival, Aliyah Maria (Todd Warren) as the field turned for the money. After gamely putting away that challenge Auniqueaquistion held firm the rest of the way for her seventh win in 10 starts this year. Feel Like Dancing came on again to finish a nice second while Dallas Jones (Casey Leonard) was third. “My horse was starting to get a little complacent on me so I had to get after her a little harder than I usually do,” said Oosting. “She really started to dig in at that point and I felt pretty confident we could hold off whoever was going to take a shot at us. That’s the big difference with her this year. She really gets after it in the last 200 yards or so and Donna’s done a great job with her after she had the heart issue a few weeks ago.” Now sporting a record of 10-5-0 in 18 career starts, Auniqueaquistion returned $4.00, $2.60 & $2.60 while upping her career bankroll to $240,985. The final stake of the night provided a bit of an upset as John & Mary Krasnican’s Big Brad, a 5-1 shot came flying through the stretch for driver Robert Smolin to win the $59,000 Incredible Finale Stake for three-year-old colt pacers in 1:51.2. Reserved through opening splits of 28.0 & 55.3 while Fancy Creek Elusiv (Dave Magee), Sage Ruck (Mike Oosting) and Mystical Walter (Casey Leonard) all took turns on the lead, Smolin finally worked Big Brad into the outer flow as the field reached the halfway point. “Ever since he tried to pull himself up while on the lead a few starts back I’ve been ducking with him,” Smolin explained. “I was hoping  that we were going to catch some decent cover tonight and I was pretty happy with the way he felt on the last turn.” Storming up three wide as Mystical Walter led the way past the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:23.2 the son of Henry Clay—One Sure Thing set sail for the wire. Flying home in 27.1 the Bob Phillips trainee picked off one rival after another while bobbing and weaving his way to his sixth win 14 starts this year. Sage Ruck came on again late to finish second while Crankin’ It Up (Kyle Wilfong) rallied to be third. After the win Smolin seemed a bit relieved that the journey resulted in a victory. “At the top of the stretch I was just hoping to be second or third,” he said. “My horse was running out at that point, then he started diving in on me. He didn’t know which line he wanted to be on. Once he finally decided to go straight he was as fast as he’s ever been!”  Big Brad returned $13.80, $6.80 & $5.40 while running his record to 9-4-7 in 23 career starts with earnings of $166,540. Stakes action continues on Sunday night with the $45,000 Fox Valley Evita Stake for three-year-old trotting fillies headlining the card. Post time on Sunday is 7:10 p.m. (central). Tom Kelley ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Big Brad and driver Bobby Smolin came flying through the lane to win the $59,000 Incredible Finale Stake in 1:51.2. King Mufasa continued his dominance of the three-year-old colt trotting set with an easy score in the $51,000 Kadabra Stake. Thesleazyprincess knocked off nine other two-year-old pacing fillies to win the $65,000 Loyal Opposition in 1:54.3. PQ Three won for the third time in five career starts as he rolled to victory in the $63,500 Mini Me Stake for two-year-old pacing colts. Auniqueaquistion gave Mike Oosting his fourth stakes win of the year as she knocked off nine rivals in the $60,000 Ann Vonian Stake.  

Almost half of Saturday’s 13-race card at Balmoral are ICF stake elimination races to decide the finalists for next weekend’s Southland Festival of Racing program. A fifth place finish or higher is needed on Saturday to advance to gain the ICF finals of the $65,000 Loyal Opposition for 2-year-old ICF fillies, the $65,500 Mini Me for freshman pacing colts and geldings and the $59,000 Incredible Finale for second season male pacers. The fifth race first division of the Incredible Finale came up strong with Cardinal champion Fancy Creek Elusive (programmed 3-1, Dave Magee), Hanover winner Mystical Walter (2-1, Casey Leonard) and last year’s freshman division titleholder Fox Valley Action (9-2, Todd Warren) all squaring off. They’ll be challenged by Monopoly Man (6-1, John De Long), Sage Ruck (6-1, Mike Oosting), Colechester (12-1, Dave Magee) and Bazooka (10-1, Kyle Wilfong. Only two of the seven starters will be eliminated. The second Incredible Finale split is headed up by the Cardinal runner-up Crankin’ It Up (5-2, Kyle Wilfong) and four-time season winner Big Brad (9-2, Bobby Smolin), second best to Latest Desire in last week’s Hanover open stake. Also looking for a berth in the final are Darth Quaider (9-2, Mike Oosting), Fox Valley Norman (6-1, John De Long), Silver Devil (6-1, Jamaica Patton), Mr Three Quarters (12-1, Casey Leonard, Kostas Wine (10-1, Dave Magee) and Sweet Water Jack (20-1, Brian Carpenter). As expected, eliminations were not necessary for either of the ICF 3-year-old trotting stakes. In fact only six horses—American Empress, Divination, Just For Fun, Kelsey’s Star, Little Ms Chrissy and Trot Fudge Sundae—will compete in the $45,000 Fox Valley Evita Final for fillies. The reigning colt division leader King Mufasa has eight challengers in the $51,500 Kadabra Championship: Fox Valley Camo, Fox Valley Dubai, Fox Valley Legend, Powerful Mel, Powerful Poe, Semper Fit, Showstopin Monkey and Skyline Road. Saturday I’ll highlight the ICF two-year-old stake eliminations for the Loyal Opposition for the gals and the Mini Me for the guys. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

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