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Illinois' top two-year-old pacers were in action on Friday night as a pair of state-bred stake events helped bring the curtain down on the 2015 harness racing season at Maywood Park.   Fillies kicked off the night's action with a compact field of five lining up behind the gate for the $20,500 Violet Stake.   Fresh off her win in the Filly Orange & Blue on Super Night division leader Char N Marg had no trouble disposing of this group as she hustled to the front from post three and made every call a winning one in a leisurely 1:58.0 for driver Casey Leonard.   Taking advantage of a break by Sara's Terror (Matt Krueger) as the wings of the gate folded Leonard sent the daughter of Sportsmaster-Zip Up Your Pans right to the top where she strolled through pedestrian like splits of 29.1, 1:00 & 1:29.1.   After shrugging off a first over bid from Sara's Terror as the field moved around the final bend the Nelson Willis trained miss was on cruise control through the lane as she paced under the wire with a 1¾ length decision. LK's Nancy Lee (Kyle Wilfong) turned a pocket sitting journey into a second place check while Sara's Terror did well to finish third after the miscue and the first over trip.   The win was the sixth in 12 starts this year for Char N Marg who returned $2.20 & $2.10 to her legion of backers while upping her career bankroll to $106,541 for Quaid Racing LLC.   A full field of eight freshmen pacing colts were entered for the $23,900 Cardinal Stake and once again the public was right on in this tussle as Nicole Potts' Royale Rose, the 2-5 favorite in the wagering went "right down the highway" for driver Matt Krueger posting a three-length triumph in 1:56.2.   Zipped away from post position two by Krueger the gelded son of Ashlee's Big Guy--Caribe Royal sped through the opening quarter in 28.2 before slamming on the brakes while leading the field through an opening half-mile in 59.2.   With pressure coming from a first over Dan D Dune (Mike Oosting), the top two were neck and neck as they raced by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:27.4. That's when the Lyle Scurlock trainee found another gear, quickly leaving his rivals in his wake on the final turn and then drawing away to his eighth win in 11 career starts. JB's Hero (Robert Smolin) shook loose late to rally for the place money while Wondrous Sport (Casey Leonard) finished third. Bet as though defeat was out of the question Royale Rose returned $2.80, $2.40 & $2.10 while upping his career earnings to $53,879. A couple of familiar faces toted home the 2015 driving and training awards as Mike Oosting, who is rapidly approaching 6,000 career driving wins, took home the driving title while David Mc Caffrey led the training ranks.   Tom Kelley

State-bred trotting fillies grabbed center stage on Sunday night at the harness racing meeting at Balmoral Park as a field of 10 diagonally gaited youngsters met in a $12,500 Lady Lincoln Land Stake elimination.    The top seven finishers will return for next week's $80,000 (est.) final, which is the richest event of the season for these Prairie State youngsters.   They will be joined by Shez A Devil Woman, Surviver Di and Awfully Emotional.   Taking advantage of a perfect pocket sitting trip after leaving from post position two Providence West's Vengeful returned to her winning ways as she trotted to a hard earned three-quarter-length victory in 1:59.2. Perfectly positioned in the garden spot as Powerful Princess (John De Long) carved out splits of 30.3, 1:01.2 & 1:30.4, Casey Leonard moved to the outside with the Kenny Collier trained daughter of Powerful Emotion--Over The Top with an eighth of a mile to go. Gradually wearing down the stubborn first time starter this year's Hanover Stake winner finally moved past the pace setter with 50 yards to go and began to draw clear in the shadow of the wire for her fourth win in eight lifetime starts. Powerful Princess turned in a very respectable effort in her career debut to be the bridesmaid while More Than Likely (Kyle Wilfong) finished third. Also gaining spots in the final were Fox Valley Honey, Praise Singer, Lilbitoftrixie and Swift Cougar. Heavily backed at the betting windows Vengeful returned $4.60, $3.00 & $3.00 while running her career earnings over the $25,000 mark.   Sophomore trotting fillies were also in action on Sunday night as a field of six ICF trotters battled in a $13,550 Lady Ann Reed Stake consolation.   Lynn & Barbara Wilfong's None Of That Stuff proved to be far too much for this field to handle as she powered up first over on the far turn then left her rivals in her wake while cruising to a 3½ length victory in a career best of 1:57.0 for driver Kyle Wilfong. She'z So Sassy (Todd Warren), the 6-5 favorite of the betting public finished a hard fought second while Divinely Floozy (Tim Curtin) was third. The Amanda Cope trained daughter of Designer Lindy--No Joshin returned $9.20, $3.80 & $2.60 while pushing her career bankroll over the $14,000 mark in this her first season of racing.   Tom Kelley

The definition of a war horse couldn't be more appropriate than for Fort Silky, who continues to impress harness racing fans week after week--despite being a healthy and hardy 9-year-old. What's the secret for his success?   Perhaps the key lies with his home life. The Leonard family--trainer Terry and driver Casey--have a long history of campaigning older horses. Fans will recall the tough Well To Do Guru, among others.   A winner of $781,376 in his career, the gelded son of Ft Apache Hanover has raced consistently since age three. He has been part of the Leonard team since late November 2012, and will be trying for career triumph 57 in Saturday's $92,000 Maurello Memorial for aged pacers at Balmoral Park.   Since joining team Leonard he's amassed slightly more than $500,000 for owners-breeders John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler--both of Paw Paw, IL.   "My father and uncle (Gary "Wiggles" Leonard) bought and paid for our farm by working with old sore claimers week after week--keeping them sound and racing," Casey, 38, explained. "They passed that program down to myself and my brother Ross and we continue with those today. It doesn't hurt that my dad shoes all of our horses himself, either. I think these kinds of horses respond well to our program, which includes a lot of fresh air, swimming and patience."   "Fort Silky has more guts than any other horse I've driven in the past," Casey continued. "He's the type that does the heavy lifting--he goes out week after week and grinds out the miles so other horses can sit in the pocket and benefit from his hard work."   "When I first got him, (Hall of Famer) Dave Magee came up to me and said, 'Fort Silky is one tough horse.' That's saying a lot--those words--coming from someone like Dave Magee, who has seen and driven all kinds of horses over the years."   This season Fort Silky has earned $56,709 from six wins, seven seconds and two thirds in 20 starts. Unfortunately, his last few races have been sub-par.   "I really wish this Super Night was either a month earlier or a month later from now," Casey admitted wistfully. "This horse just isn't himself. He's had a breathing issue and we just can't seem to get it under control right now. He's been on antibiotics and they're not helping him. I believe that it's part chronic allergies and part virus. If he steps up and wins Saturday, I can honestly say I'll be surprised."   Fort Silky was third in this same event in 2014, and second in the 2013 edition.   "The other side of the coin is that Fort Silky is another year older and another year less sound than he has been in the past," Casey assessed. "In addition, this year's race is made up of the toughest field of horses that I've seen in the last ten years. In the past, there were always one or two standouts that were going to be tough to beat, but this year, the whole field is outstanding. In fact, this field is made up of horses that could be an invitational field at any track in North America. That's how impressive it is."   Lifetime, Fort Silky has been behind the starting gate 226 times, with 56 wins, 51 seconds and 33 thirds. He recorded his career mark of 1:49.3 at Balmoral Park on Feb. 23, 2103 at age seven.   "He's gritty and he's tough," Casey said. "And he always gives 200 percent on the track. You can't ask for anything more from a horse so I would not count him out."   Tom Kelley

The 2015 Hanover Stake season drew to a close on Sunday, August 2nd with a pair of trotting events for two-year-olds sharing top billing on the 10-race harness racing program at Balmoral Park.  The "girls" kicked off the action in race three with a compact field of eight diagonally gaited fillies battling for a purse of $22,400.   Looking to avenge her first career loss after a break took her out of contention early in the mile in last weekend's Southland Festival of Racing Providence West Inc.'s Vengeful returned to her winning ways as she posted a front stepping two-length victory in 1:58.4 for driver Casey Leonard.   Eased to the front as Rocknprincessabbie (Todd Warren) led the field through an opening quarter in 29.3 Leonard guided Vengeful over to the pylons as the field settled for their journey down the backstretch.   Once in control of the proceedings the daughter of Powerful Emotion--Over The Top cruised through middle splits of 59.3 & 1:29.4. After turning aside a first over bid from Singing Hallelujah (Mark O'Mara) as the field turned for home, the Kenny Collier trained miss appeared to be on cruise control the rest of the way as she trotted home in 29.0 to notch her third win in four career starts. Rocknprincessabie settled for the bridesmaid role while Bombshell Betty (John De Long), who was parked the entire mile rallied for the show dough.   The 7-5 favorite of the betting public Vengeful returned $4.80, $3.00 & $3.00 while upping her career bankroll to $16,200.   Another Collier trainee pulled off the "shocker" of the night in the $26,300 Hanover for two-year-old trotting colts as Fear, a 41-1 outsider took advantage of some miscues by his rivals to post a 4¼ length wire to wire victory in 1:59.2 with Dale Hiteman at the controls.   Storming right to the front from post five Fear quickly opened up a five-length advantage as he led the field through an opening quarter in 29.2.   Hiteman finally managed to coral the headstrong son of Powerful Emotion--What A Volo through middle splits of 1:00 & 1:29.4. With the field tightening up as they neared the top of the stretch a first over Mr Strata (Mike Oosting) came calling to challenge Fear. That's when disaster struck for the 1-9 favorite Wrightwood (Casey Leonard) as the undefeated colt when on a gallop while moving up on the outside of horses.   Gamely turning aside the bid of Mr Strata, the Kenny Collier trained Fear seemed to find another gear through the final sixteenth of a mile drawing away to an impressive win in his second career start. Mr Strata was forced to settle for the runner-up role while Pastor Clint (Tim Curtin) was a distant third, 10 lengths behind the winner.   Dismissed at the windows after a fifth place finish in his debut Fear lit up the board at $85.00, $8.80 & $24.60 while taking home $13,150 for Providence West Inc. Tom Kelley

The 2015 Southland Festival of Harness Racing came to a close on Sunday night at Balmoral Park with a trio of state-bred events for diagonally gaited two and three-year-olds sharing top billing on the 10-race program.   The "boys" kicked off the action in race two with a compact field of six state-bred colts and geldings battling in the $36,500 Plesac Stake.   After back to back scores to kick off his career, Quaid Racing LLC's Wrightwood was bet as though defeat was out of the question and the 1-9 favorite never really gave his legion of backers an anxious moment as he trotted off to an effortless one-length decision in 1:59.3 for driver Casey Leonard.   Confidently handled by Balmoral's leading reinsman, the son of Powerful Emotion--Racy Roz settled in comfortably at the back of the pack as Mr Strata (Mike Oosting) led the short field through pedestrian opening splits of 30.4 & 1:01.2.   Hustling up on the outside of horses as the field moved around the final bend Wrightwood swept into command just before the field passed the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:30.4. Finding another gear as the field straightened for the money, the Nelson Willis trainee trotted home in 28.4 to make it three in a row to open what looks like a promising career. Mr Strata held on for second while JD Cheese (John De Long) shook loose late to rally for the show dough. With the win Wrightwood, who returned $2.20, $2.10 & $2.10 now sports a perfect three for three slate with $24,250 in earnings for his proud connections.   Freshman trotting fillies were next on the docket as a full field of 10 youngsters squared off in the $40,000 Fox Valley Flan Stake.   After several of the top contenders made breaks early in the mile, the Joel Smith trained Shez A Devil Woman took advantage of some slow fractions as she reported home with a half-length victory in front stepping fashion while stopping the clock in 2:00.4.   Whisked to the front from post position four by driver Dale Hiteman, the daughter of Powerful Emotion--Wealthy Women stepped through splits of 29.4, 101.2 & 1:32.0 while going along unchallenged on the front end.   With plenty still in reserve, Shez A Devil Woman kept the first over Rocknprincessabbie (Todd Warren) at bay through the stretch while also staving off a bid in the passing lane from Awfully Emotional (Mike Oosting) who wound up settling for a third place check.   After three straight second place finishes to open her career, Shez A Devil Woman returned $11.60, $4.00 & $3.40 while upping her career earnings to $24,500 for owners Anthony Munoz, Christopher Mroz and Marion Ratliff. Sophomore trotting fillies closed out the weekend's action with a field of seven lining up behind the gate to battle in the $39,000 Fox Valley Evita Stake. Proving once again that she's the one to beat in this very competitive division Homer Hochstetler & Robert Buddig's Persuasive Look eked out yet another victory, holding on gamely to win by a hard fought head in 1:56.4 for Casey Leonard.   Sent right to the top by Leonard, the home-bred daughter of Powerful Emotion--Black N Bluegenes carved out splits of 29.3, 58.3 & 1:28.0 while cruising on the front end. Poised for a thrilling stretch drive, which this division has provided several times this season, the Homer Hochstetler trained miss appeared to be collared by the pocket sitting Bi Polar Rose (Travis Seekman) with less than a sixteenth of a mile to go. Gamely fighting back in the final strides the good looking bay poked a head in front at the finish line to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Bi Polar Rose was forced to settle for the bridesmaid role on this night while Fox Valley Yoko (Kyle Wilfong) was a close up third in this heated battle. Dispatched as the 4-5 favorite by the betting public, Persuasive Look returned $3.60, $2.40 & $2.10 while running her career record to 8-6-5 in 24 starts with earnings of $136,492. David Baum

Illinois conceived and foaled harness racing action grabbed the Sunday headlines at Balmoral Park with a pair of state-bred events for diagonally gaited three-year-olds sharing top billing on the 10-race program.   The "boys" kicked off the action in race four as a field of eight colts and geldings met in the $8,000 Brandenburg Stake. Once again this figured to be a battle between the top two colts in the division, Captain Greedy and Fox Valley Qatar and the race lived up to the "pre-fight" hype with Captain Greedy and J D Finn getting up in the final 100 yards to win by three-quarters of a length while knocking off last season's divisional champ Fox Valley Qatar for the third straight time. The final time of 1:56 was a career best.   After taking the field through an opening quarter in 28.3 Finn elected to let a hard charging Fox Valley Qatar (Todd Warren) take command on the backstretch and that colt proceeded to lead the field through middle splits of 57.0 & 1:26.4.   Through the lane Finn angled the son of Yankee Valor--Tropical Trixie to the outside of horses eventually wearing down the favored Fox Valley Qatar with a sixteenth of a mile to go for his fifth win in eight starts this season. Fox Valley Qatar was forced to settle for the runner-up role yet again while Southern Special (Brian Carpenter) finished third, 4¼ lengths behind the victor.   Sent off as the second choice in the wagering the John D Finn trainee returned $5.60, $2.80 & $2.10 while running his career record to 14-5-3 in 25 starts with earnings of $94,796 for owners Charles Doehring and John D Finn.   The "girls" were next on the docket as a field of eight three-year-old fillies lined up behind the gate for the $8,000 Fox Valley Diva Stake. Continuing a nice mid-season run Homer Hochstetler and Robert Buddig's Persuasive Look overtook the early leaders in mid-stretch and drew off late to record a 2¼ length victory in 1:56.2.   Well handled by regular pilot Casey Leonard the daughter of Powerful Emotion--Black N Bluegenes left hard from post four then settled into the garden spot while Bi Polar Rose (Travis Seekman) and Tal Wi Wi (John De Long) traded blows up front through splits of 29.1, 57.2 & 1:26.1.   Moving to the outside as the field neared the top of the lane the Homer Hochstetler trained miss blew right by a tiring Tal Wi Wi to grab her third win in nine starts this year. Lc'snmotion (Mike Oosting) unleashed a nice late move to rally for the bridesmaid spot while Fox Valley Yoko (John De Long) was third.   With the win Persuasive Look now sports career number of 7-6-5 in 22 trips postward with earnings of $116,992. The 2-1 favorite in the wagering returned $6.20, $3.40 & $2.20 to her backers.   Tom Kelley

The 2015 Hanover Stakes continued at the harness racing meeting at Balmoral on Saturday, July 11th, with a total of 15 sophomore pacing colts squaring off in a pair of $21,775 divisions as the Grand Circuit action returned to the Crete oval. Pacing fillies were also in action with a field of eight slugging it out for a purse of $26,000 in another Hanover tussle. In the filly event Kristopher Heim, Connie Hochstetler and James Michels Southern Girl overcame a tough first over journey as she rallied in the closing yards to post a half-length victory in a career best of 1:52.4 for Casey Leonard.   Positioned in mid-pack as Ashok Ace (Mike Oosting) and then Lex (Kyle Wilfong) led the field through splits of 27.4, 56.1 &1:24.3 Leonard pulled first over from fourth as the field moved around the far turn.   Grinding her way to the lead, the Homer Hochstetler trained daughter of Sportsmaster-Biloxi finally overtook a game Lex who had been battling Ashok Ace tooth and nail, drawing clear in the final strides to notch her fifth win in 14 career starts in this her first season of racing. Ashok Ace was a  hard fought second while Sportsmuffler (Todd Warren) rallied to be third.   The third choice in the wagering managed to return a healthy $23.80, $6.20 & $7.00 while upping her career earnings to $32,517.   After yet another thunderstorm soaked the racing surface the first division for the pacing colts was contested. The wet surface did not seem to bother Strollin Stable, King McNamara, William Robinson and Country Club Acres Rise Up Now as the star of the Pennsylvania Sire Stake circuit splashed to a one-length victory in 1:54.1 for driver Don Harmon.   Leaving alertly from post seven, Harmon landed in the four-hole as Frosty Dune (Kyle Wilfong) and Major Ed (Todd Warren) battled through opening splits of 28.3 & 57.1.   Powering up first over on the far turn the altered son of Somebeachsomewhere--Northwestern managed to poke a head in front of Major Ed as the pacers moved by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:26.0.   Through the stretch, the Brian Brown trainee began to put daylight between himself and his rivals eventually reporting home with his seventh win in nine starts this year. Longshot Utah Beach (Ryan Anderson) turned in a nice late rally to get the place check while Lucpark (Mike Oosting) was a solid third after missing three weeks.   The co-favorite in the wagering, Rise Up Now returned $4.00, $2.80 & $2.10 while upping his bankroll to $124,812 with his huge sophomore campaign.   In the nightcap Harmon struck again this time guiding Gary Clark's Skim The Top to a thrilling nose decision in 1:53.0 over the sloppy track. Grinding it out in the middle of the pack while Feelnlikearockstar (Mike Oosting) put up fractions of 28.4, 57.4 & 1:25.1 Harmon finally tipped the homebred son of Geartogear--Schmoley off cover with an eighth of a mile to go. Gradually cutting into the two-length advantage of Feelnlikearockstar, the Krista Harmon trained colt managed to edge his nose in front in the last stride to nip the pace setter in a very tight photo. Feelnlikearockstar was forced to settle for the tough luck second place finish while Earndawg (Todd Warren) wound up with the show dough. Dispatched at odds of 9-2 Skim The Top returned $10.60, $5.20 & $3.60 while moving his career numbers to 3-4-2 in 17 starts with earnings of $63,914. State bred's are back in action on Sunday, July 12th with a field of six eight three-year-old trotting colts batting in the $8,000 Brandenburg Stake which goes as race four on the 10-race program. Their female counterparts will also take to the track in race six as a field of eight will renew acquaintances in the $8,000 Fox Valley Diva Stake. Once again the wagering action gets underway at 7:10pm on Sunday night and as always the $1 Pick 4 (races 7-10) features a $25,000 guaranteed pool. The 10-cent Hi Five also features a guaranteed pool now with a $15,000 guarantee on the line in the "ultimate get out bet" (race 10). Tom Kelley 

With a total of 13 freshmen pacing colts entered for Friday's Fox Valley Barzgar Stake at Maywood Park, harness racing secretary Doc Narotsky was forced to split the youngsters into a pair of $6,000 divisions. Both splits featured heavy favorites and the "chalk" players never had to break a sweat as 1--9 favorite DB captured the opener in 1:55.4 while 6-5 choice Wondrous Sport rolled to victory in 1:56.3 in the nightcap. Confidently handled as a 1-9 favorite should be, driver Pat Curtin sent DB right to the front from post two and the issue was never in doubt as the Herman Wheeler trained son of Yankee Skyscaper--Hopintosh led a single file field through splits of 28.1, 58.1 & 1:27.2. With plenty still in reserve DB sealed the deal with a 28.1 final quarter as he reported home with a 3¼ length verdict in 1:55.4. Fox Valley Aramon (Todd Warren) followed the winner's every move but was second best on this night while Eddie Eddie Eddie (Clifton Bell) was a non-threatening third. With the win DB has two victories and a third in three lifetime starts with earnings of $$5,401 for the partnership of Leroy Hunt and Milton Greer. The nightcap followed nearly the same script as Casey Leonard gunned Wondrous Spirit to the front where he proceeded to "steal" pedestrian like splits of 29.2, 59.1 & 1:28.0 then held firm through the stretch to record a 2¼ length win in a career best of 1:56.3. Dan D Dune (Mike Oosting) did a nice job of overcoming the outside post in the field of seven to finish in the runner-up role while My Man Red (Tim Curtin) was a distant third. The victory was the second in three starts for the Gary Rath trained son of Sportsmaster--Wondrous Grace who has banked $6,000 for owners Stephen Mc MacKin, Marily Kelly and Lorna Rousch. Tom Kelley        

After opening their harness racing careers on the mile oval at Balmoral, this season's two-year-old pacing crop had their first tests on the tight turns of a half-mile oval as Maywood Park played host to a pair of Illinois conceived and foaled stake events on Friday night. With a total of 12 freshmen pacing colts dropped in the box, the Enzo The Baker Stake was split into a pair of $4,000 divisions. The girls were also in action on the sloppy track Friday night as a field of seven was sent postward in the $5,000 Juxtaposition Stake.   In the opening division of the Enzo The Baker, the Kay Willis owned Dan D Dune rolled to an impressive 6¼ length victory in 1:59.0 for driver Mike Oosting.   Content to save ground in third while Sagebrush Sid (Pat Curtin) led the field through splits of 30.2 & 1:00 Oosting pounced on the pace-setter as the pair raced head and head by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.4.   Quickly opening up an insurmountable edge around the final turn the gelded son of Duneside Perch--Witch Hanover continued to widen his margin through the lane in route to his first career win. Eddie Eddie Eddie (Clifton Bell) who was forced wide by a breaking horse on the final bend still managed to rally in time for the place money while Dakota Road (Robert Smolin), salvaged the show dough despite a miscue in that last turn.   Hammered at the betting windows the Nelson Willis trained Dan D Dune, who was a $9,500 Classic Yearling purchase, returned $3.20, $2.10 & $2.10. The second division produced a wire to wire performance as Stephen Mc MacKin, Marilyn Kelly and Lorna Roush's Wondrous Sport used the inside starting spot to perfection leading every step of the way as he reported home with a 1½ length victory in 1:59.0. Given a confident steer by driver Casey Leonard the gelded son of Sportsmaster--Wondrous Grace shot right to the front from the pole position, putting up splits of 29.3, 1:00.3 & 1:30.2 while relatively unchallenged on the front end. With plenty still in reserve, the Gary Rath trainee kept his rivals at bay through the lane with a 28.3 final quarter to notch his maiden breaking victory. Sagebrush Sam (Kyle Husted) enjoyed a perfect two-hole trip but was no match for the winner while Fox Valley Aramon (Todd Warren) saved ground throughout the mile to finish third. The second choice in the wagering Wondrous Sport returned $5.20, $4.00 & $3.20 while opening his account.   The Juxtaposition Stake figured to be a showdown between Lexington Lady and Fox Valleytiramisu who had traded first and second place finishes in their first two meetings and it proved to be just that with Lexington Lady getting the better of her main rival on this night as she cruised to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 for driver Brian Carpenter. Gunned right to the top from post five the Hosea Williams owned and trained miss rattled off splits of 27.3, 57.0 & 1:27.3 while Fox Valleytiramisu sat right on her back. These two were some 10 to 12 lengths in front of the rest of the fillies for most of the mile and things were no different in the late going as the daughter of Lexington Legend--Stephie Kay drew off in the lane for her second straight stakes win. Fox Valleytiramisu (Robert Smolin) was a clear cut second while Burry Me Inthesand (Gary Rath) was a distant third, 11½ lengths behind the winner. Looking like quite the bargain buy for her proud owner-trainer the $2,500 Illini Classic Yearling purchase returned $2.60, $2.10 & $2.10 while running her record to 2-1-0 in 3 lifetime starts with earnings of $6,000.   Tom Kelley

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

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

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      

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

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

We’ve all read stories many times about a harness racing horse having a winning attitude, or a will to win. Just as some horses race with confidence and frequently come away with a victory, there are many others for one reason or another can’t get the job done. It could be they just aren’t fast enough or have some health issues that limit their ability. Maybe they would just rather be doing something else or just have gotten used to losing. Extended losing streaks far out-number extended winning streaks. There are some horses who never do make a visit to a winner’s circle. We have a couple of horses competing Friday night at Maywood Park that are still looking for their first victory, of any kind, at the age of five. In race six Friday the homebred Buttered Noodles is 0 for his first 61 starts. The ICF pacer does have a trio of second place finishes in his first 4 starts of this season including a head decision in his first start of the year with Casey Leonard, who will be at the gelding’s lines tonight. Maybe, just maybe Buttered Noodles will make that slippery first stop in a winner’s circle Friday night. While Buttered Noodles’ 0 for 61 may be an disheartening record it isn’t the worse in Friday’s sixth race. That less-than-distinguished honor goes to Bakesidebar Nlounge who is making his 80th career start and failed to get his maiden win in his first 79 tries for a trio of different trainers. The black ICF pacer does have 12 second place finishes and a dozen more thirds in his career. Baksidebar Lounge has been close at times (not this year), but still hasn’t enjoyed the “taste of victory” only the “agony of defeat.” The 40-plus Club: There are a number of horses racing Friday night that have won dozens of races in their career. In fact several of them have 40 or more with Blazing Fury (race 2) topping the list with 46. Just The Way Itis (race 11) has 44, one more than Speakin Creek’s (race 9) 43) victories Tamarac Sassy (race 5) has 42 and I Don’t Rember (race 7) comes in with an even 40. And the next win for Equinox Seelster will be his 40th. Downsizing: Thursday’s Maywood Park card has been reduced from 10 races to 9. Friday’s programs also have been scaled back by a race to 11. Horse for Course: Muy Caliente (Travis Seekman), who is 3-for-3 this season at Maywood and 8-for-8 elsewhere, is the 7-5 programmed favorite in Friday’s fourth race co-feature for fillies and mates. The 6-year-old Gary Fatland trained mare will take on Sealark Hanover (12-1, Casey Leonard), The Right Move (4-1, Todd Warren), Gimmeazzmooch (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Incredible Filly (7-2, Tim Curtin), Molly Go Lightly (8-1, Mike Oosting) and ER Monica (12-1, Dean Magee). Sizeable Carryover: There’s a $6,551 carryover on Maywood Park’s 20 cent Pick Six that begins race with its first race Thursday and concludes with race six. By Mike Paradise

The now 10-year-old ICF mare Tamarac Sassy is in the homestretch of her harness racing career and it’s only fitting she begins her final season at Maywood Park, a track where she has flourished. Tamarac Sassy makes her 2015 debut Friday night in the eighth race, a low-level conditioned pace where the Terry Leonard trainee will open as the 3-1 programmed second choice with regular pilot Casey Leonard at her lines for owner Neva Jane Keeler of Paw Paw, Illinois. The daughter of Us And Them was bred by Neva’s late husband Jerald Grevengoed and raced for Grevengoed until his untimely death in 2012. Tamarac Sassy was sent to the Leonard family in December of that year where she got better with age, earning $105,732 in 2013. Among her 13 wins that year was the $47,868 Aged Violet stake at Maywood Park with Casey. Tamarac Sassy’s has racked up 42 lifetime victories and made over $320,000 as she heads into her 10-year-old campaign. All but five of the mare’s triumphs have come on the circuit’s half-miler. Becoming a mother could be right around the corner for the mare. “This year will probably be it for Tamarac Sassy,” said Casey “She’s 10 now. I don’t know if she’ll make it through the whole year but we’ll just see how it goes. “We talked to Neva and told her that we would be interested in breeding her and she seemed to like that idea” Tamarac Sassy earned $31,426 last year but only about $1,500 of that amount came in the last three months of the year. “The mare didn’t regain her form after Super Night last year,” added Casey. “But we were happy with her (1:58.3) qualifier a week ago. We’ll just see how it plays out as the year goes on.” Friday’s eighth race 5-2 morning line favorite Sister’s Keeper (p.p., Mike Oosting) who takes a class drop in search of her initial season win for the Merv Chupp Stable. Tamarac Sassy’s stable-mate MJ’s Last Dance will also make her initial season start Friday in race 11. The 7-year-old has been off since mid-December. She finished second in last week’s Maywood qualifier when she was timed in 1:56.4. “MJ’s Last Dance is another mare who prefers Maywood,” said Casey. “She usually does well there in the low and middle conditioned races but when we have to take her to Balmoral to fit a condition, it’s a different story, After a typical good first start there she usually tails off. The mare doesn’t like their long stretch.” MJ’S Dance is listed as the 7-2 second favorite in the co-featured 11th race for fillies and mares without earnings of $8,000 in their last five starts. Gary Fatland’s Muy Caliente (Travis Seekman) is the 2-1 programmed choice. Muy Caliente comes off s pair of strong finished where she was third best at higher levels at Balmoral. The 6-year-old mare proved best in last two starts at Maywood Park at Friday’s same level. They’ll be challenged by ER Monica (programmed 8-1, Dean Magee), Misspanderpsajones (12-1, Ridge Warren), Financial Effort (12-1, Kyle Wilfong), Gentle Janet (15-1, Todd Warren), Molly Go Lightly (9-2, Mike Oosting), and Melodie Hotspur (6-1, John De Long). By Mike Paradise

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