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The venerable Fort Silky showed plenty of grit and determination in last night’s feature race at Balmoral Park, taking the “Winner’s Over” event in front-end fashion with a 1:51.2 mile, the harness racing 9-year-old’s 52nd career victory. Regular driver Casey Leonard rated the ICF pacer perfectly and when it counted in the lane, Fort Silky ($10.80) put away a stretch bid first by the pocket horse Best Man Hanover and later by the first-over Iam Bonasera to post a head victory. Sent off as the 4-1 third choice, Fort Silky out-sprinted Best Man Hanover for control. After a :27.4 first quarter Leonard was able to get away with a crucial 29 second breather while Travis Seekman was taking Iam Bonasera out of sixth and was at the winner’s bike at the :56.4 half--mile pole. Fort Silky kept Iam Bonasera out through the three-quarters, reached in 1:24.4. The Terry Leonard trainee looked he was going to get passed but the multi-stake Illinois bred champion came up with one of his “refuse to lose” efforts after a two-week rest and proved best for the second time in four season starts. Iam Bonasera took second while the 8-5 favorite Firstclassallthway, stuck inside in fourth most of the way, was a fast-closing third with his :26.1 final panel. Owned by Paw Paw, Illinois’ John Prentice and Neva Jane Keeler, Fort Silky has now earned $722,237 in his splendid career. Saturday Tidbits: John De Long and Mike Oosting each had a trio of winning drives on Saturday’s program while Casey Leonard had a pair of winners. . . Balmoral tallied its first $1 million-plus handle of the year when $1,019,198 was bet . . . The Saturday $1 Pick Four of 3-5-3-5 on the last four races paid off handsomely at $5,222. Mike Paradise  

Last night’s trio of “Winner’s Over” co-features at Balmoral Park saw Justice Jet continue his dominance in the trot division, Fort Silky show is back class against other older male pacers, and Wings bounce back in a big way in the harness racing distaff department, all on a Saturday evening with a wind chill of 14 below zero. Justice Jet’s triumph was his fourth in a row for the combination of driver Ryan Welch and trainer Roger Welch who shares ownership of the 4-year-old Indiana bred with Bo De Long and Pat De Long. Bet down to 30 cents on the dollar Justice Jet ($2.60) was settled into seventh and last in the early going while Ants Iner Pants took the field to a slow 59 first half. Ryan took Justice Jet out on the backside, raced his confident trotter first up and powered past at the 3/4 pole to end up 1 and 1/2 lengths ahead of runner-up Fox Valley Veto in the 1:56 mile. Despite an eight-week layoff the venerable Fort Silky came out in “ready to rumble” in the very next race and handled four other solid male pacers in comfortable fashion with a heady drive from Casey Leonard. The now 9-year-old ICF pacer was hustled out by Casey and grabbed a quick lead before giving it up to Cam B Zipper (John De Long) at the 26.4 first quarter. Fort Silky found himself out of second and into third when Major Monet came out and took over command into a very cold headwind and hit the half-mile pole in :56 flat. Casey then had Fort Silky on the move and the 1-2 favorite rolled into the lead near the 3/4‘s, reached in 1:24.4 and then held off a late-charging Lennox Blue Chip to post a neck victory. It was career win No. 51 in his distinguished career for Paw Paw, Illinois owners John Prentice and Neva Jean Keeler. Next up was the $9,400 “Winner’s Over” for fillies and mares and while Wing’s victory wasn’t a surprise, her $12 winning mutuel was when you consider that the Merle Finn Jr. trainee had won three consecutive top level distaff events before last week’s fourth place finish. Driver Tim Curtin used Wings aggressively and the 7-year-old mare sizzled on a very chilly night with the temperature at 5 degrees. Wings was scooted away from the outside seven-slot and dropped into third in the first turn. Curtin didn’t wait long to make another move with the mare, brushing her to the top and in control before the half-mile pole (:57.2). From there Wings just pulled away from her six rivals, posting a four and one-half length victory in 1:53 flat over the pocket-horse Just By Design. Later in the night two-time Super Night champion Iam Bonasera (Travis Seekman) was very impressive in his return to Illinois, coming from the back of the pack at the half to first at the finish for his new trainer Nelson Willis. The 8-year-old gelding paced a wicked :26.2 last quarter in his 1:54.1 mile. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

One of the major threats in Friday night’s third race conditioned pace feature at Maywood Park is the Don Laufenberg home-bred Financial Effort. The 6-year-old ICF mare joined the Terry Leonard Stable last November. The daughter of Yankee Skyscaper, out of Laufenberg’s broodmare Finance The Farm, has picked things up a notch ever since she was put on Lasix in her final start of last season, a winning 1:54.3 mile at Maywood Park. “We’ve had horses for Don Laufenberg off and on ever since I was a little kid,” sad her driver Casey Leonard. “I drove Financial Effort a little bit for Lloyd (trainer Daulton) and with him back in Kentucky Don sent the mare over for us to race through the winter. “The horse has some class to her. She had some lameness issues a couple of years ago and didn’t make a lot of starts (14) as a 4-year-old. I believe it was her knee.” As a 3-year-old Financial Effort captured the Ohyouprettything Stake at Balmoral Park (see picture) and later was second in her Grandma Ann elimination and the Thrifty Way stake and third in a Hanover under the care of trainer Lloyd Daulton. Her mother Finance The Farm was the 2003 Springfield and Du Quoin 3-year-old filly champion and also took her Grandma Ann elimination. “At times Financial Effort struggled a bit in the last sixteenth and maybe that’s because she might bled a little,” continued Casey. “We put her on Lasix in late December and that has seemed to help her. She has picked things up and really raced well last week.” Financial Effort dropped a nose decision to Muy Caliente a week ago in the Maywood Park feature  despite racing first up outside of the winner most of the last half-mile. Financial Effort drew the outside six-slot in tonight’s third race conditioned pace for non-winners of $8,500 in their last five races and will open as the 5-2 second choice in the program after the 8-5 favorite Feel Like Dancing (Kyle Wilfong). They’ll be challenged by Melodie Hotspur (5-1, John De Long), ER Monica (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Gentle Janet (4-1, Mike Oosting) and Triple Lane Melody (20-1, Brian Carpenter). By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

One of the bright spots the past few years in Illinois harness racing has been the well-deserved success of Casey Leonard who has risen in prominence to become one of the top catch-drivers on the Chicago circuit. The 37-year-old Harvard, Illinois native captured both the driving titles at Balmoral (204) and Maywood Parks (171) in 2014 and for the second consecutive year posted more dash winners in our state than any other horseman. Casey drove 385 winners last year. He posted 407 in 2013 with 562 more drives. Leonard’ horses earned purse money of $2.8 million and $2.3 million the past two seasons. It was only seven years ago (2008) that Casey did almost no-catch driving on the circuit, basically just steering the Leonard family’s horses. He had 19 winners that year before deciding to give catch-driving a try for the 2009 season at the age of 32, Casey went on to post 49 winners that season. Leonard vaulted to 184 winners in 2010, and had 235 and 231 in 2011 and 2012, going over the $1 million plateau for the first time in his career in those past two seasons. Casey’s mercurial climb up the ladder of success has surprised even himself. “I would be the first one to tell you that 10 years ago I never thought I’d be where I am today as a driver on the circuit.” The old proverb about “When Opportunity Knocks” certainly fits the narrative to Casey’s success. “The biggest thing for a catch driver is to make the most of your opportunities,” continued Casey. “When you do, you get better and better horses to drive.  It doesn’t mean you have to drive more aggressively, it means you have to take advantage of the opportunity and drive that horse accordingly.” “The last couple of years have been great. I’ve had the chance to drive some very good horses.” And Casey definitely took advantage of those opportunities. The late Chicago Cubs manager of the late 1960’s Leo Durocher once said: “Nice Guys Finish last.” Leo had no idea back then a guy like Casey Leonard would come along and prove him wrong. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

State-bred filly and mare pacers headlined the final night of the 2014 racing season at Balmoral Park as a field of seven distaffers squared off in the $15,000 Fox Valley Memory Stake. In what has been a very competitive division all season long John Barnard's Ryleigh's Lilly came up with a big effort to close out her four-year-old season as she powered to the top after the quarter and never looked back in route to a 1 ½ -length victory in 1:53.4 for Balmoral's leading driver Casey Leonard. Confidently handled by Chicago's leading reinseman, the daughter of Western Hero--Fox Valley Chosen came away fourth in the field of seven as Party Hangover (Ridge Warren) and State Street Liz (Robert Smolin) battled through an opening quarter in 28.2. Quickly hitting top gear as the field settled on the backstretch the Bill Crone trained miss charged from fourth to first in a flash, leading the field through middle splits of 57.2 & 1:25.2. With plenty in reserve for the stretch drive, Ryleigh's Lilly sealed the deal with a 28.2 final quarter while keeping her rivals at bay for her eighth victory of the season. State Street Liz held on for second while Just By Design (Dave Magee) turned a ground saving trip into a third place finish. With the win Ryleigh's Lilly closed out the 2014 season with a record of 8-4-6 in 35 starts while adding another $59,000 to a career bankroll which now stands at $82,538. Heavily backed at the windows the 4-5 betting favorite returned $3.80, $3.00 & $2.10. Balmoral also honored Leonard as the 2014 driving champion while longtime veteran Nelson Willis took home the 2014 training title at the Crete oval. Leonard, a third generation horseman who did not start driving regularly until 2009 ended the 2014 season with 204 victories at Balmoral Park easily outdistancing second place finisher Todd Warren by more than 60 victories. Leonard put up a U.D.R.S. of .330 at Balmoral while horses driven by him earned more than $1.38 million in purses. Willis, who also captured the training title here in 2012, finished up the 2014 season with 71 victories, 23 win ahead of runner-up Erin Elliott. With more than 500 starts at the meet, Willis put up a U.T.R.S. of .266 while his horses earned more than $563,000 in purses. Live racing resumes on Saturday, Jan 3rd. Post time is 7:10 p.m. (central). Balmoral will also race on Sunday, Jan. 4th before heading to a short break. Live racing will then return on Saturday, Jan 31st. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

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

The circuit’s leading driver Casey Leonard got the trip he was looking for and the veteran ICF pacer Fort Silky delivered when called on in Saturday night’s $15,000 Invitational Handicap Pace at Balmoral Park. The result was a generous $19.00 mutuel for the supporters of Fort Silky, the second highest price horse among the five betting interests in the fifth race Invite. As expected the 8-5 second betting choice Ice Scraper shot out of the assigned outside post, the 6 with the pre-post time scratch of Time To Roll (pp 1) and not surprisingly Casey urged the soon-to-be 9-year-old Fort Silky away from the inside, settling-in right behind the speedball.   The two Illinois bred pacers in the field of five raced one-two through from the first turn until the three-quarters as Ice Scraper (Brian Carpenter) cut fractions of :27.1, :54.3 and 1:22 flat with Fort Silky in the pocket with the first-over Mosee Hanover, coupled with Artache Hanover as the 4-5 post-time favorites, in good shape for the stretch drive.   Ice Scraper’s three week layoff started to take its toll in mid-stretch and Leonard ducked Fort Silky to the inside and started to pass the pacesetter. Meanwhile Oosting took Mosee Hanover to the outside of Ice Scraper and was also overtaking him.  Nevertheless Fort Silky’s ground-saving trip paid off as he fought off the charging Mosee Hanover and went on to post a three-quarters of a length victory at the end of the 1:50.1 mile It was the third win in four December starts for the Terry Leonard trainee owned by John Prentice and Neva Jane Keeler, both of Paw Paw, Illinois.   Firstclassallthway came on for third while Ice Scraper held on for fourth, beaten two lengths, in the Saturday headliner.   Fort Silky picked up the $9,300 winner’s share of the purse andt his owners secured another $1,800 bonus awarded to any ICF pacer that finishes first, second or third in an open race at Balmoral or Maywood Parks. The Ft Apache Hanover gelding now boasts career earnings of $705,567. A pair of $11,000 “Winner’s Over” events were the secondary Saturday features. In the seventh race filly and mare event Casey Leonard made another visit to the winner’s circle, this time with John Bernard’s late-charging 4-year-olf ICF mare Ryleigh’s Lilly. Sent off at 4-1 odds, Leonard ducked the Bill Crone trained mare in sixth in the seven horse field through the first half with Party Hangover taking the field to a :27.3 first panel and a :56.3 half. Casey followed up Dallas Jones in the last turn, tipped Ryleigh’s Lilly ($10.20) out at the top of the lane and the mare came up the middle of the track and [pwered past with a 1:52.2 clocking, her seventh victory of the season. The pocket horse Just By Design was second best, beaten 1 and 1/2 lengths, while the 3-5 favorite Always About Katey who raced third on the inside much of the way, shook loose for the show spot. One race later in the top-level trot, Justice Jet ($8.20) snapped Fox Valley Veto’s three race winning streak by getting past the 3-5 favorite in deep stretch and picking up a head decision in 1:55.2. After providing live-cover to Fox Valley Veto the last two weeks when Justice Jet finished in the runner-up role, this time driver Ryan Welch was able to get a second-over journey behind his rival while the 9-1 longshot Big Boy Lloyd led the field for the first three-quarters, reached in 1:27. The win was Justice Jet’s sixth of the year for trainer Roger Welch who shares ownership of the 3-year-old Indiana bred trotting gelding with Wisconsinite Bo De Long, Illinoisan Pat De Long and Michigander Gordon Wright. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

While this weekend’s harness racing rescheduled ICF stake Life’s A Holiday Trot came up again with insufficient entries and was scraped the circuit’s Race Office has brought back the $18,000 Sue Fee for older state-bred pacing mares. You might remember beck in the summer the Sue Fee stake was literally washed away along with the test of the Saturday, June 25th card when a severe storm rolled though Balmoral Park and torrential rains made the racetrack a river of water and unsafe to race. There are only two other stakes races in the season for ICF filly and mare pacers with a higher purse than the Sue Fee, the $118,000 Lorna Propes on Super Night and the $21,500 Parklane Powerful Ann Vonian in later July so rescheduling the Sue Fee for next Saturday is a big plus for the owners and trainers of ICF pacing mares. It’ll be interesting to see what mares that entered the supposedly shelved Sue Fee will re-enter for next Saturday. The field for the June 25 event had Prairie Granny, The Bruzilian Blur, Tamarac Sassy, Dune In Red, Auniqueaquisition, No Respect and Ryleigh’s Lilly. I expect Saturday’s $18,000 pot will see a full field of 10 for next Saturday, perhaps enough horses for the distaff stake to be split into two divisions. Earndawg Upset: Casey Leonard gave 6-1 longshot Mighty Hot Shot a two-hole trip behind the overwhelming 1-9 pacesetting favorite Earndawg and the Bill Crone trainee powered up the inside lane to produce a stunning upset in Saturday’s $10,000 Betzotic stake for ICF 2-year-old pacing colts and geldings. Earndawg came into the first race riding a three-race winning streak at included open company triumphs in Maywood’s Abe Lincoln and a division Hoosier’s Madison. The son of Sportsmaster also had won his last five starts against strictly other state-breds, including the Orange and Clue Colt Final on Super Night. Leonard hustled Mighty Hot Shot away from the four-slot and had the lead ahead of Earndawg (p.p. 1) going into the first turn. After an unhurried 29.3 first panel, Warren took Earndawg out of the pocket and to the top, hitting the half-mile marker in a dawdling 59.1. Warren was content to let the Roger Welch trainee coast through a leisurely 29 third panel but in the one-quarter mile “dash for the cash” the heavy favorite was out-sprinted by Mighty Hot Shot’s 26.4 last quarter giving him a half-length victory in 1:55.2 for Orland Park, Illinois owner John Bernard. Mighty Hot Shot came into the Betzotic with only 1 win in 13 freshman starts, a head victory against other maidens in mid-October. Katey Doesn’t Disappoint: A few races later Always About Katey, another 1-9 heavy favorite from the Welch stable driven by Todd Warren, put away stretch bids from first State Street Liz and later from Hello My Dream to post a 1:52.2 triumph in the $11,000 “Winner’s Over” for fillies and mares. It was season win No. 7 for the 4-year-old Indiana bred mare with over $780,000 on her card for Bo De Long, Pat De Long and Katey Mc Clymont. Another Herculean Effort: Casey Leonard took Celebrity Hercules out of the three-hole soon after the half-mile marker and the 9-5 second choice in the wagering went on to chalk up his eighth season victory in the $11,000 “Winner’s Over” Trot for trainer Eric Elliott and owners Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois. Fox Valley Veto came on to be second, beaten a half-length while the even-money favorite Justice Jet finished strong for third place money. The victory was No. 36 in the Celebrity Hercules career. The 8-year-old gelding now has almost $485,000 in lifetime earnings. Hot Mile on Cold Night: Snow flurries and a sub-freezing temperature (25 degrees) couldn’t cool off the speedball Ice Scraper from a 1:49.3 winning mile in the ninth race Invitational Pace for driver Brian Carpenter. Leaving from the outside eight-slot, Fort Silky and Kanaris made it hard on Ice Scraper to work his way to the front, getting there in a wicked 26.1 first panel. Kanaris sat in the pocket when the even-money favorite hit the half in a quick 53.3. Carpenter kept his foot on the gas pedal when Ice Scraper went past the 3/4 pole in 1:21.2. Brian kept after the Mike Brown trainee in the lane and the 5-year-old ICF pacer had something left in the tank, ending up 1 and 1/2 lengths ahead of the late-rushing Best Man Hanover for winning Connecticut owner James Behrendt. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The final stake of the season for Illinois conceived and foaled two-year-old pacing colts was contested on Saturday night at Balmoral Park as a field of seven youngsters met in the $10,200 Betzotic Stake. Division leader Earndawg was dispatched as the 1-9 favorite in the race but it was John Barnard's Mighty Hot Shot who earned the top honors as he rallied in the passing lane to earn a half-length decision in 1:55.2 for driver Casey Leonard. Given a perfect steer by Balmoral's leading reinsman, the gelded son of Hawaiian Cowboy left quickly from post four and proceeded to lead the field through an opening quarter in 29.3. With the heavy favorite getting antsy In The Pocket, Todd Warren pulled Earndawg and quickly charged to the top leading the field through middle splits of 59.1 & 1:28.1. After staving off a first over bid from longshot Dinky Dune (Kyle Wilfong) as the field moved through the stretch Earndawg appeared to be on his way to his ninth win of the season. But the Bill Crone trained Mighty Hot Shot still had plenty left in the tank after the golden journey, storming home in 27.0 to nail the favorite in the closing strides. Earndawg was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Dixie's Boy (Dale Hiteman) was third. The win was the second in 14 starts for Mighty Hot Shot who returned $15.40 & $2.40. Show wagering was not allowed. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

"Chalk" players were forced to sweat out the result of Wednesday's $10,200 Betzotic Stake for two-year-old ICF trotting colts but in the end 1-5 favorite Jake Quaider finally prevailed, getting up in the last stride to win by a head in 1:58.1 for driver Casey Leonard. Unhurried while sitting fourth in the seven-horse field as Powerful Above All (Mike Oosting) and RT Habenero (Dave Magee) traded blows on the front through opening splits of 29.4 & 58.1. Heading around the final bend Leonard tried to follow a hard charging Captain Greedy (JD Finn) as that colt made a powerful move to the top taking the field by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:27.2. Desperately trying to reel in the leader who was trotting along nicely with a 2 ½ length advantage at the mid-stretch call, the Nelson Willis trained son of Photo Color--Grace Elizabeth finally found his best stride with 100 yards to go. Gobbling up ground as a leg weary Captain Greedy tried to fight through a stiff headwind Jake Quaider finally poked his head in front in the last stride to win for the fourth time this season. Captain Greedy was forced to settle for the runner-up role while RT Habenero was third. With the win Jake Quaider now boasts a fine record of 4-2-2 in nine starts with earnings of $61,660 for Quaid Racing LLC. The winner returned $2.60, $2.20 & $2.10. Casey Leonard and Jake Quaider managed to rally in the final stride to win Wednesday's $10,200 Betzotic Stake at Balmoral Park. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

Quaid Racing's Jake Quaider continued his late season surge as he knocked off six other Illinois conceived and foaled two-year-old trotting colts by one and one-half lengts in Wedneday's $40,200 Cardinal Stake at Balmoral Park. The final time was 1:58.2. Confidently handled by leading driver Casey Leonard the altered son of Photo Color--Grace Elizabeth was placed in mid-pack while Powerful Above All (Todd Warren) led the field through splits of 29.2 & 59.1. Getting underway while following live cover from his main rival RT Habanero (Dave Magee) as the field moved around the final bend, Leonard was able to drop in right behind that colt as the pair quickly swallowed up a tiring Powerful Above All while rolling by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.1. Through the lane Jake Quaider effortlessly began to reel in RT Habanero, cruising right by that one while under very minimal urging from Leonard for his third win in eight trips postward. RT Habanero was forced to settle for the runner-up role while Captain Greedy (JD Finn) was a distant third, 5 ¼ lengths behind the winner. Now under the guidance of veteran conditioner Nelson Willis after starting his career in the barn of Ervin Miller, Jake Quaider boasts a record of 3-2-2 in 8 starts with earnings of $51,560. Bet as though defeat was out of the question Jake Quaider returned $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10. The 10-cent Hi-Five was not hit on the night's final race so there will be a carryover of more than $9,600 added to Saturday's Hi-Five wager at Balmoral Park. The Hi-Five, the "ultimate get-out" wager will be held on Race 13 on Saturday's Balmoral Park card. Casey Leonard and Jake Quaider made it look easy in Wednesday's $40,200 Cardinal Stake for 2yo trotting colts. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park  

Illinois conceived and foaled trotting fillies stepped into the spotlight on Wednesday night at BalmoralPark as a field of seven diagonally gaited youngsters battled in a $20,000 Lady Lincoln Land Stake Consolation. On paper it appeared to be a "one-horse race" and it turned out to be just that as Homer Hochstetler & Robert Buddig's Persuasive Look romped to an easy five-length victory in 2:00.1 for driver Casey Leonard. Reserved through the early stages, Leonard moved the daughter of Powerful Emotion--Black N Bluegenes into contention while following cover on the far turn. The Homer Hochstetler trained miss then simply blew right by the field while under no urging whatsoever from Balmoral's leading driver as she widened her margin all the way to wire while posting her third win in 10 career starts. Band's Muse (Rick Magee) turned in a nice effort to finish second while Butterthantherest (Pat Curtin) was third. Bet as though defeat was out of the question Persuasive Look returned $2.10, $2.10 & $2.10 while upping her bankroll to $79,924. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

After finishing in the runner-up role behind the undefeated Fox Valley Qatar the last two weeks Taylor & Robert Rietveld and Robert Taylor's RT Habenero picked the right night to turn the tables on the division leader.   He turned in a sterling effort to win the year's richest event for Illinois conceived and foaled two-year-old trotting colts taking Sunday's $97,000 Lincoln Land Stake by a widening four-length margin in 1:58.0 for driver Dave Magee. Firing off the wings of the gate from post seven for his Hall of Fame reinsman the gelded son of Armbro Tropicana--Heather Jenna grabbed control of the early proceedings leading the field through opening splits of 28.3 & 58.0. "With Fox Valley Qatar drawing outside of us I knew I needed to get my horse out of there in a hurry," explained Magee. "I wasn't necessarily dead-set on being on the front end but it worked out that way when another leaver made an early break so that's where we wound up landing." Moving around the far turn the unbeaten Fox Valley Qatar (Todd Warren) came flying up on the outside of horses, zipping right by the pace setting RT Habenero as the field reached the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:27.1. Never one to panic, Magee kept after RT Habenero through the stretch and the Robert Taylor trained youngster responded beautifully, reeling in the heavy favorite with a sixteenth of a mile to go and quickly drawing clear heading to the wire for his second win in nine career starts. Fox Valley Qatar was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Jake Quaider (Casey Leonard) shook loose late after a tough trip to rally for the show dough. When asked in the winner's circle if he was worried when the undefeated odds-on choice flew right by him nearing the top of the stretch the always calm and cool Magee responded in his typical laid back fashion. "My horse really wanted to "race" that horse when he came up alongside of us but I didn't want to use him up right then and there," said Magee. "I knew my horse still had plenty of trot left in him and it seemed like Fox Valley Qatar was really all out to get around us so maybe he wasn't at his best tonight. This horse has really been sharp in his last three starts and while he's not all that big he's got a great deal of grit and desire which he definitely showed out there tonight." With the win RT Habenero who returned $19.20, $4.60 & $2.80 now boasts a career record of 2-3-2 in nine starts with earnings of just over $67,000. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

The 5-year-old Sportsmaster mare Shez A Swift lately has been a very popular horse with both the betting public and the horsemen. The mare has been the favorite in her last five starts at Maywood Park and she’s won her last four outings and was claimed in each of those victories   Tonight Shez A Swift debuts in the third race for her newest owner Missel Garcia of Crete, IL after his trainer Harold Guerra claimed the mare a week ago. She was also claimed in her previous three winning starts.   The 9-5 programmed favorite has nailed down 11 wins this year, all at Maywood. Shez A Swift is looking for her 20th career victory in her 64th career start, with most coming at Maywood.   Shez a Swift was a $29,000 purchase as a yearling at the 2011 Walker Sale by the Joel Smith Stable and made two unsuccessful starts at Balmoral as a 2-year-old. Joel raced the filly as a 3-year-old 36 times with 22 of those at Maywood Park where she chalked up 6 of her 7 victories in 2013.   Smith started the mare 9 times this year at Maywood where she won twice before she was taken over by trainer Matt McKenzie. After dropping her first five decisions for her new barn, Shez A Swift started winning on a regular basis, taking 6 of 8 starts for the stable before she was claimed on August 21 for $4,000 by trainer Perry Smith.   One week later the mare won for Smith however he lost her in a $4,000 claimer to trainer Ronnie Roberts. Naturally she also won for Ronnie but she was re-claimed by McKenzie in that Sept. 5 triumph. Last week Shez A Swift got her nose in front to make it four in a row, all with Todd Warren driving, when Herrera decided to claim her.   The mare has got to be wondering which way she’s headed after tonight’s third race. My guess is in another different direction once again.    Favorites Fall: The first 2 of 10 American National stakes to be contested this season at Balmoral were raced last night and the public choices both went down to defeat.   The $57,200 filly division of a pair of 2-year-old trots saw Homer Hochstetler’s Persuasive Look ($10.20) rally past with Casey Leonard to post a 1:58 victory, a half-length ahead of Jazzie Mermaid.   The front-stepping 3-5 favorite Fox Valley Yoko weakened in the late going and ended up third, beaten two lengths.   The $73,000 American National for freshman colts and geldings saw the winner’s share of the purse leave town when Iron ($13.00), given a perfect pocket trip by Dominico Cerere, got his head in front at the end of another 1:58 mile, this one for trainer Frank Antonacci and his east coast owners.   SS Poseidon, who led from the half-mile pole until deep stretch, dead-heated for second with the 8-5 favorite KY Lucky. Both finished a head behind the Cantan Hall colt Iron who was making only his second career start. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The prestigious American National Stakes returned to Balmoral Park on Wednesday night with a pair of trotting events for two-year-olds sharing top billing on the nine-race program. The ladies opened the action with a compact field of six diagonally gaited specialists battling for a purse of $57,200. Returning to the scene of her lone victory to date was just what the doctor ordered for Homer Hochstetler and Robert Buddig's Persuasive Look as the filly reported home with a half-length victory in a career best of 1:58.0 for driver Casey Leonard. Content to sit near the back of the pack in fifth as heavy favorite Fox Valley Yoko (John De Long) cruised through splits of 29.2, 58.3 & 1:28.3 Leonard finally put the daughter of Powerful Emotion--Black N Bluegenes into contention as the field neared the top of the stretch. "They were going fast enough for my liking so I wasn't concerned about being back there," said the patient Leonard. "I had plenty of horse left and I managed to pick up some very good cover to bring us to the top of the lane so it worked out perfectly." Gradually starting to reel in a leg weary Fox Valley Yoko and the pocket sitting Jazzie Mermaid (Dave Magee) with a sixteenth of a mile to go, the Homer Hochstetler trained miss trotted by that pair in the closing yards in what looked like a replay of her big Fox Valley Flan Stake win here in late July. Jazzie Mermaid turned in a solid effort to finish second while Fox Valley Yoko held on for third. Sent off as the third choice in the wagering Persuasive Look returned $10.20, $5.20 & $2.20 while running her career slate to 2-2-3 in 7 seven starts with earnings of $66,374. Next up were the colts and geldings as a field of eight youngsters faced the starting gate with a purse of $73,000 on the line. Despite an eventful journey K R Breeding & Robert Rudolph's Iron prevailed by a hard fought head in 1:58.1 for driver Domenico Cecere. Hustled to the front from post four by Cecere the royally bred son of Cantab Hall-Ivory Lindy strolled through an opening quarter in 29.3. After allowing a hard charging SS Poseidon (Dan Shetler) to grab command on the backside a headstrong Iron was nearly climbing into the bike with Shetler as the field reached the half-mile mark in 59.0. "Things just kind of came to a very quick stop out there," said a relieved Cecere. "We were very lucky that my horse didn't run or worse yet have an accident." Things straightened themselves out heading around the far turn with SS Poseidon proceeding to lead the field past the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.1. Through the lane SS Poseidon continued to show the way as Cecere swung to the outside with Iron. That allowed a locked a loaded KY Lucky (John De Long) to move through in the passing lane, making for a thrilling three-horse stretch duel. With the three trotters spread out across the track Iron regained his best stride in the closing yards getting up the final strides to get his first win in his second career start. KY Lucky and SS Poseidon wound up in a dead-heat for second behind the victor. After the win a very happy Cecere explained his strategy in the lane. "My horse is still very green but he's a very talented horse as well," he said. "He's never been in the passing lane so I didn't want to take a chance at going down there with him which is why I swung outside. It took him a little bit to get his momentum going again but I didn't really urge him until the very end and he was just super tonight." After a third place finish in his division of the Kindergarten Stake at the Red Mile Iron was a bit overlooked in the wagering returning $13.00, $4.80 & $4.00 while moving his bankroll to $36,240. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park  

Crete, IL --- A pair of American-Nationals for 2-year-old trotting colts and fillies will be contested Wednesday night (Sept. 17) at Balmoral Park. In the $57,200 Am-Nat for fillies, trainer Homer Hochstetler will harness a pair of contestants, while in the $73,000 colt division, two youngsters will carry the colors of conditioner Erv Miller. Fresh off a trio of championship victories on Illinois Super Night (Sept. 13) at the Crete, Ill., one-miler, Miller sends out two lightly-raced freshmen: the gelding Jake Quaider and the colt SS Poseidon. This pair will face off against seven rivals in the one mile test, slated as the fifth race on the program. The latter is a son of Muscle Hill-Silverstar Volo who has earned $56,460 to date for the partnership of Paymaq Racing and Shim Racing LLC. Most recently he finished third, beaten only two lengths, in a $10,000 Kindergarten leg at The Red Mile on Sept. 11, clocked in 1:57.2 for driver LeWayne Miller. “They got away with cheap fractions early at Lexington and he was too far back and really didn’t get into the race until late,” Erv Miller said. “His best race was definitely the Reynolds at Tioga (Downs).” In the Reynolds on Sept. 4, Miller’s son Marcus steered SS Poseidon to a 1:57.1 lifetime best in wire-to-wire fashion, utilizing a :28.3 final brush to secure his first career triumph. “This colt is a homebred that Mike (Anderson of Paymaq Racing) and the Shim partners bred,” Miller offered. “They own the mare. He’s been a real easy colt all along to deal with. He does his work right and has a super attitude.” In just seven career starts SS Poseidon also has a trio of second-place finishes and one third to his credit, and has never missed getting a purse check for these connections. He also had two fifth-place finishes in his first two pari-mutuel starts at the Meadowlands, in a $20,000 Peter Haughton Memorial elimination and the $355,500 Haughton final. SS Poseidon is the first foal out of the unraced Andover Hall mare Silverstar Volo. Miller’s other youngster, the Photo Color-Grace Elizabeth gelding Jake Quaider, is owned by Quaid Racing LLC and has amassed $11,780 in three starts. He won his Balmoral debut on Aug. 31 in 1:57.4 by 2-1/2 lengths for driver Casey Leonard, and also has one second and one third-place finish to his credit. “The owners bought him as a weanling right off the farm from Kevin Miller,” Erv explained. “A few years ago they owned his sister, Maevey Gravy, who was a very nice 3-year-old. This colt was small and immature and we’ve been waiting on him a little bit. (Trainer) Mike (Arnold) got some jog miles into him over the winter and he’s just now learning how to trot. I think he’s got speed, but he just needs some more time to mature.” Jake Quaider is the fifth of six foals out of the Credit Winner mare Grace Elizabeth 2,2:09.2h ($19,503), and is a half-sister to Maevey Gravy (by Northern Kid) 3,1:55 ($190,110) and Graceful Spirit (by Psychic Spirit) 3,1:58.3 ($29,981). To date Miller has conditioned 4,541 winners to $66,845,174 in career earnings. Most recently he added an additional three Super Night Championships to his tally, bringing his crown total to 25, more than any other trainer in Illinois history. Trainer Homer Hochsteter sends out two fillies in the seven-horse distaff division, slated as race four. Fox Valley Harrah, owned by the Hunter family’s South Of The Track Racing, Inc. is a daughter of Pizzazzed-Hallie Rose who has earned $13,930 to date and will be looking for her first career triumph from the rail in the seven-horse field. Purchased for $5,700 from the 2013 Walker Standardbred Sale, Fox Valley Harrah has one second and one third in six lifetime trips postward. “Dr. Hunter and his son looked at her at the sale and she was not expensive, so we bought her,” Homer explained. “She’s been alright to work with and has had a few issues but overall she’s been okay. Her strong suit is racing off a helmet and she’s able to finish her miles very well. She’s not big on leading the parade but she’ll follow all day long. Her best race so far was at Springfield.” At the Illinois State Fair at Springfield on Aug. 14, Fox Valley Harrah trotted to a strong, second-place finish in rein to Matt Krueger, clocked in 1:58.1, with a :28 final brush. This filly is out of the unraced Sir Taurus mare Hallie Rose, and is a full sister to Fox Valley Hosana 2,1:59.2 ($52,530) and has half-siblings in Demeter (byCredit Winner) 2,1:59.2 ($75,346) and Fox Valley Helena 2,1:59.2 ($58,385). Hochstetler’s other charge is a homebred daughter of Powerful Emotion-Black N Bluegenes that the trainer and co-owner Robert Buddig christened Persuasive Look. A winner of $36,630 from just six starts, Persuasive Look has been on the board every time, with one win, two seconds and a trio of thirds. “She’s been sound all year,” Homer offered. “I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of her yet. She’s just been ultra-consistent and steady and you can do about anything with her. At this point she’s probably better tagging along rather than leading, but she’s a very nice trotting filly.” Persuasive Look’s lone but impressive win came on July 27 at Balmoral, when she captured the $44,000 Fox Valley Flan Stake in 1:58.2 for driver Casey Leonard. She used a :28.1 final brush to nudge between a pair of rivals, including Fox Valley Yoko, who is also in this event, to prevail by a length. Persuasive Look is the third foal out of the Muscles Yankee mare Black N Bluegenes, and is a half-sister to the mare American Empress (by American Native) 4,1:58.2f ($57,171). Hochstetler, 62, of Crete, Ill., has conditioned 1,663 winners to $18,919,443 in his career. He’s also driven 1,407 winners to $11,695,279 in career earnings and is recognized as one of the top trotting trainers in the Prairie State. by Kimbery Rinker, for Balmoral Park

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