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Sophomore pacing colts kicked off the 2015 stakes action at the harness racing meeting at Maywood Park on Friday, May 15th as a compact field of six ICF three-year-olds met in the $8,000 Gosox Stake.   The youngsters showed some rust early on in their first foray over the half-mile oval but when the smoke cleared it was Rocco Ruffolo's Lucpark, the even-money choice in the wagering who emerged with a half-length triumph in 1:55.2 for driver Mike Oosting.   Leaving from the outside post in the field of six, Lucpark actually wound up in a decent spot as Oosting guided him over to the pylons in fourth as both Dixie's Boy (Casey Leonard) and Casey At Bat (Tim Curtin) committed early miscues. That left Rockin Cassinova (Todd Warren) to stroll through leisurely early splits of 29.1 & 59.1. The action began to heat up as the field moved onto the backstretch for the final time with Oosting rushing the Erv Miller trainee up to engage Rockin Cassinova. These two were head and head for the lead as they began to separate from the pocket sitting Dakota Roadster (Robert Smolin) while charging by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:27.3. Around the final turn Lucpark managed to poke a head in front of the pace-setter eventually putting that one away as the field turned for home.   The gelded son of Sportsmaster--Treasure The Best was not out of danger yet though as Dixie's Boy, who spotted the field 11 lengths at the opening station because of his miscue behind the gate, came charging up four-wide to throw a scare into the "chalk players" but the wire came just in time for Lucpark as he held on for his first win in three starts this season. Dixie's Boy was an impressive second considering his journey while Dakota Roadster finished third. With the win, Lucpark who returned $4.20, $2.40 & $2.10 now boasts a career record of five wins, two seconds and three thirds in 16 trips to the gate with earnings of $82,480 for his proud owner. Tom Keeley

While there were insufficient entries to card the ICF Sportsmaster stake Friday night at Maywood Park it turns out we will get to see some of the promising 3-year-old stake bred harness racing pacing colts this weekend after all. Lucpark, Rockin Cassinova, The Big Sleazy and Fox Valley Elijah, all ICF stake champion as freshman—will compete in Saturday’s sixth race conditioned pace but they’ll have to compete against open-company pacers, some older. Governor’s Cup champion Lucpark (programmed 9-2, Mike Oosting) and Orange and Blue Consolation winner The Big Sleazy (6-1, Casey Leonard), both Erv Miller trainees, are making their 2015 debuts. Rockin Cassinova (10-1, Bobby Smolin), winner of last year’s Downstate Classic at Charleston, and Yates Eagle stake victor Fox Valley Elijah (10-1, Matt Krueger) have one sophomore race under their belt. The morning line favorites are Why Ask Why (Ridge Warren) and Jackson’s Image (Todd Warren) at odds of 3-1 and 4-1, respectively. Both the $8,000 Iggy Magoo stake for 3-year-old ICF trotting colts and geldings and the $8,000 Betzotic for state-bred sophomore pacing fillies will be raced Sunday, along with the $9,400 “Winner’s Over” Trot Maywood Champ Returns: In Over My Head, the 2009 Windy City Pace champion as a 3-year-old will make his 2015 debut at the age of nine in Friday’s tenth race mid-level conditioned race for the Terry Leonard Stable. In Over My Head landed the outside 8-hole in the 9-horse field, nevertheless he’ll open as the 3-1 choice with Casey Leonard in his first start since late last November. The son of I Am A Fool spent a good portion of last year in the Balmoral Park Invites where he did post a 1:50 flat victory among his 6 victories.. In Over My Head has banked almost $350,000 for his owners Greg Carey of Mineral Point, Wisconsin and Shawn Swenson of Atlanta, Georgia. Tommy Guns ‘em Down: It was the “Tom Simmons Show” yesterday afternoon at the Springfield qualifiers. The veteran downstate horseman sent out nine horses among the four qualifiers contested and drove the winning horse from his barn in each, mostly romps in the park. The 3-year-old Get Rockin was 11-plus lengths the best in 1:57.2, Catch The Wave, another 3-year-old, dominated 1:56.2, by 12 and 1/2 lengths, veteran Sporty Gypsy 1:56.2 put him 2 lengths ahead of Mystical MJ, another Simmons trainee and the current star of the barn Time To Roll posted a 1:53.2 mile, 9-plus lengths in front of Simmons’ Fox Valley Van. Mike Paradise

Veteran harness racing trainer Perry Smith will start his stable’s three newest additions at Maywood Park on Thursday or Friday—Shez A Swift, Make It Work and Golden-Nugget. All were recent $4,000 claims and each will compete at the same level for the 2014 Chicago Circuit defending trainer champion. All three pacers do share one very important characteristic—they have been frequent visitors to the half-mile track’s winner’s circle, and not just this year. Thursday’s starter, the 5-year-old ICF mare Shez A Swift, has four wins this season at Maywood Park and notched all 14 of her 2014 victories at the Melrose Park, Illinois facility. Make It Work, Friday’s fifth race starter for Smith, who I’ve dubbed “Chicago’s Claiming King,” has had his last 33 first-place finishes all at Maywood and most came at the $4,000 claiming level. The 9-year-old ICF veteran has 5 this season, 10 in 2014, 4 in 2013, 10 in 2012 and 4 in 2011. The last time he won at race elsewhere was at Balmoral in October of 2010 for Mark Fransen, his original trainer. Perry’s sixth race horse Friday is Golden-Nugget who has been claimed in his last five consecutive starts all at the same $4,000 price tag. The 5-year-old Sportsmaster gelding rattled off six straight victories at Maywood earlier before his last two races when he was second and fourth. Golden-Nugget is making his second go-around for Smith. The Crete trainer took Golden-Nugget in his March 26 win off of trainer Loralee Johnson, raced him the following week, naturally a win, but lost him to trainer Gerald Longo, who lost him a week later to trainer Jose Morales, who lost him to Perry. All three newly acquired Smith owned and trained pacers are the morning line favorites in their respective upcoming races. Shez A Swift opens at odds of 9-5 Thursday. Make It Work (Mike Oosting) is at 5-2 first flash odds, and Golden-Nugget (Todd Warren) is the 9-5 early choice from the one-slot. Four Not Enough: When four ICF pacing colts and geldings entered Friday’s scheduled Taser Gun the stake was passed over from the card. A surprise entrant for the Taser Gun was last year’s Governor’s Cup champion at Du Quoin Lucpark who hasn’t been out since his second place finish in Maywood’s Abe Lincoln freshman stake in mid-October Lucpark earned over $76,000 for his Chicago owner Rocco Ruffalo, The Erv Miller trainee also notched victories in his Orange and Blue and Mini Me eliminations. In addition to Lucpark, entered for the Taser Gun were Casey At Bat, Dakota Roadster and Rockin Cassinova. Hopefully the Taser Gun will be written back by the Race Office for next Friday and raced either as part of the regular card or as an early non-wagering race. We don’t need any more of our ICF stakes, smallish in purse money as they may be, to be discarded. Qualifiers Update: Among the horses who won their qualifiers Tuesday morning at Balmoral was the 3-year-old ICF gelding Gifted By Nature (Todd Warren), the younger brother of two consecutive Orange and Blue Colt champions, Dutch Richmond in 2010 and Zall Good in 2011. The Roger Welch trainee was five lengths the best in his 1:56.4 qualifier preparing for his 2015 debut. The fastest of the seven qualifiers were a pair of 1:56.1 clockings by a off-springs of Sportsmaster, the 3-year-old Du Page’s Ztam (Casey Leonard) and the 5-year-old Joyful Game (Artie Dick). Both Gifted By Nature and Du Page’s Ztam are eligible for Super Night. Mike Paradise  

Dandy Farm’s Firstclassallthway will likely be the odds-on harness racing favorite to pick-up his 40th career victory and the 8-year-old’s 11th at Maywood Park in Friday’s ninth race conditioned pace feature. The 8-year-old gelding is listed as the 8-5 morning line choice with Mike Oosting in the bike against five other pacers—Cuatro Cinco (programmed odds of 12-1), At Max Speed, (8-1) Gypsy Leather (10-1), Montero Blue Chip (5-2) and Desperado Alibi (3-1). Firstclassallthway owns a half-dozen lifetime triumphs in Balmoral Park Invite’s. Earlier this year Firstclassallthway won back-to-back “Winner’s Over” on the Crete, IL big track  in 1:51.3 and 1:50.3, over the likes of Iam Bonasera, Fort Silky and Ice Scraper. Trained by Jim Ellison for his Glenview, Illinois owners, Firstclassalthway comes into Friday’s race with $371,545 on his card and a lifetime best mile of 1:49.3. The Pick 6 wager carryover pool at Maywood Park is now up to $16,833 after no one again had a winning ticket last week. The 20 cent wager starts off with Thursday’s first race and goes through race six. On Their Way: Lucpark and The Big Sleazy, a couple of well-regarded ICF 3-year-olds, are expected to arrive on the local scene soon after qualifying nicely at the Southern Oaks Training Center in Florida last Thursday. The Big Sleazy finished a neck ahead of Lucpark in their qualifier, both hitting the timer in 1:56.3 preparing for their season debuts. Lucpark, an Erv Miller trainee, captured the Governor’s Cup last year in his freshman season when he earned over $76,000 for his Chicago owner Rocco Ruffalo. The lightly raced The Big Sleazy (2 for 8) captured the Orange and Blue Colt Consolation last Super night for trainer Nelson Willis and owner- breeder Marty Engel of Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Qualifying Update: The Mike Brown Stable’s Alwybreakinhearts (Todd Warren) and Del Chupp’s veteran Dontgetbyme (Kyle Husted) turned in the fastest two qualifiers on a very windy Tuesday at Balmoral Park. The stewards allowed one second off qualifying times with winds whipping up at 30 mph on the 46 degree chilly morning. The 4-year-old Alwybreakinhearts was three lengths the best in his 1:57.3 mile while the 10-year-old Dontgetbyme was a whopping 16 lengths ahead of his nearest foe in a 1:57.3 qualifier, pacing the last quarter in a quick 26.3, the fastest last panel among the five qualified contested. Former WCP Champ Back:  Going to the gate in the second of two Thursday qualifiers prior to the start of the regular at Maywood park card is the 2009 Windy City Pace champion In Over My Head for the Terry Leonard Stable. The now 9-yerar-old gelding is expected to make his first start of the year at Balmoral Park in early May at Balmoral Park where he was a 1:50 flat Invite winner in 2014. Qualifiers will be held at Springfield, Illinois today (Thursday) beginning at 1 p.m. Mike Paradise

One of the recurring 2-year-old ICF stakes on the harness racing schedule is the Fox Valley Barzgar, slated this year to be raced at Maywood Park on July 10. The freshman event for state-bred pacing colts and geldings honors one of the fastest  two-year-old pacers of all time, Fox Valley Barzgar, who took his record of 1:50.2 with Tony Morgan in winning the 2006 edition of the $410,000 Woodrow Wilson at The Meadowlands. A son of Incredible Finale, out of the Sportsmaster dam Slammin Annie, Fox Valley Bazagar’s front-end  victory by three lengths made him the first and only ICF pacer to capture the most prestigious 2-year-old colt stake at The Big M. Fox Valley Barzgar was an $11,500 yearling purchase at the 2005 Fox Valley Standardbred Sale in Sherman by Illinoisans Shawn Nessa (Du Quoin) and John Boyer (Fairfield). The colt began his career winning a $750 purse at Du Quoin in late May with a 1:56 clocking and was sent to Hawthorne to compete in their $41,500 World Series where he was knocked off stride by a breaker as the even-money choice. After a dominating 8-plus length win his Balmoral qualifier in 1:55.2, trainer Tom Harmer purchased Fox Valley Barzgar for his Loudonville, New York owner Michael Polansky. The youngster immediately because a success for Harmer. On July 8, 2006 Fox Valley Bazagar drew away to a 1:52 flat mile in a $29,000 division of a Hanover, pacing the last quarter in 26.1 for Dave Magee. His next start was three weeks later in his Woodrow Wilson elimination. He was sent to the front by driver Tony Morgan and cruised to a 1:51 victory by three-plus lengths. A week later was his record setting 1:50.2 mile in the Wilson Final. After that memorable race Morgan told the media: “He’s a good colt and he was well prepared. I was so shocked that he was so relaxed tonight. He was on the bit last week. He felt like he’d do whatever you wanted to do tonight.” Fox Valley Bazagar came back to Illinois for the $40,000 Governor’s Cup at Du Quoin where he was again impressive, scoring by 7 lengths in 1:51 with a last quarter in :26.4. “Barzgar” stayed perfect for the Harmer Stable by crushing his Orange and Blue elimination field by 6 and 1/2 length in 1:52 with Magee. However, it was a different story in the $285,000 O&B Final. The 4-5 favorite was parked out through sizzling fractions 26.2, 54.1 and 1:22.3 and ended up a non-threatening third to the 2006 O & B champion Home Bed Advantage (Ryan Anderson). That mid-September stake was “Barzgar’s final race as a 2-year-old. The colt wouldn’t win again until the summer of 2009 and “Barzgar” didn’t make a pari-mutuel start as a 3-year-old. The son of Incredible Finale had a very imposing 16-plus winning qualifier (1:55.3) at Pompano Park in mid-April but then got sidelined “with a serious bacterial infection in intestinal track,” trainer Tom Harmer revealed. The horse qualified in mid-June at Maywood in 1:56.2 with plans to enter Hawthorne’s $60,000 Chicago stake on June 28 but the start didn’t materialize. “Barzgar” made a there unsuccessful starts in 2008 at the age of 4. After a half-dozen unproductive starts in 2009 the horse was shipped out East where he had 7 wins in 2010 while banking over $50,000 and added 4 more victories in 2011 including a 1:51 mile at Chester. The horse joined Walnut Hall LTD in Lexington and began standing stud there for the 2008 breeding season. Staying Hot: Sunday’s third race 8-1 longshot winner Hotmones (Kyle Wilfong) was an $18.40 Mike Paradise Price Shot selection. By Mike Paradise

Tripoli Stable’s Kanaris is the heavy even-money morning line favorite to get a repeat harness racing victory in Friday night’s Maywood Park’s ninth race featured ninth race. The 5-year-old gelding was an easy 1:53.3 front-stepping winner last week for driver Travis Seekman, the 24-year-old son of the horse's trainer Joe Seekman. While Kanaris had to work hard (:27.4 first quarter) to get command a week ago from the seven-slot, he’s in great shape this time around to be in control with the track’s coveted one-slot.. Last year Kanaris pulled down almost $125,000 for his Norridge, Illinois owners. Among his 6 triumphs was a Scioto Downs track record 1:48.3 mile for a 4-year-old gelding on the Ohio five-eighths oval. Among his chief rivals in Friday’s conditioned pace is Lydia Carpenter’s Desperado Alibi (7-2, Brian Carpenter), back on his favorite track after a trio of unsuccessful races at Hoosier Park. The Merl P’Pool trainee left Maywood Park with three consecutive victories, the last 2 in Friday’s same conditioned pace level for non-winners of $8,000 in their last 8 starts. Looking for an upset win are Montero Blue Chip (5-1 Casey Leonard), Quatro Cinco (15-1, Bobby Smolin), At Max Speed (5-1, Mike Oosting), Gypsy Leather (15-1, Ran Anderson) and Galactic Star (8-1, Todd Warren). The Pick 6 wager carryover pool at Maywood Park continues to grow. No one hit the 20 cent wager again last Thursday so it’ll start off with a $13,721 pot in tonight’s first race. The wager encompasses races one through six. Trainers Bob Phillips and Jim Eaton each had a pair of horses finish first in qualifiers Wednesday morning at Balmoral Park and Phillips horses were dominate with 23-year-old Mississippi native Clifton Bell at their lines. Phillips 3-year-old Boys Around Here showed his heels to the other 7 horses in the first qualifier, drawing off by almost 11 lengths with a 1:56 flat mile. Two qualifiers later Bell took Rockin Ron to an 8-length victory in 1:54.3, the fastest of the five morning qualifiers. Eaton’s Account Hanover (Tom Curtin) was a 1:56 flat front-end winner in his qualifier and Mosse Terror (John De Long) followed with a 1:55.3 mile, overtaking his pacesetting stable-mate Artache Hanover and the second place finisher Alwysbreakinhearts, Both of Eaton’s pacers are owned by Michigander Robert Silberberg. The Nelson Willis Stable’s Lima Real Easy (Mike Oosting) breezed in the other Wednesday qualifier with a 1:58.1 mile. John De Long is in Indiana Friday night. The 26-year-old Wisconsin native will drive four Jim Ellison trained horses on the card including Dandy’s Filly in the Hoosier Park Extreme Velocity Series for filly and mare pacers. The Doe, one of only three ICF filly paces entered for Friday’s scheduled Desperate Lady stake, is a starter in Thursday’s first race. The other two entrants—Southern Girl and Lex, the one-two finishers in last Saturday’s Direct Balance stake—are off this week. By Mike Paradise

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

Party Hangover, a Super Night champion as a 3-year-old, returns to action Friday night at Maywood Park after a three-month layoff. The now 6-year-old ICF mare season is the 6-5 morning line favorite in the second race, a mid-level conditioned pace for fillies and mares. Owned by Ken Rucker and trained by his wife Catrina, Party Hangover will leave from the two-post with Travis Seekman, who qualified the mare a week ago at Maywood when she was timed in 1:56.1 behind the winner Lets Drink On It. “Party Hangover had a good month off, just like most of our horses,: said Catrina Rucker. “We blew her out Tuesday and she looked good.” In 2012 Party Hangover captured the $159,000 Grandma Ann Championship with John De Long, who drove the daughter of Party At Artsplace for his father Jesse, then the trainer. Party Hangover went on to take the ICF 3-year-old filly division honors in 2012 with over $160,000 in purse earnings. Prior to her Super Night triumph she won both the Springfield Final and Du Quoin’s Time Dancer. Party Hangover was bought in early July of 2014 by Rucker who raced the mare the first six months of the year out east, mostly at Yonkers. When she did return to her home state in late June the mare rattled off six consecutive victories between Balmoral and Maywood, including the $21,400 Parklane Powerful crown. The talented mare put $91,501 on her card for 2014 and boasts career earnings of almost $320,000 and 29 lifetime wins heading into Friday’s second race. The Rucker Stable is also starting their mare Sexy Card Shark Friday. The 5-year-old comes off a disappointing sixth place finish a week ago at Balmoral. “Sexy Card Shark has some breathing issues that we are working on to straighten out,” continued Catrina, “She’s had breathing problems throughout her career. Last year she did do better at Maywood.” Contract Breach Thursday’s program is back up to 10 races and Friday’s card is at its normal 12 after being cut by the Maywood Park Race Office last week, a clear violation of its contract with the IHHA. In Item No.40 of the current contract states: “LICENSEES must schedule a minimum of 10 races on Thursday 12 races on Friday, 12 races on Saturday and 10 races on Sunday in each week for which they have been awarded four (4) days of race programs. LICENSEES must schedule a minimum of ten (10) races in each race program. Changes to all of these scheduling requirements will require mutual agreement of LICENSEE and the IHHA and approval by the IRB. The Maywood Race Office did not get permission from the IHHA to cut the number of races on last week’s programs, a clear violation of the current contract. Last Friday’s Maywood handle of $610,939 on 11 races was well below (about $138,000) the previous two Friday March handles of $782,146 and $715,501 on 12 race cards. While short fields were the root of the problem for last Friday’s handle dip, the elimination of a race certainly was also a major contributing factor. The Pot Thickens: The Pick 6 Carryover Pool at Maywood Park has grown to $6,496. The 20 cent wager begins on the first race Thursday and goes through race six. By Mike Paradise

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

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

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

Fox Valley Devious was one of the premier ICF pacers at the beginning of this century when the Illinois bred harness racing program was still going story. The talented Tom Harmer trainee was regularly driven by Tony Morgan. After a modest freshman campaign where the son of Sportsmaster out of the Ideal Fresh mare won 4 of 11 starts and banked a little over $20,000, Fox Valley Devious flourished with back-to-back seasons where he chalked up 11 wins in each and raked in over $160,000 as a 3 and 4-year-old for owners Ciara Stable (IL), Michael Polansky (NY) and Neil Silverman (FL). In his sophomore campaign, Fox Valley Devious captured the Complex Series Consolation at the Meadowlands that January before shipping back to his home state at the end of March. The gelding was the 2002 Maywood Pacing Series champion, taking both the Associates and Egyptian Stakes championships. Earlier that year he posted a 1:52.4 victory in the $100,000 Maywood Pace (Maywood Park Photo). Fox Valley Devious was a terror Maywood Park, his home base track, triumphant in six consecutive races there, all ICF stakes or Opens. As a 4-year-old Fox Valley Devious continued to dominate the competition at Maywood Park, at one time winning another six straight on the half-mile oval. After successfully defending his Egyptian Stake title, the pacer knocked off more tough competition in five consecutive ICF Opens there. Fox Valley Devious streak at Maywood would end in the Associates stake in late November of 2003 when the horse was hung out for most of the mile leaving from the six-slot and ended up third behind Parklane Power and Constant Change, the one-two finishers. Health issues limited Fox Valley Devious to only six starts in 2004 as a 5-year-old. In 2005 he won at Open and a leg of the Isle of Capri stake winner at Pompano Park with Morgan. After a 15 month absence from to Maywood he returned there in April of 2005 as a 6-year-old and was third in an ICF Open won by Constant Change. Fox Valley Devious would go on to race until the age of 12 into 2011 season. The popular Chicago circuit pacer ended up with 43 career victories, purse earnings of $569,716 and a mark of 12:50 flat, taken as a 3-year-old in his Springfield Colt Stake Elimination. 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

With the start of Spring only a week away let’s take a look who has fared well on the local harness racing circuit the first couple of months of the 2015 Winter. The leading stable as we go into Thursday’s action may be a bit of a surprise. It’s Brett Wilfong (pictured) who is off to a hot season start, The Donovan, Illinois horseman has had 21 of his horses finish first as we head into the middle of March Brett’s 13 winners at Maywood Park ties him for the top spot with Perry Smith, who took last year’s training title at the half-mile track. Wilfong’s 8 victors at Balmoral Park has Brett tied for third best at the Crete, IL big track with Jim Ellison. Balmoral’s defending trainer champion Nelson Willis is on top there with 14 winners, followed by Bob Phillips with 9. Perry Smith rounds out the current Balmoral Top Five with 6. At Maywood Wilfong and Smith are followed by trainers Angie Affrunti and Gary Fatland, both with 7. Dave McCaffrey, Terry Leonard and Albert Kopiec each have 6. Wide Open Features: Friday’s co-features at Maywood Park are a pair of medium level conditioned paces, one for colts and geldings and the other for fillies and mares. Both have no-clear cut favorite. The Maywood morning line has two Tom Simmons trainees as the early choices The pair will race uncoupled because of different ownership. Long Term (Date Hiteman), a winner last week stepping up in class, opens at 2-1 while his stable-mate Real Hero (Casey Leonard), a nose short last time,  is at 5-2 first flash odds. Expect Desperado Alibi (Brian Carpenter), coming off a game win last week and with the pole position Friday, to also get plenty of play at the betting windows. The same goes for Don’t Worry B Happy (Mike Oosting) who is listed at generous 10-1 odds in the program. The Willis trainee proved best at Friday’s class two weeks ago. Also going postward in the non-winners of $8,000 in their last 8 starts are Some Heart Throb (8-1, Kyle Wilfong) and Total Sin (12-1, Lavern Hostetler). The 10th race for distaffers is another where 3 or 4 horses could be vying for most of the public’s choice. Last week’s front-stepping winner Incredible Filly (Tim Curtin) is listed at 3-1, Melodie Hotspur, a bridesmaid in her last four outings, is next at 7-2. Financial Effort (Casey Leonard) follows at 9-2 with Molly Go Lightly (Mike Oosting) at 6-1. The latter got bottled up behind a wall of horses and finished full of pace but much too far back to reward her backers. Steph’s Place (Todd Warren) who steps up after popping for her new barn a week ago is at 8-1. The 6-year-old ICF mare was claimed for $4,000 by Smith in her last February start after capturing 5 of her first 6 outings for the Terry Leonard Stable. She’ll start off at liberal 8-1 odds. Completing that field are ER Monica (15-1, Dean Magee), Misspanderosajones (12-1, Ridge Warren), Sealark Hanover (15-1, Sam Widger) and Gimmeazzzmooch (10-1, Dale Hiteman). By Mike Paradise

Despeardo Alibi, the grey gelding who paced up a storm at Maywood Park in the last few months of 2014 before heading to New York, is back home. The now 5-year-old pacer looks well placed for his local season debut in Friday’s tenth race, a mid-level conditioned pace for non-winners of $4,000 in their last five starts. Desperado Alibi rattled off victories in his last 4 starts of 2014 at Maywood and 7 of his last 8 on the half-miler with Brian Carpenter at his lines. The son of Gunthatwonthewest is owned by Brian’s wife Lydia and trained by Merl P’Pool. Desperado Alibi made only three starts at Younkers during his six weeks in New York, earning $2,000. “We just couldn’t get the horses started there,” said Brian. “The east coast kept getting clobbered with snow and it seemed most times when he was scheduled to race the Yonkers card had to be canceled because of bad weather, so we brought him back home.” Desperado Alibi arrived in Illinois last week. “I‘ve trained him since he got back and he’s trained well, said the 55-year-old Indiana native. “He looks like he’s in a good spot Friday and should do okay.” What’s ahead for Desperado Alibi? “We’ll just play it by ear for now,” replied Brian. One of Desperado Alibi’s foes in Friday’s 10th race is the Merv Chupp Stable’s Master Of Desire, who landed the one-slot in his first start in seven months. The 8-year-old Real Desire gelding breezed with a 1:53 clocking last June for Chupp in his only career start at Maywood Park. Master Of Desire won 4 of 5 starts from the middle of last May to mid-June for Chupp, including a 1:50.4 mile in a non-winners of $15,000 last 5 event where he beat the likes of Holdingallthecards and Major Monet. That win earned him a couple of unsuccessful starts in Balmoral’s Invites. Master Of Desire tailed in July and health issues kept him on the sideline ever since. Friday night he’ll open as the 7-2 third choice behind Desperado Alibi (5-2) and Fox Valley Norman (3-1, Todd Warren) They’ll be opposed by CS Eye (programmed 6-1, Kyle Wilfong), Cotton Eyed Joe (12-1, Bobby Smolin), Gypsy Leather (10-1, Dale Hiteman), Donald Himself (15-1, Casey Leonard) and Powerful Pilot (8-1, Mike Oosting). Horse Shortage: No less than 16 of the horses competing on tonight’s (Thursday) Maywood card are back in to go Sunday night at Balmoral. A total of 63 horses are scheduled to race Sunday so that means 25% of them will do so on three day’s rest.  By Mike Paradise

HINSDALE, Ill. - Juniors and seniors from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences took the reins this month at Maywood Park in Chicago's near west suburbs when they job-shadowed local harness racing trainers for a day. All students participating in the shadow days are seniors and juniors who gain hands on experience by working directly with trainers and horses. High School Junior Paulina Arellano studies animal science and hopes to one day work in the horse racing industry. Paulina said that during her trip she and the other students "learned a lot about what exactly happens to the horses, trainers, and workers off the horse track." In 2010 The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences embarked on a Standardbred breeding program spearheaded by local horse owner Denny Pietranduono. The school's first yearling was sold in 2013 for $6,200 at public auction. The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association is a vocal supporter of the breeding program at the High School and was eager to help students learn more about horse racing. "It was a great opportunity to spend time with young people who are excited to learn about the horses and the sport," said IHHA President Dave McCaffrey. "Even though Standardbred trainers are part of the agricultural community in Chicago, we don't always think about them that way. These students were a reminder that even in a big city, agriculture and agribusiness employs people and supports the economy." Arellano said that her favorite part of the trip to Maywood Park was when students were allowed to jog a horse around the track. "To me, it was like heaven," she said. "Because I love race horses and working with them." McCaffrey said that the IHHA is excited to participate more with students in the animal science program at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. "It's great to see the passion in the students' faces," he said. "I think it helps remind us of why we got into the business in the first place." Andrew Mack

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