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As the leading trainer on the circuit in 2014, like many of his colleagues, Perry Smith has had to become more than just a conditioner of horses in his endeavor to make a living in Illinois. “I’ve had to claim my own horses to try and go on in this business,” said the 63-year-old veteran trainer who had more winning horses (117) in last year’s combined Balmoral and Maywood trainer standings. “Looking for horses to claim for myself is what need to do for now days to keep going. “With the price of everything now days the profit margin of just training a horse for somebody on the Chicago circuit just isn’t there. Let’s face it those days in Illinois for trainers are over. For me to go on the best I can and try to make a profit as a trainer I’ve gone to claiming more horses for myself or with another owner. “I’m just trying to get by the best way I can and right now that looks like the best way for a (Illinois) trainer. All I can do is hope that things in Illinois will finally get better for horsemen.” Many of the leading trainers in Illinois such as Nelson Willis, Dave Mc Caffrey, Bob Phillips, Roger Welch, Joel Smith, Mike Brink, and Merv Chupp to mention just a few have become owners of a good portion of the horses in their stable in their attempt to make a go of it in our state. “I’ve been in the business a long time.” continued Perry. “Training horses is what I do. I’m not a young man anymore who is looking to make a career change and there isn’t anything out there waiting for me.” The recent subzero weather that hit the Midwest didn’t play havoc with Perry or his stable. “That severe cold weather couldn’t have come at a better time for me. We had good weather right up to the time we stopped racing. I’m in Florida right now taking a little planned vacation so the bad weather that hit the Chicago area didn’t affect the plans with my horses.” Live racing on the circuit resumes Thursday, January 29 at Maywood where Perry was the leading trainer and on Saturday, January 31 at Balmoral where Nelson Willis took the conditioner’s crown for a second time. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

With live racing set to resume in about two weeks Balmoral & Maywood Park have announced the initial qualifying dates and entry times for the Chicago area standardbred tracks. Balmoral Park will host qualifiers on Wednesday, January 21 and Wednesday, January 28 at 11:00 am (central). Entries for these qualifiers will close on the Tuesday before each date at 10:00 am. Maywood Park will host its qualifiers on Thursday January 22 at 11:00 am. Entries will close Wednesday, Jan. 21st at 10:00 am. When live racing resumes at Maywood Park on Thursday, Jan. 29th, qualifiers will be held prior to the live race cards every Thursday night. Horses must show a satisfactory racing line within 45 days in order to race at both tracks. The first draw will be Monday January 26 at Maywood for the Thursday, Jan. 29th card and the Friday, Jan. 30th program. Balmoral Park will draw on Wednesday January 28 for the Saturday, Jan. 31st card. As reminder, Balmoral Park will be dark for live racing on Super Bowl Sunday, February 1st. Tentative plans call for Maywood to conduct 10 race cards on Thursday's and 12 races on Friday's. Balmoral will go with 12 race programs on Saturday's and 10 races on Sunday nights. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral-Maywood Park

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

For a number of years the Chicago circuit harness racing programs carried combined driver and trainer statistics along with the individual Balmoral Park and Maywood Park standings. While that hasn’t been the case since the last decade, I thought it would be interesting to see what last year’s combined circuit standings for drivers and trainers would look like, so I did some researching. Since Balmoral raced one more day a week than Maywood, there were over 400 more races on the big track in Crete, IL than the circuit’s half-miler. In some cases there was a significant disparity in wins for a driver or a trainer at the two local tracks however in many instances that can be easily explained. For example Dave Magee drove at Maywood only on stake nights in 2014, going 6-for-42 there. Balmoral Park based trainers Roger Welch merely had 7 starters last year at Maywood compared to 187 on his home track, while Bob Phillips sent 391 horses to the post at Balmoral compared to only 46 at Maywood. Springfield conditioner Mike Brink had a little more than a handful (7) horses go postward at Maywood compared to 299 at Balmoral where he won 18 races. On the other hand long-time Maywood Park trainer kingpin Dave Mc Caffrey started 395 horses on his home base and had just 37 compete at Balmoral. Combined 2014 Chicago Circuit Standings Drivers                        Bal.      May.    Circuit Wins Casey Leonard            204      171      375 Todd Warren               139      132      271 John De Long              129      101      230 Kyle Wilfong                 60       92       152 Dale Hiteman               83       38       121 Bob Smolin                  94       25       119 Dave Magee                108        6       114 Travis Seekman            58       50       108 Ryan Anderson             30       75       105 Dean Magee                 52       41         93 Brian Carpenter            41       50         91 Pat Curtin                    39       26         65   Trainers                      Bal.      May.    Circuit Wins Perry Smith                 40       67        107 Nelson Willis                71       27         98 Erin Elliott                   48       36         84 Dave McCaffrey            3        64         67 Terry Leonard              31       28         59 Joel Smith                   37       19         56 Bob Phillips                  47        7         54 Bill Crone                    38       16         54 Roger Welch                39         3         42 Brett Wilfong               17       25         42 Ronnie Roberts            27       14         41 Erv Miller                    16         3         39 Mike Brink                  38         0         38 Angie Affrunti             16        20        36      Anthony Munoz          16        19         35 Mike Brown                28         4         32 Art Gregory Jr.           13        18        32 Merv Chupp               20        10         30 Alex Adam                 25         4         29 Joe Seekman             17        11         28 Curtis Rice                  5        21         26   by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

For a while last summer the ICF mare Shez A Swift wasn’t sure which way she was headed after a race. In a span of eight starts the daughter of Sportsmaster was claimed no less than six times and she was successful no matter whose barn she raced out of. In early October she was claimed back by Maywood Park based trainer Matt Mac Kenzie a third time where she not only has found what looks like a permanent home, but the mare has risen from the $4,000 claiming ranks into a high-end conditioned paces on the half-miler. Friday night she takes on a solid field of fillies and mares in the $8,400 headliner for non-winners of $8,000 in their last five starts. While Shez A Swift’s lifetime best time of 1:56 (at Maywood) is anywhere from 2 to 5 seconds slower than the marks of the other mares in the field, her 14 wins in 2014 are more than twice than any of her 11th race opponents. In the category than means the most to any horse owner, Shez A Swift has really shined. In 38 starts last year she missed only two checks and despite spending three-quarters of the season in low-end claimers she put over $41,000 on her card. Shez A Swift made two starts as a 2-year-old spent her entire 3-year-old campaign for the Joel Smith Stable. She raced for Joel until she was taken by Mac Kenzie in a non-winners of 6 races/$8,000 claiming event in mid-May, winning 6 times in 13 starts for Matt. Trainer Perry Smith claimed her for $4,000 in late August and won with her but loss her that night to conditioner Ronnie Roberts the next week. She left a winner in her lone start for Roberts when she was claimed back by Mac Kenzie, again for $4,000 and again won but was taken by Harold Herrera. Naturally she won for Herrera the next week only to see Roberts re-claim her. Shez A Swift lasted only more two starts for Roberts. Mac Kenzie took the ICF mare back when she was dropped into a $4,000 claimer in early October and has had her Swift ever since. With the rugged company she’s facing tonight Shez A Swift (Todd Warren) will open as a 10-1 longshot from the 4-slot in a 9-horse field. Blazing Fury (3-1, Sam Widger) and Auniqueaquisition (9-2, Kyle Wilfong) and MJ’s Last Dance (7-2, Casey Leonard), the starters from posts 1, 2, 3 are the program choices. Post 5 through 9 will be manned by Mystical MJ (15-1, Brian Carpenter), Gentle Janet (12-1, Mike Oosting), Financial Effort (6-1, Ridge Warren), Fox Valley Touche (15-1) and Rev Me Up (8-1, John De Long). Sunday Treat: The $11,000 “Winner’s Over” trot, a Saturday staple for many weeks, was moved to Sunday and will head-up the last Chicagoland circuit live racing program until Thursday, January 28 at Maywood Park. The fifth race Sunday feature consists of (in post-position order) Time Outa Jail (Casey Leonard), Salutation Hanover (TBA), Ants Iner Pants (Ryan Anderson), Clever Upstart (Dave Magee), Fox Valley Veto (John De Long), Master Of Excuses (Mike Oosting) and Justice Jet (Ryan Welch. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

Chicago, IL December 24, 2014 – Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. and Maywood Park Trotting Association, Inc., two of the oldest horse racing venues in the country and the only harness racing tracks in Illinois, announced today that each has voluntarily commenced Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization cases in Chicago. The filings are in response to a judgment entered against the tracks on December 11, 2014 in favor of the state’s four largest riverboat casinos. The suit arises out of 2008 legislation, which extended a 3% tax on these casinos’ adjusted gross receipts and was found constitutional by a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court decision in 2009. The tax was designed by the Illinois Legislature to impose an impact fee on the riverboat casinos and direct these funds to the horse racing industry, including all five Illinois racetracks and the horsemen racing at these tracks. The purpose of the impact fee was to offset a portion of the financial losses the tracks and horsemen incurred when riverboat gambling licenses were granted in the Illinois sanctioned and regulated gaming marketplace. Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. and Maywood Park Trotting Association, Inc. will appeal the judgment, while also seeking to reorganize under the protection of Chapter 11. Balmoral and Maywood Racetracks intend to continue normal operations and race schedules throughout the process. Both tracks assure customers, horsemen and suppliers that they will continue to offer the superior facilities and experience they have provided for decades. The filings are necessary to preserve the value of the businesses and to ensure continued operations, Balmoral and Maywood Racetracks remain critical to the Illinois Horse Racing Industry. They provide jobs, opportunities and enjoyment to thousands of people. The tracks are Chicagoland institutions and help promote tourism and agriculture in Illinois. The voluntary Chapter 11 filings will give the tracks sufficient breathing room to continue working through the process. All of their efforts are focused on concluding this process in an efficient and successful manner. The tracks intend to work with all key constituents to conduct an orderly restructuring to maximize their asset values and to emerge from Chapter 11 in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. by Mike Belmonte, for Balmoral/Maywood Park   ..            

Illinois horsemen braved the inclement weather Monday night to attend a General Horsemen’s meeting concerning the “atom bomb” that was dropped on our industry by the recent $78 million verdict against Balmoral and Maywood Parks and one of their chief executive officers. Although all questions were addressed, because of the unique circumstances, many definitive answers were simply unavailable at this time. IHHA President Dave McCaffrey did a superb job of explaining to horsemen the entire plight of the Illinois harness racing situation after a recent jury took only three hours, after a five day trial, to rule in favor of the four river boats and their lawsuit against Balmoral, Maywood and John Johnston. Nevertheless, McCaffrey went on to tell all, at this time, no one knows what kind of a future is in store for Illinois harness racing. And for that matter, if we’ll even be racing after this weekend.   “You can expect Balmoral/Maywood and John Johnston to file for bankruptcy this Wednesday and first day motions will begin the following Friday or Monday.” “From that point on, the only thing certain regarding Illinois harness racing is that nothing is certain.” “I am confident that we will be racing this weekend. After that, I’m about 70 per cent certain that we’ll race the first four days of January, but that’s a decision the Illinois Racing Board will make,” continued Dave. “We have a contract that we will honor with the two racetracks through June 30. However, the bankruptcy judge may or may not cancel that contract. Right now we just don’t know what the judge will or won’t do.” Lawyers from the IHHA, the two races tracks, the four casinos awarded the $78 million judgment and perhaps other interested parties, will begin filing motions in Bankruptcy Court on the first day of the proceedings. Then sometime between 5 and 15 days thereafter the judge will rule on those motions.   At this time the entire future of Illinois harness racing is “up in the air.”   A few significant points that McCaffrey tried to explain to the group was that total monies earned for 2015 horsemen’s purses (derived from all mutual handles such as the racetracks, OTB’s, ADW’s, etc.) is expected to total between $11 and $12 million. However, recapture will devour almost $5 million or about 45% of that. It’s possible that future recapture money could also end up in the pockets of the winning riverboats as assets. It’s estimated that about 70 per cent of the 510 horses on the grounds at Balmoral and  Maywood and the 300 more at local training centers and farms wouldn’t be able to compete at tracks outside the Chicago circuit. The closing of the two racetrack’s backstretches could make as many as 300 of those horses homeless and most headed for “death row.” McCaffrey took a stream of questions from the attentive crowd and was able to clear up several queries. Such as: Is the money in their Horseman’s Bookkeeping Services accounts safe from the bankruptcy proceedings?  “The HGCA is a separate holding company from the racetracks and purse monies are held safely and securely there in segregated accounts.” What about stake payments made to Balmoral or Maywood for 2015 races? “They could end up with the four winning riverboats as part of the $78 million in awarded assets if the bankruptcy judge decides to go in that direction.” Dave alerted horsemen to hold off on those stake payments for right now. Why can’t we race at Hawthorne? "Quite simply, right now Maywood and Balmoral were awarded harness dates for 2015. Legally they are their dates. Unless the Illinois Racing Board changes that, it is not an option. If the IRB revokes or suspends the license of Maywood and Balmoral, we will look at all of our options.” My gut tells me in some shape or another there will be harness racing in Illinois in 2015. It may look very different and it may have some interruptions but we will race.  I’m sure that many horses and their owners hope my gut is right. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

On Saturday night the circuit’s Invitational returns to Maywood Park for the first time in three weeks while the 2008 Springfield Review stake trot champion competes in Illinois for the first time in six years. Big Boy Lloyd, now just days away from his being a 10-year-old, will go postward in Saturday’s $11,000 “Winner’s Over” Trot for owner Ken Rucker, who is back in town with the season closing of Pocono and Chester in Pennsylvania. Big Boy Lloyd took the Springfield Review under the care of Rucker in 2008 and a few years later was bought by Ken. The Dream Vacation gelding has earned over $600,000 in his career racing out of the Rucker stable and that’s despite missing two full years of racing. “He suffered a leg injury in the summer of 2012,” said his Balmoral Park trainer Catrina Rucker. “We qualified him a year later and while he qualified he good, we didn’t like the way he came out of it and my husband felt that he needed more time off. The horse had been so good for us Ken wanted to give him all time he needed to come back 100 per cent. “The horse didn’t start racing again until the July this past summer, so he was off two full years. He did well in Pennsylvania, making over $47,000 in a half-season of racing and now he’s back home in Illinois with some of our other horses Ken brought back.” Big Boy Lloyd’s best year in purse earnings was in 2009 as a 4-year-old when he banked over $208,000 and was a frequent Open winner on the Pennsylvania circuit. As a 5-year-old he picked-up checks at the Meadowlands in the Su Mac Lad Series and Final against the likes of Lucky Jim (1:50.1, $1.9 million), Arch Madness (1:50.2, $4.2 million) and Enough Talk (1:49.3, $1.8 million), the 1-2-3 finalists finishers. Todd Warren gets the catch-drive behind Big Boy Lloyd in Saturday’s eighth race trot when he opens as the 6-1 fourth choice in the morning line behind the streaking Fox Valley Veto (3-1, John De Long), winner of the last trio of  “Winner’s Over” trot; Justice Jet (7-2, Ryan Anderson) and Master of Excuses (9-1, Mike Oosting). Ants Iner Pants (12-1), Time Outa Jail (10-1), Repeat Your ABC’s (15-1), Salutation Hanover (12-1) and Surclasser (12-1) complete the competitive field. James Behrendt’s Ice Scrapper (p.p. 7, Brian Carpenter), who has finished first or second in his last six starts, is the 5-2 programmed choice in the $15,000 fifth race Invite where he’ll try to avenge a defeat to Artache Hanover, who is 2-for-2 on the local scene since being shipped to town by trainer Jim Eaton. Artache Hanover (pp 6, Sam Widger) will be coupled with Mosse Terror (Mike Oosting). Both seasoned pacers are owned by Robert Silberberg of Farmington Hills, Michigan and are the 7-2 early third choices. Best Man Hanover (pp 4, Todd Warren) is the 3-1 second choice. The first three slots will be manned by Time To Roll (5-1, Dave Magee), Firstclassallthway (8-1, John Delong) and Fort Silky (8-2 Casey Leonard) with posts 1, 2, 3, respectively. The third headliner of the evening is the $11,000 “Winner’s Over” for filly and mare pacers with last week’s beaten favorite Always’s About Katey (pp 1, Todd Warren) the 2-1 first-flash favorite. Early Xmas Gift: The longshot $25.00 winner The Bruzilian Blur (Bobby Smolin) was my top 11th race selection last night at Maywood Park. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

Desperado Alibi may be a male pacer but he certainly rates as one of the Cinderella stories this year at Maywood Park, going from a one-time conditioned-claimer to a purse check away from the top-level conditioned paces at the half-miler. Desperado Alibi is the winner of 6 of his 7 last starts at Maywood, including his last three in the mid-level conditioned pacers with driver Brian Carpenter whose wife Lydia owns the striking grey 4-year-old gelding. Friday night the son of Gunthatwonthewest is saddled with Maywood’s dreaded 8-hole and its 5.5 winning percentage in the fourth race but, pardon the pub, Brian won’t use the outside post has an alibi if the horse doesn’t hit the board. “Even with the 8–hole I expect him to perform well. He’s been really sharp for us,” Desperado Alibi had modest success for in his first two seasons, winning 2 of 9 starts, but making only about $8,000 for his owner and trainer Merle Myers, Brian’s father-in-law. Since Merle’s daughter Lydia took over the ownership, Desperado Alibi has won 8 of 11 races for the Lowell, Indiana couple and their trainer Merl P’Pool, banking over $21,000. With lifetime earnings of $29,328 Desperado Alibi is eligible for tonight’s’ race, non-winners of 4 races or $30,000 lifetime) by less than $700. “The horse set a track record on Merle’s farm so we all knew he had some ability,” continued Brian. “However I have to admit, he’s exceeded our expectations “As a 3-year-old he won at Hoosier in 54 but then tailed off last year in his last coupled of starts. This year they weren’t having much luck with him either (the horse didn’t get a purse check in his last six starts in Indiana). “When he became my wife’s horse the first thing we did was put him on Lasix. He won first time out of the box for us (non-winners of 3 to be claimed for $8,000) despite being parked the whole mile. We didn’t have him rigged up quite right at that time. Now that we have, he’s really been good. “He won those last couple of races pretty much in hand for me. I think he’ll be able to step up at a higher condition (race) and do okay for us. He’s been winning in 54 and has been pretty much on idle.” “He’s become a pretty nice horse for us.” I would agree. Desperado Alibi opens as the 4-1 choice in the morning line.im race four behind Some Heart Throb (5-2, Kyle Wilfong) and Boogie Nights (3-1, Casey Leonard), with posts 2 and 1, respectively. The competitive field of fillies and mares also lured Jerrico (8-1, Mike Oosting), Cantholdmackback (10-1, Sam Widger), Goose on the Rocks (12-1, Ridge Warren), Total Sin (15-1, Lavern Hostetler) and Tiza Mojo (6-1, Todd Warren). by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

Mike Oosting and Kyle Wilfong each plan to return to action on Maywood Park’s Friday card. Both circuit drivers have been sidelined since they went down in a nasty looking spill last Saturday night at Balmoral Park. Oosting had Special Joe in strong contention in the ninth race when the 9-year-old pacer started to run about a sixteenth of a mile away from the finish line, stumbled, and went down on the track. Mike ended up being tossed out of his sulky. “I thought my shoulder blade was broke,” said Oosting. “It kept cramping-up and then it just popped. I had to put in back in the joint three times while on the racetrack because if kept popping out. “That’s what basically is holding me up from back driving. My ankle also got big on me and I couldn’t walk for a couple of days. My wrist and my hand also swelled-up. I was going to go in Wednesday night but my body was telling me to take some more time off.   “You can see watching the reply my horse took a bad step and starting stumbling before he went down. I would have been all right if I hadn’t got hit from behind. My horse was sliding so I think I would have been able to stay in the bike if I wasn’t run into from behind. “I think I’ll be okay enough to drive Friday night.” Wilfong was right behind when the stumbling Special Joe started to go down and his  horse ran into Oosting, sending the 25-year-old driver Donovan, Illinois native out of his bike and hard onto the track. Kyle’s leg got tangled-up with the lines of his horse Extravagant Art, who dragged him a long way before he was rescued. “When Mike’s horse went down right in front of me I had nowhere to go and I was knocked out once I hit the ground,” said Wilfong. You mean you don’t remember being dragged down the stretch by your horse. “Not at all,” replied Kyle. “I was unconscious. “I remember the wheel on my bike hitting Mike’s bike that’s as much as I remember, “I was lucky I wasn’t hurt a lot more seriously. “My left knee still hurts. The rest of my body feels okay. I’m shooting to be back for Friday’s card at Maywood. I’ll just have to see how I feel come Friday and then I’ll just go from there.” These type of spills reminder us just how dangerous it can be competing on a racetrack. Thankfully neither driver in this case was seriously injured. Domination: Thursday’s Maywood card was dominated by drivers Casey Leonard and Ryan Anderson. Between them they drove the winners of 9 of the 11 races. Casey bagged five while Ryan netted four. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

Veteran reinsman Sam Widger was shaken-up slightly in a spill at Maywood Park on Thursday, Dec. 11th but luckily walked away without any further damage. Widger and provisional driver Artie Dick were involved in an incident towards the back of the pack in Thursday's sixth race as the field neared the top of the homestretch. Both drivers were unseated from their bikes and Widger was knocked unconscious momentarily. The 51-year-old Widger was conscious and speaking to medical personnel while being transported by ambulance to nearby Gottlieb Memorial Hospital for further observation. He was expected to be released early Friday morning. Dick was checked on-site by medical personnel and cleared. The horses involved, Alaughandasmile and Classical Imagery were not injured.  by Tom Kelley, for Maywood Park

A jury late Monday in the federal district court in Illinois found Illinois racetrack owner, John Johnston, liable on three counts in a civil racketeering case involving conduct engaged in by former Governor Rod Blagojevich, and awarded $26.3 million each in damages to four Illinois riverboat casinos including the Hollywood Casino Joliet and the Hollywood Casino Aurora. Under the civil RICO statute, these damages are trebled, making the total recovery over $78 million to the four casinos. The amounts awarded represent roughly the 3 percent tax money charged on Illinois’ four Chicagoland riverboat casinos between 2008 and 2010 that went to Johnston’s two racetracks, Balmoral and Maywood. Additionally, the jury awarded the riverboats $4 million in punitive damages for the civil conspiracy claim made against Johnston personally.  Each casino was awarded $1 million in punitive damages from Johnston.  “Mr. Johnston and Mr. Blagojevich conspired to subsidize Illinois’ racetracks on the backs of our shareholders,” commented Eric Schippers, Sr. Vice President of Public Affairs for Penn National Gaming.   “Their actions at the time resulted in us having to reduce our workforce, cut back our marketing spend, and defer capital improvements.  We are grateful to the jury for seeing through Mr. Johnston’s charade and for ordering him to return the money he and Governor Blagojevich improperly took from us.” Johnston defended claims under the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state law claims, all of which arose out of alleged bribery of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2008. At the time, then Governor Blagojevich, was independently under investigation for this same bribery scheme as well as selling Obama’s senate seat. The bribery that was the subject of this case was also the subject of Blagojevich’s own conviction, for which he is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence. From Harnesslink.com with files from The Beacon-News

The local circuit’s driver colony got a big boost with the return of veteran Illinois native Sam Widger to its ranks starting with Friday’s Maywood Park program. Widger finished fourth in the driver standings with 179 victories at the recently concluded Hoosier Park meeting where he applies his trade in the spring, summer and fall. Sam comes back home for the winter months to compete at Maywood and Balmoral Parks. The likeable 51-year-old native of Canton, Illinois is closing in on 200 dash winners for this season, a plateau he has reached for the last 10 consecutive years. Horses that Sam has driven have also earned over $2 million for the 10 past seasons as well, starting in 2005. During that time span Sammy went over the $3 million plateau on four occasions. “It’s great to be back home,” said Widger. “Every day that I can go out there and do what I do is a blessing. I’m been very fortune to have my health and my family. I count my blessings every day,” added the always humble driver. Back on June 11 at Hoosier Park Widger recorded his 5,000 career winning drive was joined in the winner’s circle by family, friends and fellow drivers when he was honored by track management for his significant accomplishment. Sam, his wife Nancy, and their five children have a farm in Beecher, Illinois, about a 10 minute drive from Balmoral Park in nearby Crete. Widger, who was Maywood Park’s leading driver in 2008, will guide the 15-1 longshot Tweeds Fly N Star in Friday night’s conditioned pace feature for fillies and mares. The programmed co-favorites in the eighth race headliner are M J’s Last Dance (Casey Leonard) and Fox Valley Touch (Ryan Anderson). 3,000 in Sight: Tim Curtin is closing his way to the 3,000th plateau in career wins. The 56-year-old native of Ottawa, Illinois is 9 winners away from that notable mark after a driving double on Wednesday night’s Balmoral card. Curtin picked-up his first winning drive back in 1978. His best season for winners came in 1997 with 219 with most of them coming at Fairmount Park when the southern Illinois track conducted both a Standardbred and thoroughbred race meetings. Too Sparse: The $10,000 Cole Muffler stake for ICF 3-year-old pacing colts came up short again at the entry box for a second consecutive Friday and appears to be scraped for this year. It was not listed on the new condition sheet. Price Is Right: Mike’s Price Shots delivered the 8-1 longshot Russell L (Dean Magee) in Wednesday night’s 10th race. The top race selection paid $17.80. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The veteran pacer Lennox Blue Chip is less than two months away from turning 11 but is still going strong and is closing in on $400,000 in career earnings for Connecticut owner James Behrandt. The Mike Brown trainee looks well placed Friday night in Maywood Park’scgo-featured ninth race. a conditioned pace for non-winners of $9,500 in the last five starts. Lennox Blue Chip went unplaced in last Saturday’s Invite at Balmoral won by his stable-mate Ice Scraper. Lennox Blue Chip sped to a lifetime best 1:50.3 victory this past summer at the age of 10. I asked his trainer what makes the horse so good despite his age. “He has a big heart,” replied Brown. “The horse has the biggest heart in my batn. I wish I had a barn full of Lennox Blue Chip’s. He loves to race.” Mike then went on and explained that the horse doesn’t need a good trip to get the job done. “He loves being first over,” continued the 48-year-old Balmoral Park based trainer. “Don’t rush him. Just bring him up and put along the inside horse. He likes to look another horse in the eye and then he'll grind it out and put him away. He’s a racehorse.” Lennox Blue Chip is also a pacer who can get the job done on any size oval, a huge plus for a trainer on the Chicago circuit. Last year Lennox Blue Chip quite frankly was too good to race at Maywood Park. He raced once on the half-miler and won in comfortable fashion on what I like to call his “fallback track.” I’ll have more about that later in this story. Instead Lennox Blue Chip was a mainstay in the Balmoral Invite ranks, starting in it in 20 of his 37 starts in 2015. The gelding came away a trio of Invite victories and missed a check in them only twice while to banking almost $84,000 for his owner. Lennox Blue Chip joined Brown’s stable in late 2011, making only a couple of local starts after competed mostly in Delaware.in 2010 and 2011. Since then he’s been a busy and very productive pacer under Brown’s care, earning over $180,000 and winning 18 races, mostly against upper echelon horses. In 2012 he went postward a total of 37 times. Of those 20 were at either Balmoral or Hoosier. However he went winless that year on those two tracks. In fact the best he could manage was a trio of third place finishes. At Maywood Park it was a complete different story for Lennox Blue Chip. On his “fallback” track the pacer had incredible numbers. In 17 starts he won 10 times, with 4 seconds and 1 third, missing only one check on the half-miler. The horse made $66,982 that year and all but $6,810 of that amount came at Maywood Park. No wonder he’s the 9-5 morning line favorite in the ninth race when he leaves from post 5 with regular driver Ridge Warren in the 7-horse field. He’ll be challenged by Goose On The Rocks, Montero Blue Chip, Fox Valley Norman, C’est La Vie, Kansas Wildcat and Crankin’ It Up. Picking Pick Six Cold: My seven top selection consecutive winners last night at Maywood started in race two and ended with race eight, covering the Pick Six races and its $341 payoff. Four of those seven winners were not the betting favorites. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

There’s an old one-time popular love song entitled “Reunited And It Feels So Good” that pretty much conveys the feelings of trainer Donna Lee Ozment for the horse Auniqueaquistion, the 2013 Illinois 3-Year-old Filly Pacer of the Year, now that she is back in her barn.   Towards the end of the filly’s very success sophomore season where Auniqueaquistion won every major stake in her division for Donna and almost $250,000 in purse earnings she got a much unexpected phone call that stunned the veteran trainer. “I was on my way to Maywood Park when I got a call and asked me “When can they come and pick up the mare.” I asked ‘what mare?’ “Auniqueaquistion, they answered. She’s been sold.” “I was stunned. I had no idea of the sale or that her owner (John Carver) was even thinking of selling her. The filly was like a close pet to me and she was doing so well for us. “I had her for her first two years and she made her owner a lot of money (over $350,000). She won everything as a 3-year-old, the Maywood (Filly) Pace, the Ann Vonian, the Grandma Ann on Super Night from the 10-hole and a Hanover. I was shocked and I was in tears when she left.” Carver sold half of the filly to Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois last November. Almost a year to the sale day she was reacquired by Carver and sent back to Ozment after winning only 2 of 20 starts while banking just $18,000, “I’m so happy to have Auniqueaquistion back,” continued the native of Fairfield, Illinois. “She’s happy to be back, too. “I tend to get very close to my horses and she was the closest I’ve been to one. I train all my horses but she was one that I actually rubbed and took care of. I bathe her. I did her up every day and she lived with my little mini (horse). “Auniqueaquistion was very attached to her mini. When she came back to our barn and saw her mini she came over and started licking her back. Everybody in the barn was getting watery eyes. It was very touching. “She was not a happy-camper when she was gone. While she’s much happier now she’s still not the same animal she was when she left. She’s a kicker now and she never kicked before. Her personality did change while she was gone but she is coming around and I think she’ll get better and better. It’s just going to take time. “She remembered me when she came back and she remembered that I had always given her a snack after she jogged. The first time back after I jogged her I put her in the stall and started to walk away she started nickering as if to say: “Hey, where’s my snack.” Auniqueaquistion (Dale Hiteman) will open at program odds of 6-1 in Friday’s eighth race conditioned pace. It’ll be the 4-year-old mare’s third start back for Ozment. The daughter of Cole Muffler raced an improved third last week, ending up less than 1 length short of the winner. In the meantime Auniqueaquistion is back enjoying her snacks and the company of her mini friend while Donna has her favorite pet back in her barn along with some drier eyes, so as they say: “All’s well that ends well.” by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

I assumed I would be writing about one, or both, of Friday’s ICF 3-year-old stakes at Maywood Park however each of the scheduled $10,000 events were cancelled by the track’s Race Office because of insufficient entries. Four male pacers—Fox Valley Cupid, Fox Valley Deuce, Little Hank and Sleazeburgernfries—entered the Betzotic while three fillies—Fox Valley Amanda, Fox Valley Shiver and My Little Bit—were submitted to compete in the Giggles The Clown. Apparently not enough numbers for a pari-mutuel race on the Friday program but they certainly could and should have been positioned as non-wagering events before start of the regular card.  Next week’s conditioned sheet shows that both of Friday’s scheduled 3-year-old stakes were not written back, they were just discarded. Likewise there was no attempt to re-schedule the $25,000 McKeever/Associates stake for older state-bred pacers when that came up short on Windy City Night. That long-time popular Maywood Pacing Series race wasn’t written back the following weekend either. The hours by trainers and their help preparing these horses for these scheduled stakes and the anticipation of their owners to watch them compete evidently doesn’t get much consideration by those who seemingly have complete control of the horsemen purse money. The continuation of the local racetracks to scrap these ICF stakes and put their revenue pots into the general purse fund for non-ICF horses to acquire doesn’t  “(e) Encourage the breeding of thoroughbred and standardbred horses in this State” as specified in the Illinois Racing Act of 1975. At a time in our history when the Illinois breeding industry needs all the help it can get the local racetracks instead are discouraging people to own and race ICF horses in our state by the persistent dumping of ICF stake races for any excuse they see fit. Through the years the backbone of harness racing success in our state has always been a strong ICF program. Let’s do what we can to build it back up . . . not break it down. No Contest: Bailey’s Wish was much the best in Thursday night’s $10,100 Speed N The Tunnel stake, drawing off by four lengths with Dave Magee in a snappy 1:58.3 mile Bailey’s Wish had a six length lead in the stretch before she was taken up by her National Hall of Fame driver and hand-driven to the finish wire. The victory was the 3-year-old ICF filly’s sixth in 16 starts for trainer Dirk Simpson and his Illinois owners Jim Bafia (Minooka) and Gene White (Chicago). Earlier Bailey’s Wish captured the Lady Lincoln Land and the Springfield titles giving her a two-season record of 10 wins in 30 starts and over $258,000 in purse earnings. Notable Numbers: Casey Leonard went over the 300 mark in dash winners for this season earlier this week and he also topped the $2 million plateau in money won for the second consecutive year. The 37-year-old Harvard Illinois native leads the Maywood Park driver’s race by 30 winners and is 50-plus ahead at Balmoral Park. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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