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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

The ICF veteran pacer Iam Bonasera unleashed one of his familiar strong stretch drives and powered his way to a convincing harness racing victory in Saturday night’s “Winner’s Over” feature for pacers at Balmoral Park. Driven patiently by Travis Seekman, the betting favorite was taken back at the start of fourth race and was a fifth, almost 7 lengths behind, in the early going while Fort Silky needed a quick 26.4 first quarter to wrestle command away from Best Man Hanover. Fort Silky got his second quarter rest from driver Casey Leonard and the field went unchanged to the 55.1 half. Seekman bided his time with Iam Bonasera ($4.20), still almost 6 lengths behind, and waited for Firstclassallthway to pull to avoid racing first up. The field motored through a 28 third quarter with Firstclasallthway pressing Fort Silky, Best Man Hanover saving ground in the pocket, with Iam Bonasera shifting into high gear after being swung out for the dash to the wire. The two-time Super Night champion gobbled up ground and went from fifth to first in the lane, pulling way to a one and one-half length victory in 1:50.4. The Nelson Willis trainee paced the last half mile in a rapid 54.2 for his fourth win as an 8-year-old and the 34th of his career. Fort Silky was second best last night, snapping his two-race winning streak, while Firstclassallthway took third, another neck behind. Iam Bonasera is co-owned by the Erv Miller Stable of Wind Cap, Pennsylvania and Bert Hochsprung of Elburn, Illinois and is closing in on $740,000 in lifetime earnings. Fox Valley Veto, nicely handled by John De Long, got up in the last stride to gain a head decision over the 3-5 public’s choice Justice Jet in the $9,400 “Winner’s Over” trot co-feature two races later De Long hustled Fox Valley Veto away from the 6-post and was behind the early leader Master Of Excuses who gave up command to Celebrity Hercules soon after the 28.3 first quarter. Justice Jet got away slowly and was sixth, 10 lengths behind, and only ahead of Trotting On Over who made a break at the start. Mike Oosting took Celebrity Hercules to a 57.2 half with Justice Jet on the move and Fox Valley Veto still snuggled in third on the inside. Celebrity Hercules remained on top after a 29.1 third quarter however Justice Jet was coming on strong. De Long then got Fox Valley Veto out and right behind Justice Jet mid-way down the lane. It appeared Justice Jet was going to win for the 6th time in 7 season starts but a late surge by “Veto” gave the 4-year-old ICF trotter the narrow victory. Celebrity Hercules was third, beaten only one length. Fox Valley Veto came into the race with four consecutive second place finishes in Balmoral’s trot feature nevertheless he wasn’t going to be denied last night for Carrollton, Illinois owners Curt Grummel and Craig Grummel. The 5-1 third choice in the wagering paid a generous $13.40 to his supporters. Casey Leonard followed a win Friday night at Maywood with another four-bagger last night at Balmoral.. . Eleventh race winner Rockin Cougar ($10.00) was a Mike Paradise Price Shot. Mike Paradise

I wonder if Balmoral Park is working on a sign to put outside its harness racing office that reads: “Horses Needed.” If that’s the case maybe they should get another that says: “Driver’s Wanted.” (Availability on Saturday’s Preferred). With the opening last night of Hoosier Park it didn’t come as a surprise to see the all-ready shrunken local horse population take another substantial  dip. The lure of bigger purses could make the longer drive to Indiana worthwhile for some trainers. There are at least 20 local horses on Hoosier’s Saturday card and a number of others who competed Friday evening. The reduction of our driver’s colony was a little more than most of us anticipated  The Balmoral Park Driver’s Board listed not available to drive Saturday night: Sam Widger, Dale Hiteman, Kyle Wilfong and Tim Curtin. All are competing at Hoosier Park.   Along with the recent retirement of Dave Magee to become a steward at the Indiana track, the number of drivers available on the Chicago circuit is undersized and will likely remain that way without legislative help from Springfield to bring purses up to somewhat a competitive level with nearby other Midwest states. Saturday’s Taurus Bomber, the first scheduled ICF stake race of the season, is a no-go because of an insufficient the number of entries. Only two 3-year-olds, Dakota Roadster and Dixie’s Boy entered. No word yet if the $8,000 event for ICF pacing colts and geldings will be contested at a later date or is cancelled. Saturday’s “Winner’s Over” for pacing colts and geldings did fill but just barely with five horses going postward in the fourth race co-feature. Trying to stop the 8-5 morning line favorite Fort Silky (Casey Leonard) from a third consecutive triumph in the $9,400 race are Iam Bonasera (9-5, Travis Seekman), runner-up the last two Saturday’s, Firstclassallthway (5-2, Mike Oosting), Best Man Hanover (6-1, Todd Warren) and Ricky Bobbie (12-1, John De Long). The fifth race “Winner’s Over” trot landed seven starters headed up by the outside trio of Justice Jet (programmed 8-5, Ryan Welch), Fox Valley Veto (7-2, John De Long) and Celebrity Hercules (5-2, Mike Oosting), with the 5, 6 and 7 slots, respectively.. Justice Jet’s five-race winning streak was snapped a week ago by the front-stepping Celebrity Hercules with a 1:55 clocking. It was the second straight for the 9-year-old Jim Ellison trained trotter who was put on Lasix three races ago. Justice Jet had missed a month of racing before last week’s outing. The 4-year-old Indiana bred also got off to a sluggish start and was 13 lengths behind at the :28.1 first quarter and 30 seconds later at the half still trailed the winner by almost 10 lengths. The Roger Welch trainee trotted a 55 last half when he came up third, beaten by three-quarters if a length. Curt Grummel’s Fox Valley Veto is riding a streak of four consecutive second place finishers. The now 4-year-old ICF trotter pulled own almost $150,000 as a 3-year-old that included stake victories in the Kadabra, the Mike’s Mystery and at Springfield. Looking to pull off an upset in the first leg of the track’s $1 Pick 3 wager are Fall Creek Bandit (12-1, Casey Leonard), Ants Iner Pants (8-1, Ryan Anderson), Trottin On Over (8-1, Todd Warren) and Master Of Excuses (6-1, Brian Carpenter). By Mike Paradise

Looking out my window earlier this week and watching about 4 to 5 inches of depressing wet heavy snow come down in the Chicago Northwest suburbs it seemed like the harness racing stake season for Illinois bred pacers and trotters was a long way off. Nevertheless, my calendar said differently. The initial ICF stake of 2015 was scheduled for this Saturday evening at Balmoral. However the Taurus Bomber for 3-year-old pacing colts and geldings didn’t fill with its modest $8,000 purse. A quick once-over of the circuit’s stake schedule let me know that the first stake for ICF sophomore trotters—the $8,000 Speedy Rodney—is only two more weeks away. What came next was a phone call to Herman Wheeler, the owner and trotter of Fox Valley Qatar, the 2014 Illinois 2-Year-Old Trotting Colt of the Year. The 45-year-old Wheeler was still at his farm in Monroe, Louisiana.  And while the weather was much warmer in Louisiana, it was just as wet, maybe wetter, than it was in the Chicagoland area. “I won’t be back to Illinois with Qatar for that first trotting stake,” said Herman. “It seems like it’s been raining every day down here so I’m a little behind with my horse. I’m pointing for the Cardinal with him later in May. “I’d like to qualify him at Balmoral and maybe get in one start before the eliminations (Saturday, May 23). Fox Valley Qatar was nearly perfect for Wheel and the trotter’s driver Todd Warren.     After a winning debut in early June in Springfield with Randy Crisler, Warren guided the son of Pizzazzed to seven more consecutive victories that included the $48,000 Plesac (by 4 lengths), the $30,000 Springfield crown (by 3-plus lengths, a $17,000 division of Du7 Quoin’s Darn Safe (by 7-plus lengths) and his Lincoln Land elimination (by 3 ½ lengths) in a first season fastest time of 1:57. Fox Valley Qatar winning streak came to an abrupt half in the $97,000 Lincoln Land Championship in early October when he was second best to Robert Taylor’s RT Habanero. It was “Qatar’s” last start as a freshman. An $8,000 yearling buy at the 2013 Fox Valley Standardbred Sale, Fox Valley Qatar took home over $84,000 for his owner-trainer in the gelding’s initial campaign. Did the pride of Wheeler’s stable grow much over the winter? “He got a little taller,” Herman replied. “It’s hard to tell how much he filled out because I see him every day but I had to let his harness out so he must have put on some weight, He’s coming along fine and I’m looking forward to coming up to Illinois for those 3-year-olds stakes.” Maybe when Wheeler arrives here at the end of April it’ll really feel like spring in Chicago and my snow shovel will have been put away, this time for good. By Mike Paradise

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

Adios Butler was a super-star of the sport in the early 1960s and left his mark on the Chicago circuit before going on to be named Harness Racing Horse of the Year twice. The much heralded pacer came to Sportsman’s Park in 1960 for the second running of the American National Maturity Pace. National Hall of Famer Bye Bye Byrd captured the inaugural edition of the stake for open company pacers, ages 4 and up in 1959. A Saturday July 16 crowd of 12,759 hammered “The Butler” down to 1 to 5 odds and they didn’t come away disappointed. With Eddie Cobb in his sulky, Adios Butler toyed with the field of nine for the first 3/4’s of a mile before drawing off to a 2:01.1 victory. Adios Butler’s co-owner Del Miller had this to say to the Chicago media after the race: “The colt can do anything. It isn’t so much what he has done but how he’s done it. Last week at Yonkers he met the best pacers including the 1959 Horse of the Year Bye Bye Byrd and Widower Creed and he beat the field hands down. He came home the last half :57.4, and he did it almost casually.” A son of the great Adios, “The Butler: was a 1980 induction into the Illinois Hall of Fame and entered the National Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY 10 years later. The horse was trained early-on by Paige West, a Maryland native in his middle 20’s. West turned the lines over in 1959 to Canadian Clint Hodgins, a future Hall of Famer, and Adios Butler went on to stardom. That season the 3-year-old became the first pacer to win the sport’s “Triple Crown”, initially taking the Cane Pace at Yonkers, then the Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio where he became the first horse to win on a half-mile track with a sub 2:00 mile, and finally the Messenger at Roosevelt in a record time of 2:00.1. As a 4-year-old, Adios Butler won 13 of his 17 starts and was named 1960 Horse of the Year. That fall he paced to his record 1:54.3 time trial at Lexington with West, the first harness horse to break the 1:55 barrier. After becoming the fastest horse in history, Adios Butler was shipped to California, sharing a plane with the 1960 Jug champion Bullet Hanover. The plane in which both horses were traveling caught fire while in the air, but fortunately the pilot was able to land safely at Chicago’s Midway Airport. West drove Adios Butler in his final starts in California, including the memorable 1-1/8 leg of the American Pacing Classic at Hollywood Park. Setting all the fractions “The Butler” passed the mile marker in a respectable 1:59.4. Then, when the others began to challenge, Adios Butler turned on the afterburners and paced his final eighth in a quick 11.2 seconds. The two-time Harness Horse of the Year (1960 and 1961) ended his career with 37 wins in 50 starts and earnings of $509,844. Adios Butler left the track as the richest and fastest horse in harness racing history. Adios Butler in the Little Brown Jug By Mike Paradise

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

The recent retirement of National Hall of Famer Dave Magee leaves an obvious and enormous void in the circuit’s driver colony. There’s something like 1,000 drives that that will have to be filled by others this year. The most notable vacuum for some trainers will be with young horses, , a specialty that Magee certainly enjoyed. For Springfield based conditioner Mike Brink, Magee was his “go-to” guy for a number of years. The Magee-Brink link was one of mutual respect and it had developed in a successful relationship for both driver and trainer. “I’m going to miss Dave,” said Brink. “Gosh, he was good to me. He picked a lot of my horses and we had a lot of successful. We had 2 or 3 Illinois horses of the year together. Heck, we had a pretty good run. “On the other hand I wanted the best for him. Dave’s a great driver and a great person. I wish nothing but the best for him. “ With Magee moving on to his new career as a steward at Hoosier Park, I asked Brink if he made a choice on his replacement to drive is horses? “I haven’t,” Mike answered. “I’m still looking for a regular driver for my horses and I’m struggling to make that decision. I may try a few different drivers and see what happens. “I’ve got a lot of young trotters that I’ll be taking up to Balmoral and I could always count on Dave bringing them along for me. We would talk about those young horses after a race. Sometimes Dave would have a suggestion and that would be fine with me. Heck I don’t pretend to know everything and I’m willing to listen to anybody that wants and try to help.” “I’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out without Dave.” Happy Ending:: The 6-1 longshot Cee Cee’s Delight (Brian Carpenter), winner of last night’s nightcap at Maywood Park was a Mike’s Price’s Shot selection. The Hosea Williams trainee paid $14.60 in the tenth race. 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

Merle Finn Jr’s mare Wings continued her fairy-tale journey from a one-time horse pulling an Amish cart to her dominance of the Chicago circuit’s older distaff ranks at Balmoral Park with her fourth consecutive harness racing victory in the “Winner’s Over” vents for fillies and mares. With regular driver Tim Curtin at her lines Wings put away six foes in the second race-co-feature and again did it in rather comfortable fashion. The triumph was also Wing’s seventh in her last eight starts for the 23-year-old owner and trainer from Browns, Illinois. Curtin ducked Wings from the outside seven-slot at the start and was seven-plus lengths behind in last when State Street Liz got command at the first quarter in a leisurely 29.1 seconds. Wings was taken out midway on the backstretch and Curtin was contend to race the ultra-sharp Indiana bred mare first up, slowly grinding their way toward the leaders. After another slow second panel (30 seconds flat) by the pacesetter, Curtin got Wings into high gear. The heavy 2-5 favorite got eye-to-eye with State Street Liz half-way into the final turn before drawing away from the field. Wings ($2.60) paced the final quarter of the 1:54.4 mile in 27 flat, finishing two lengths ahead of State Street Liz. Finn acquired Wings in July of 2013 at the age of five with just $40 on her card when Merle “traded a trotter straight-up for the mare from the Amish.” The horse has banked almost $72,000 for him since. Back-To-Back: Patiently handled by John De Long, Firstclassallthway followed last week’s 10-1 upset win in the “Winner’s Over” ranks with a repeat victory last night in the same $9,400 event. As expected the betting favorite Ice Scraper grabbed quick control of the ninth race and took the five horse field to a :56.2 first half with consecutive :28.1 panels with Best Man Hanover in the pocket and Firstclassallthway in third. The field bunched up turning for home and when an inside lane opened for De Long, he ducked the Jim Ellison trainee there and Firstclassallthway ($12.20) went on to outsprint his rivals to the wire with a huge :26.1 last quarter. Best Man Hanover was second best, beaten 2 and 1/2 lengths in the 1:50.3 mile. Ice Scraper held on for third. The victory was the third of year in eight starts for the 8-year-old gelding owned by Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois. By Mike Paradise

About three weeks ago former two-time Super Night champ Iam Bonasera returned to Illinois under the care of veteran harness racing trainer Nelson Willis with almost nothing thing on his card after his first four season starts out east. The 2012 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year earned over $700,000 in his career before stumbling out of the starting gate as a 6-year-old. However that has all turned around since he’s been back in Illinois. Saturday night he’ll carry a three-race winning streak with almost $10,000 in purse earnings raked-in for owners John Carver and Erv Miller in his trio of starts at Balmoral Park. “Iam Bonasera has been in much easier here so far than he was out east,” explained Willis. “He can dominate these lower classes. Saturday he’s taken on better horses. He does like a big track. It’ll be interesting to see how the horse does against them. If he’s right he’ll come on with authority, that’s for sure.” Iam Bonasera opens as the 5-2 second choice when he steps up in Balmoral’s “Winner’s Over” feature against five tough foes, headed up by the 2-1 morning line favorite Ice Scraper (Brian Carpenter). Sawgrass Farms Best Man Hanover (3-1, Todd Warren) has the pole position while last week’s 10-1 surprise winner Firstclassallthway (4-1, John De Long) has the five-slot. If I Lose) 8-1, Bobby Smolin) and Feel N Funk E (8-1, Tim Curtin) are the other ninth race challengers. I asked Nelson if he made any changes to Iam Bonasera since he joined his stable. “Not at all,” he replied. “The horse has the same equipment on that he had when he came here. I don’t know if I changed his training tactics. The week before he made his first start for me I trained him on a Saturday in 2:02 and came back with him the following Tuesday in ’58’ “In between his races with me I’ve been training him in about 2:12, the last half in ‘04’ and the last quarter in 30 seconds, “The horse had a little blood issue. One of them has been straighten out and the other is well on its way to being taken care off. He’s just a big old pleasure horse to be around. I had to race against him in the past so it’s nice to have him on my side now.” Travis Seekman, who drove Iam Bonasera to his Maurello Super Night elimination victory last year, is 3-for-3 with the son of Cole Muffler for Willis. “Travis has been doing a real great job with the horse. He drives a very smart race out there. Travis drives a horse good and he doesn’t bring him back with the horse’s tongue hanging out. I like the young man.” In the co-featured second race :Winner’s Over” for distaffers, six mares will try to start the high-flying Wings from extending her winning streak to four in a row and 7 out of the last 8 for her trainer and owner Merle Finn Jr. Last week Wings dominated, winning by three lengths and pacing a 26 flat last quarter with her regular pilot Tim Curtin. Wings has the outside 7-slot while the first 6 posts will be manned by Window Wiper (programmed 10-1, Casey Leonard), Our Miss Lilly 10-1, Mike Oosting), State Street Liz (5-1, Bobby Smolin), Feel Like Dancing (8-1, Kyle Wilfong), Muy Caliente (10-1, Travis Seekman) and Just By Design (4-1, Ryan Anderson). Price Shot Nailed: Friday night’s eleventh race winner Island Jet was a Mike Paradise Price Shot winner at $13.60. The $40.20 Exacta of 3-6 was also correctly picked. By Mike Paradise

One of the popular import pacers on the Chicago circuit during the late 1970s was the stallion Tricky Dick N who chalked up 16 harness racing victories, mostly in the rugged Free For All and Invite ranks during the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Tricky Dick N was also one of the all-time preferences of Illinois Hall of Famer Walter Paisley. In a 1990 Chicago Tribune interview Paisley told the newspaper’s horse racing writer Neil Milbert his all-time favorites were Braidwood, Tricky Dick N. and Malice. “`Braidwood is on my list because my father owned him,” said Paisley who a few weeks earlier reached the 5,000 milestone in dash winners. “Tricky Dick N. and Malice are there because they raced the same way every time I got in the bike. I`ve raced horses more talented and horses with more speed, but none more consistent than those two.” Tricky Dick racked up $108,756 in 1979 as a 6-year-old season followed with an even better 7-year-old campaign with over $150,000 on his card for Illinois owners John Szilage (Batavia) and Ben Grass (Aurora). Among Tricky Dick’s wins in those two years came at the expense of such star pacers as Kay Michael, Malice, Young Tennessee, Try Scotch, Late Show, Tarport Express, Rusty’s Iron Jet, and Rambling Willie. Tricky Dick N is pictured in this Pete Luongo Photo with Paisley winning the $25,000 Best Of All Invitational on June 23 of 1979 with his second consecutive 1:58.2 clocking. This one came on a Saturday night with 16,584 in attendance at Sportsman’s Park. They bet $1,939,447 on-track on that 10-race card. Paisley would go on to notch his third consecutive driver title at the old Cicero, Illinois racetrack and his fourth overall (he also won the 1975 crown) while Jim Dennis took the 1979 trainer title. The meeting concluded on September 23 when the $2 million handle was surpassed for a record 14th time. Tricky Dick N campaigned into his 11-year-old season in 1983 but heath issues limited the talented pacer to only 28 starts from 1980 through 1983. He ended his career with 35 trips to a winner’s circle in 122 tries with 18 seconds and 18 thirds and had lifetime earnings of over $460,000. By Mike Paradise Tricky Dick N bred a few mares in the US leaving 24 winners of $1,168,384 and then stood stud in New Zealand leaving a further 64 winners. As a broodmare sire in New Zealand he left Baltic Eagle ($746,980)who won the 2003 Inter Dominion Final at Addington.

When I heard the news that Dave Magee was retiring from driving after tonight’s Balmoral Park card I have to admit I was disappointed. Selfishly I didn’t want it to ever end for my all-time favorite driver. I’ve known Dave ever since he came up from Quad City Downs as a blond-haired youngster with a moustache (see picture) to old Sportsman’s Park where I was the track’s publicity director some 40-plus years ago Early on you could see Dave was going to be a good and successful    driver and as the years past he turned out to be a great one. At Sportsman’s there was a porch outside of the press box that sat on  the grandstand roof. It was a great view to watch the races. Well, maybe  not-so-much when the wind came out of the south and blew the  backstretch fumes straight at us. Going out pn that porch 10 times a night, five times a week, month after  month you could get a pretty good handle if a late-rusher was going to  catch the horse on the lead. That is except when the horse on the lead  was driven by Dave Magee. Nine out of 10 times when you thought  Dave was going to be caught . . . he wasn’t. The winning margin often wasn’t big but the end result was another win  for Dave. The Green Bay, Wisconsin native and long-time “Packer-Backer” had some kind of “magic” in those hands. Somehow Dave’s horses always seemed to hold on, many times barely, but they did. I’ve done countless interviews with the 2001 National Hall of Fame inductee and Dave has always been always a class act. He would always return your phone call. He would always take the time to answer your questions. The soft-spoken Magee would choose his words carefully—usually while chewing on a stick of gum—and Dave always had something meaningful to say. The more I thought about Dave’s decision to retire from driving to take the position as an associate judge at Hoosier Park, the more it made sense. Dave has accomplished just about everything he could on a race track. He was the 1994 National Driver of the Year. He’s won every major race in Illinois and many elsewhere. He captured dozens of driving titles in our state and he represented his country twice in the World Driving Tournament and won it in 1995. No driver has won Super Night championships. No one is even close to his American National winners. He’s had 36 straight seasons with $1 million in money won, 10 of $2 million-plus, 13 of $3 million plus and a quartet of $4 million seasons. Nevertheless, at the age of 61, the aches and pains have to be more frequent and more lingering than they were when Dave was a younger man (I can speak from experience on that matter). However it couldn’t have been an easy choice for Dave to make after spending over 40 years doing what he loved to do and now giving it all up and moving on to another challenge. So I called my old friend and asked. “No it wasn’t an easy decision,” Dave replied. “I’m melancholy about it. I’m somewhat worried and unsure. I’ve gone through all the emotions however it’s a family decision and we’ve decided it’s time for me to move on. “I’ve tossed the ideal of retiring around for the past couple of years. This offer came about in the last few weeks and actually I turned it done. But it wasn’t just my decision to make. It was a family decision and my wife Cathy approached me and thought we should talk about it. We found out there we were on the same page and if the offer was still open we would take a leap of faith and I’d take the job. “It was, so I did.” Dave has driven in close to 65,000 races and while he’s chalked up records that likely won’t ever be touched by another Illinois driver, there have been some instances where he’s gone down in a race with injuries that left him on the sidelines for several months, He broke a collarbone early on his career at Quad City and suffered another severe shoulder injury at Sportsman’s in 1983 on the same night Cam Fella shattered Albatross’ track record. “As far as getting hurt out there, that’s one thing you can’t think about. I’m sure however my family has. My wife and kids are well aware of my aches and pains and they are relieved that I’ve made this decision to end my driving career.” I told Dave I’m going to miss those conversations we would have every year about the young horses he was driving.” “Me too,” he answered. “Bringing along young horses is what I’ve enjoyed the most as I got older.” While those days are now over for the classy Mr. Magee, it’s a sure thing he’ll excel in his new job at Hoosier Park. Our loss in Illinois is Indiana’s gain. But maybe after a few years when he’s recognized as one of the best in his new endeavor we can steal him back and bring him home where he belongs. Until then, thanks for all those wonderful memories Dave. By Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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