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In the 1980s there were a number of memorable race track confrontations on the local harness racing circuit and one that has always stuck out in my mind came in the latter part of 1988 at Sportsman’s Park. It was the $384,000 American National on the first Saturday of November, a 3-year-old pacing stake that was billed nationally as the “Showdown of the Tear. A victory by Matt’s Scooter would clinch 3-year-old of the year honors and put the Direct Scooter colt in strong positon to win Pacer of the Year Honors. However the task wasn’t going to be easy for Matt’s Scooter. All the big guns in the sophomore division came to town and each one wanted to leave with the winning $192,250 check Unfortunately the weatherman didn’t co-operate on November 5, 1988. The evening was very chilly and the track was sloppy from a steady day-long rain but that didn’t put a damper on the race or the enthusiasm of a jam-packed crowd in attendance at the Cicero, Illinois facility. Matt’s Scooter and driver Mike Lachance earlier that year became the fastest harness horse in the sport’s history with a 1:48.2 time trial at Lexington, smashing the old record of 1:49.2 set by the great Niatross 8 years earlier. In The American National showdown Lachance got Matt’s Scooter to the top on the rain-soaked racing strip and put away a bid from Camtastic, one of his chief rivals, at the three-quarter pole. He then held off a spirited rally from another major rival, Albert Albert, finishing 1 and 1/2 lengths ahead in the 1:55.3 mile in the slop. Matt’s Scooter would go on to earn $1,783,588 in his second season winning 11 of 22 starts with 7 seconds and 2 thirds, failing to hit the tote board only once in 1988, earning both Three-Year-Old and Pacer of the Year honors. A season-later as a 4-year-old Matt’s Scooter was named the 1989 Harness Horse of the Year when he captured 23 of 30 starts. often against the very best pacers in the U.S. and Canada for trainer Harry Poulton while adding another $1.14 million to his bankroll for his Canadian owners Illa Rumpel and Charles Juravinski. Matt turned in at that time the fastest mile ever in Canada when he captured the Mohawk Gold Cup in 1:51. He also won the Breeders Crown, William Haughton Memorial, Driscoll Free-For-All, and legs of the U.S. Pacing Championship, George Morton Levy Memorial, and Graduate Series. In a 1989 media interview his trainer Harry Poulton had this to say about Matt’s Scooter: “He never really did anything bad. He didn’t break any carts, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He was always bucking, kicking or doing something. We shipped him home 12 hours one day, and the next day he was on his hind legs in the yard. I don’t know where he got his energy.” Matt’s Scooter was retired at the end of his 4-year-old campaign and went on to be an splendid stallion. In his 22 years at stud—all but one standing at Perretti's flagship farm in New Jersey—Matt’s Scooter sired the winners of more than $76.3 million, with five millionaires. His greatest legacies as a sire were Mach Three (1:49, $2,376,700), who won the 2002 Meadowlands Pace and produced the great Pacer of the Year and world record holder Somebeachsomewhere (1:46.4, $3,221,299), Royal Mattjesty (1:48.4, $1,840,681); the 1996 Three-Year-Old Filly of the Year Mystical Maddy (1:50 $1,436,325) and His Mattjesty (1:50 $1,038,861). As a broodmare sire, Matts Scooter's credentials include the million-dollar winning mares Glowing Report, Economy Terror, Yellow Diamond and Drop The Ball. The horse was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1992 and into the U.S. Living Hall of Fame in 1996. Matt’s Scooter was euthanized on June 30 of 2014 at the age of 29. 1989 Breeders Crown 1998 Meadowlands Pace 1998 Confederation Cup By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

The year 1981 was in the hey-days of harness racing at Sportsman’s Park, the center-piece track of the Chicago circuit. There were a number of “firsts” taking place during that summer at the five-eighths mile track in Cicero, Illinois, The first $2 million handle on a single Illinois harness racing card was recorded on July 11 when 20,047 patrons, the largest crowd of the 1981 Chicago harness racing season, wagered $2,069,079 on track on a 10-race program. That evening was also the first time that all 10 races on a Chicago circuit card were timed in 2:00 or faster highlighted by Osborne’s First and Doug Hamilton teaming up for a world record mile of 1:55.2 for an aged pacer on a five-eighths track in that night’s Free For All.. The first Sunday program in Sportsman’s Park history was held on May 17 with Artie’s Dream (Shelly Goudreau) taking the $70,000 American National 3-Year-Old Pace in 1:58. Opening Night, eight days earlier, saw Burgomeister (see photo) and his National Hall of Fame trainer-driver Billy Haughton, follow his victory in the prestigious Hambletonian, with a one and ½ length triumph in the $61,510 American National Maturity Trot with a 2:03.3 mile. Also in the summer of 1981 Banker Barker (Mike Zeller) would come on with a mighty rush to take the American National 3-Year-Old Trot in 2:00.3. The $100,450 American National Maturity Pace was annexed by Bandelier and driver Walter Paisley in 1:56.3. Eugene Waszak’s Madame Butterfilly, the second longest shot on the board, won that season’s $56,750 Violet Stakes. The Roger Davino Stable’s Whizzer R White, driven by Dave Magee, set a track record for a 2-year-old pacer with a 1:59.1 clocking in the July 21 Poplar Byrd stake, The 3-year-old ICF star that summer was the Dan Shetler Stable’s Coffee Dan, a son of Egyptian Dancer who went unraced as a freshman. Coffee Dan went 9-for-12 in his first season of racing for his then Illinois owners George Barounes, Robert Parrish, 809 Corporation and Shetler. Coffee Dan captured the $77,500 Cardinal Final and later the $120,800 Langley on July 3 (see picture) where he defeated Foolish Eyes (Jim Curran) with in 1:58 flat. Coffee Dan would earn $158,349 that year. Shetler also drove the winner of the $60,000 Midwest Derby Final when Tarport Boss uncorked a big move in the stretch. Meanwhile Royce lived up to his billing by winning the $60,000 U.S. Pacing Championship Final in mid-August. Wieker’s Del, driven by Delvin Insko, took advantage of a great trip and notched the $200,000 Orange and Blue Stake, at that time the richest race for 2-year-old ICF pacers. Sportsman’s on-track attendance and handle figures for the summer of 1981were extraordinary, to say the least. The average nightly attendance was 13,196 while the handle nightly averaged a robust $1,627,058. Sadly those glory days of Illinois harness racing are long-gone. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

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

A number of the young harness racing drivers on the Chicago circuit made great strides in 2014 but none were greater than the giant leap that came from Travis Seekman. The 24-year-old Michigan native, who now resides with his wife Desirae in Beecher, Illinois, had 60 more winning drives than in any other season and more than five times his total in 2013. “Definitely having more opportunities is the main reason and I did so much better,” said Travis. “With those opportunities come more chances to learn. I’m a little older now and I know how important it is to do well when those chances do come along. “It’s a continuous learning process out there and as you do better it gives you more confidence in yourself. And trainers see that and trust you more with of their good horses.” When the opportunity arrived to drive a top-notch horse, Travis often took advantage of that situation. A few examples are Travis driving Bi Poplar Rose to her 2-year-old Lincoln Land Championship, winning the Super Night Tony Maurello elimination and a Balmoral Invite with Iam Bonasera, and steering Kanaris to a trio of victories that include an open handicap victory at Northfield in Ohio. Travis and his wife own a few horses racing on the circuit. “It gives us something to do together,” said Seekman. “It’s been nice working side by side with her and also having her in the winner’s circle to enjoy the success of a ictory.” Seekman ended up with 937 drives last year, that’s 300 more than his previous highest total in 2010 and 768 more drives than he had in 2013 when he had 25 winners. We’ve only had a couple of weeks of racing this far on the local scene however Travis has already visited the winner’s circle 10 times in his first 36 opportunities. Racing on the Chicago circuit swings back into action Thursday night at Maywood Park with its 10-race card. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

One Maywood Park pacing record that hasn’t been bettered in the last 20 years belongs to She’s A Great Lady. Her mark of 1:51.2 back in June of 1995 with harness racing trainer / driver Joe Anderson in the bike was a world record at that time for a 3-year-old filly pacer on a half-mile track. Through the years that mile has been lowered a number of times at a number of places but not at Maywood Park. Interesting She’s A Great Lady paced her record mile in what may be the biggest romp by a racehorse in in an open stake on the local circuit’s half-miler. Certainly no other Cinderella, a stakes fixture at Maywood since 1985 has ever seen a filly dominate that race the way She’s A Great Lady did. Her winning margin was a whopping 16 lengths over runner-up Keystone Mia. The third place horse Blue Mesa finished 24 lengths behind the Joe Holloway trained winning filly owned by L & L Devisser of Holland, Michigan. However, one week later She’s A Great Lady and “Little Joe” didn’t get the job done when she was bet down to 3-5 odds in the $100,000 American National Filly Pace at Sportsman’s Park. She’s A Great Lady went off stride before the start on that June 24 night and by the first quarter mile pole was over 16 lengths behind. The filly still trailed by almost a dozen behind at the half before rallying for fourth, beaten four-plus lengths by Teen Talk and Tony Morgan, who paid $37.60. She’s A Great Lady would bounce back in a big way by winning 8 of her final 12 starts that year including the $496,000 Mistletoe Shalee at The Meadowlands and put $610,930 on her 3-year-old card. The daughter of Dexter Nukes racing career ended after only two starts in 1997 as a 5-year-old but with a gaudy career winning clip of 50 per cent, taking 26 of 52 lifetime starts and earning $973,383. She’s A Great Lady, currently owned by Diamond Creek Farm of Wellsville, PA has been a mama 11 times since her retirement from racing. Her first foal was Lady Macbeach, a son of Jenna’s Beach Boy who made over $800,000. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

Longshot Just By Design ($19.40) was the upset victor of Saturday night’s “Winner’s Over” feature for fillies and mares, with as gutty harness racing performance with National Hall of Fame driver Dave Magee at her lines. Overlooked by many of the ninth race players, the 8-1 longshot was the quickest from the starting gate, shooting out from post six and into command before the first turn. The Mike Brink trainee gave up the lead at the first quarter, reached in :27.2 to State Street Liz (Bobby Smolin) and raced in the pocket until local newcomer Shine N Shimmer (Mike Oosting) powered her way out of third at took the lead at the half mile ;pole (55.4). Magee then came out of third with Just By Design and raced outside of the new leader through the last turn and most of the way down the lane before passing Shine N Shimmer. Ryleigh’s Lilly (Casey Leonard) finished a strong second, one length behind the roan daughter of Sportsmaster in the 1:53.1 mile. The 8-5 second choice Shine N Shimmer held on for third, one length ahead of the late arriving 7-5 favorite Wings, beaten a half-dozen lengths. Owned by Joshua David Carter of Williamsville, Illinois, the win was the 7-year-old Just By Design’s 25th of her career and her first this year. Jet Power: The circuit’s “Winner’s Over” trot has been shifted to Sunday evening for this week-end. It’ll go as race four and the start of the track’s $1 Pick 3 Wager. Not surprisingly Justice Jet, winner of the last two “Winner’s Over” and 3 out of the last 4 events, was installed as the 8-5 morning line favorite. Regular driver Ryan Welch will be back at the lines of the confident 4-year-old Indiana bred with over $345,000 in lifetime earnings. With the 5-slot  Justice Jet should have dead aim on the 6-horse field turning for home when he goes after his 15th career victory in 41 trips postward. Dandy Farm’s Celebrity Hercules (5-2, Casey Leonard) and Master Of Excuses (4-1, Mike Oosting), second and third, respectively, last week against Justice Jet, are his chief rivals again. Invite Ahead? Maywood Park Pacing Series champion Fort Silky qualified Thursday evening at Maywood Park with a 1:58.2 front-stepping clocking under the hold of his driver Casey Leonard. The now 9-year-old ICF gelding could be dropped into the entry box Wednesday morning with hopes that the circuit’s Invitational will have sufficient entries to be carded for the time since January 3. The Mike Brown Stable’s Ice Scraper spent the middle two weekends of January competing in the Miami Valley Raceway Open Handicaps in Ohio, winning January 24 (1:52.2) on the Lebanon five-eighths oval. Ice Scraper skipped last night’s Open Pace in Ohio and is a likely local Invite entry for this week. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

Back in November of 2012 veteran harness racing trainer Gary Fatland took a $10,000 gamble on the then 3-year-old filly Muy Caliente at the Delaware Sale. It’s turned out to be successful venture for the Sandwich, Illinois horseman. The now 6-year-old mare guns for her second straight victory in Friday’s tenth race Maywood Park feature. Last week she breezed to a 1:55.4 wire-to-wire triumph with Travis Seekman at her lines. “It was the first time I sat behind Muy Caliente and she’s very easy to drive. I hate to use this cliché she’s a ‘push-button horse’ but the mare really is. She’ll do whatever you want out there. The mare wants to race and she wants to win.” Muy Caliente has put over $120,000 on her card since being acquired by Gary, his son Nate and their partner John Price of Grant Park, Illinois. The mare earned almost $8,000 in the month of January, picking up a purse check in all four of her starts in Open Handicaps at Miami Valley Raceway in Lebanon, Ohio prior to her local win. In her last Ohio start on Jan. 23 Muy Caliente was saddled with the second tier 10-hole and was next to last with a quarter of a mile to go and ended up fourth, beaten a little more than two lengths. Her triumph last Friday at Maywood was her 12th on the circuit’s half-miler since she joined the Fatland Stable. In 2014 Muy Caliente was third or better in 23 of her 36 trips postward. “She likes to race and she’s been very consistent for us,” said Gary. “I think the fact that I train her on a half at my farm helps her at Maywood. She’s done very well there for us.” Muy Caliente has the bloodlines to be a successful pacing mare. She was sired by Rocknroll Hanover and is out of the Bettor’s Delight broodmare Cannae Cindy. Unraced at two, Muy Caliente spent most of her 3-yeart-old season racing for trainer Ron Burke. The draw this week wasn’t as kind to Muy Caliente as it was a week earlier when she left from Maywood’s coveted one-slot. This Friday she’s in the second tier. She does start behind Melodie Hotspur, a mare with good gate speed and wins in 4 of her last 6 starts for trainer Jimmy Ellison. Muy Caliente will open as the 3-1 programmed choice with Melodie Hotspur (John De Long) and Blazing Fury (p.p. 2, Bobby Smolin) next at 9-2. From posts 3 through 8 you’ll find Triple Lane Melody (12-1, Pat Curtin), Morwyn Hanover (15-1, Brian Carpenter), Financial Effort (8-1, Casey Leonard), Feel Like Dancing (6-1, Kyle Wilfong), Gentle Janet (12-1, Todd Warren) and Incredible Filly (15-1, Tim Curtin). By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

The winter break layoff didn’t dull Merle Finn Jr’s high-flying Wings. The now 7-year-old harness racing mare powered her way to a third consecutive victory Saturday night with her regular driver Tim Curtin. The 2-1 like-warm favorite was given an advantageous second-over journey by Curtin and came flying through the snow flakes to finish a half-length ahead of Just By Design in the co-featured $9,400 “Winner’s Over” for filly and mare pacers. Just By Design was the quickest from the gate and grabbed the early lead but her driver Dave Magee was contend to take the pocket trip behind Rev Me Up soon after a snappy :27.2 first quarter paced on a “good” racing surface. Rev Me Up was able to get away with a soft :29.1 second quarter despite some pressure from the first-over Seeyouatthefinish. Meanwhile Curtin was right behind Seeyouatthefinish, just biding his time with his 1:53.2 winning mare. Tim swung Wings ($6.20) out at the top of the lane and the daughter of His Mattjesty shifted into a higher gear and chalked-up up another win. Wings last race five weeks ago on Saturday, December 27, when she also captured a “Winner’s Over” pace for trainer and owner Merle Finn Jr. of Browns, Illinois. Justice Served: A second over journey was also the right recipe for a victory in the “Winner’s Over” trot as Justice Jet ($4.00) came on strong in the late going for Ryan Welch and posted his second in a row after four-weeks off. Celebrity Hercules was sent to the front by Casey Leonard while the 23-year-old Welch ducked his trotter at the start and was contend to be seventh in the eight-horse field through the early going After a modest :29.2 first panel and a :29.1 second quarter, Mike Oosting took Master Of Excuses from the back of the pack and went after the 5-2 second choice Celebrity Hercules with Ryan and Justice Jet right on their heels. When the field hit the blowing snow at the top of the lane Justice Jet remained behind Master of Excuses until the final eight of the mile when Welch took his trotter down the middle of the lane and the 4-year-old Indiana bred blew past with authority with a 1:57 clocking trotted on a racing strip changed to “sloppy.” Celebrity Hercules was second best, beaten two lengths, while Master Of Excuses was third. Justice Jet is owned by Bo De Long, Pat De Long, Glenn Wright and trainer Roger Welch. The gelding has earned $345,659 in his 40 career starts.  Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

One of the elite pacers for harness racing trainer Tom Harmer in the early years of this century, He Wants It All raced until the age of 11 for his owner Michael Polansky of Loudonville, NY, earning over $1 million while winning 50-plus races. As a 3-year-old in 2003 the son of The Big Dog out of the broodmare Traci Miss captured the $94,044 Junior Trendsetter Final and swept the Matt Scoot Series at The Meadowlands before being sold to Polansky and joining the Tom Harmer Stable. He Wants It All only raced 8 times as a 4-year-old because of health issues but bounced back with a vengeance in 2005 as a 5-year-old. The horse captured the first of two consecutive Pompano Park Isle Of Capri Finals with Tony Morgan at his lines in late February and went on to win 15 more races that year, including a half-dozen Free For All events at Balmoral, four more Maywood Park Free For All paces, and both the Carey elimination and its $101,000 Final at Hawthorne Race Course in August of 2005. After one of his Maywood Park Free For All triumphs driver Tony Morgan said this in a post-race interview: "This is a ‘real’ horse. Once he gets to the top he just drops the lines and totally relaxes. He's a beautifully-going horse with a huge gear and he's very fleet-footed. His connections (owner Michael Polansky) paid six figures for him when Tom (trainer Harmer) got Mr. Polansky's horses to train. “At one point he was thought to have been finished--racing wise. But Tom gave him a lot of time off and he got him sound again. This past winter he had a breathing problem which Tom solved and got cleared up and now this horse is just a monster." He Wants It All earned just short of $300,000 in 2005 and paced a track record mile for an aged gelding of 1:49.1 at Balmoral with Morgan. The following year he again won the Isle Of Capri Final at Pompano, this time with Dave Magee. His season mark of 1:49.3 came with Dave in a Balmoral Park FFA in late May, a few weeks before his second place finish in Hawthorne’s Carey Memorial Final. As a 6-year-old he campaigned against the likes Holborn Hanover, Lis Mara, Ponder, Stonebridge Regal and Maltese Artist when he added another $240,015 to his card. He Wants It All ended his career finishing third or better in 90 of 139 starts, winning 51 of them and making $1,016,187, To view Archived Notes and Quotes click here By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

The 2014 Illinois harness racing champions were announced at the USTA District 5 Awards Banquet in Springfield last Saturday. The Pacing Division went as I thought it would however I did have a blemish in my trotting selections. The USTA voters named Itzaziam as the 2014 Aged Trotting ICF Horse champion, correctly hitting the bull’s-eye on him. He made $142,025 racing mostly in New York at Yonkers and took a mark of 1:54 flat. I missed badly on the trotter. In fact I lost track of him had no idea just how well the son of Harry’s Star Ranger did in 2014. I do remember him when he raced mostly as the fairs for trainer Nick Prather as a 3-year-old and at the age of 5 (unraced as a 4-year-old), earning a little over $25,000 in his Illinois campaigns before being sold to east coast interests as a 6-year-old. Itzaziam is currently owned by Melissa Guido Stables and Howard Siotorff of New Jersey but raked in the bulk of his 2014 purse money for former Chicago circuit driver Pat Berry, who shared ownership of the now 7-year-old bred by Donald Longfellow of Chrisman, Illinois. Berry drove Itzaziam to $73,500 open trot stake victory last April. (see photo) As predicted the Roger Welch Stable’s Earndawg ($217,105) was named the 2014 ICF Harness Horse of the Year and the ICF 2-year-old colt pacing champion. Mr. Leland’s Filly($177,243) is the 2-year-old filly pace winner, while the 3-year-old pacing champion were Unlocked ($178,390) in the colt division and My Little Bit ($153,857) in the filly category. Not surprisingly Al’s Hammered ($198,670) and Let’s Go Higher ($201,505) took the aged horse and aged mare titles, respectively. On the trotting side, the 2-year-old colt honor went to Fox Valley Qatar ($84,215), the freshman filly prize to Fox Valley Yoko ($95,492) the 3-year-old colt crown to her older brother Fox Valley Veto, while Bailey’s Wish ($140,248) annexed the 3-year-old filly award. The Steve Searle Stable’s Ants Iner Pants ($58,627) was named ICF champion aged trotting mare while Fox Valley Standardbreds made a complete sweep of both the stallion and broodmare honors with Sportsmaster (Pacing Stallion), Pizzazzed (Trotting Stallion), Pacific Sister K (Pacing Broodmare) and Yankee Victory OM (Trotting Broodmare). Congratulations go out to the 2014 County Fair High Point Winners: 2-year-old colt pacer Frosty Dune, 2-year-old filly pacer Fox Valley Aubry, 2-year-old trotting colt Kiss My Pizzazzed, 2-year-old trotting filly High Class Lady, 3-year-old colt pacer Tower Power, 3-year-old filly pacer Syd’s Lollipop, 3-year-old colt trotter Battleshoe Crown and 3-year-old filly trotter E L Trixie. For the first time, the Harness Horse Youth Foundation selected an entire family—the Giberson’s (Nick, Amy, Madeline, and Ethan) of Spalding, IL—as the recipient of its 2014 Service to Youth Award, the organization’s highest honor. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

The 2007 National Hall of Fame Equine inductee Bonefish was one of many great horses the renowned horseman Stanley Dancer raced in Illinois, especially in the 1970s. Bonefish, a son of Nevele Pride was the 1974 Two-Year-Old Trotter of the year when he won 10 of 16 starts, including the Review at Springfield, for Dancer who drove, trained and co-owned the youngster. In 1975 Bonefish was named the Three-Year-Old Trotter of the year, after winning 17 of 28 starts and earning almost $220,000.On July 2, 1975 Bonefish held off a fast-closing Meadow Bright (See photo) in 1:59.2, at that time a Sportsman’s Park track record mile, in the American National sophomore trot. About a month later Bonefish captured the 50th edition of the Hambletonian in four heats. The trotter also was victorious that year in the Founder’s Gold Cup, the Empire State Trot and the Greenwood Trot. A week after his Hambo triumph Bonefish was syndicated for a reported $1 million and went on to stand at Castleton Farm in Lexington, Kentucky from 1976 through 1987 before being exported to Sweden. Over 100 of his foals were 2:00 performers with three trotting under 1:55. In 1988, at the age of only 16, Bonefish was found dead in his paddock in Sweden. In 1975 Dancer also came to Sportsman’s Park for the American National 2-year-old trot and again was behind the winner when Nevele Thunder splashed his way to a 2:06.3 clocking in the rain. The American National 2-Year-Old Colt Pace landed 23 starters and was split into two divisions. The favorite Raven Hanover (George Sholty) took the first in 2:01 while the local hope Late Show (Jerry Graham) won the second in 2:03 for Misty Farm of Salam, Illinois and Rac Ed Nav Stable of Hillsboro, Illinois. The illustrious Rambling Willie, trained and driven by the late great Bob Farrington, was a fan favorite that summer, rattling off five consecutive victories. The future Hall of Famer finished off his Sportsman’s Park campaign with a 1:57 flat clocking on July 26 in the $35,000 Fort Dearborn Free Fort All Pace before a big crown of 18,881 patrons and a 1:52.2 win on August 4 in the $35,000 Paul Wixom Free For All Pace. Some of the other major stake winners that summer were Handle With Care (Peter Haughton) in the $50,000 U.S. Pacing Championship, Title Holder (Tom Brinkerhoff) in the $111,000 American National Maturity Pace, Young Quinn (Charlie Hunter) in the $40,000 Governor’s Cup on the Fourth of July and Nero (Joe O’Brien) in the American National 3-Year-Old Cot Pace. The $50,000 Pete Langley Memorial Pace, a pre-Super Night 3-year-old ICF colt stake at that time, saw Robert Winter’s Frosty Arden go wire-to-wire for driver Joe Marsh Jr. in 2:00.1. The average attendance in 1975 for Sportsman’s 60-night summer meeting was 14,381 while the nightly on-track mutuel handle averaged over $1.4 million. Walter Paisley’s 63 dash winners were 20 more than runner-ups Daryl Busse and Jim Dennis. Joe Marsh Jr. (38) and Jerry Graham (35) rounded out the Sportsman’s Park Top Five in ’75. They were followed by Stan Banks, Jim Dolbee, Carmen Alessi, Jim Curran, Dwayne Pletcher, Lew Williams, Stan Bayless, Dennis Bird, Henry Lunsford, Del Pletcher, Nelson Willis and Wayne Temple, in that order. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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

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

The 2014 Illinois champions will be announced at next Saturday’s USTA District 5 Awards Banquet in Springfield on Saturday, January 17. Here are my predictions for their pacing divisions. My trotting choices were posted on Thursday. Two-Year-Old Filly Pacer Mr Leland’s Filly She looks like a shoo-in for the honor. Trained by Erv Miller for Illinois owners Paymaq Racing (Long Grove) and Leland Mathias (Bethany) this Sportsmaster filly out of the broodmare Incredible Katie pulled own $177,243 in her freshman season. Mr Leland’s Filly won 6 of 10 starts and only lost once against strictly ICF competition. She annexed the $43,500 Loyal Opposition and Filly Orange and Blue Finals at Balmoral, and also took of the division’s Springfield and Du Quoin championships. Casey Leonard was her regular driver. Two-Year-Old Colt Pacer Earndawg This was a no-brainer. After playing second fiddle to his Roger Welch stable-mate King Of The Swamp and winning only 1 of his first 6 career starts, Earndawg went on to dominate this division for owners Bo De Long (Clinton, WI), Pat De Long (South Beloit, IL) and Earnest Miller Jr.. (Mount Horeb, WI) raking in $217,015. The son of Sportsmaster, out of the dam Pacific Sister K, captured 7 of his last 9 starts that included both his Orange and Blue elimination and its $186,000 Final, the $43,500 Cardinal; and a pair of open company stakes—Maywood Park’s $57,100 Abe Lincoln and Hoosier Park’s $40,300 Madison. He was also second in the $86,000 American National. Todd Warren was his customary driver. Three-Year-Old Filly Pacer My Little Bit She gets my support by winning a third (6-for-18) of her starts including Balmoral’s $48,500 Ann Vonian and the $52,000 Springfield Final, and earning the most money ($155,557) in her division. Trained by Erv Miller for Quaid Racing of Evergreen Park, she was also second in the $89,000 Maywood Filly Pace and the $142,000 Grandma Ann on Super Night and third in Du Quoin’s Time Dancer. Another daughter of Sportsmaster (out of Parade Of Love), she was driven by Casey Leonard. Three-Year-Old Colt Pacer Unlocked He was simply a notch ahead of rest of this ICF division for trainer Erv Milller and owners Megan Rogers Racing Stables of Chicago, Illinois. His only losses in 2014 against strictly state-bred competition came at Maywood. The son of Duneside Perch out of the Fighting Major dam Miss Major Power breezed in Balmoral’s $48,000 Incredible Finale and the $145,000 Langley on Super Night, and in both State Fair Finals at Springfield and Du Quoin, putting over $178,000 on his card and taking a mark of 1:49.1.. Dave Magee was Unlocked’s Illinois driver. Aged Mare Pacer Let’s Go Higher Spent almost all of last year on the east coast where she competed in high-level mostly at Yonkers and Saratoga and did very well for owner Jesse De Long of Clinton, Wisconsin and his trainer Heidi Rohr. The nare won 5 Opens at Saratoga, 2 at Yonkers and another at Vernon Downs. The daughter of Cole Muffler came back to her home state in September and proved best in her Lorna Propes elimination and its $118,000 Super Night Final. The 13-time season winner put over $200,000 on her 5-year-old campaign card. Aged Male Pacer Al’s Hammered This son of Droppinthehammer came back from serious tendon problems in 2013 to have a brilliant 2014 season as a 5-year-old for Crete, IL owner and trainer Bob Phillips. Al’s Hammered was the King of the Hill in Balmoral invites, winning 7 of them. He also had triumphs in the ICF division on Super Night in the $112,000 Tony Maurello Final, both the Broadway Preview and Rambling Willie stakes, and at Springfield. The horse was sold to Harry Von Knoblauch at the end of October and went on to face some of the best open pacers in the country at The Meadowlands. He ended last year with 15 wins in 27 starts and earnings just under $200,000. Illinois Harness Horse of the Year Earndawg You can make a case for a number of division winners to get this honor and wouldn’t get much of an argument from me. However, Earndawg did make more money ($217,015) than any of the other likely 2014 division winners and ventured out of state-bred competition and came away with stake championships in Maywood’s Abe Lincoln and a division of Hoosier’s Madison. He was also was the American National runner-up at Balmoral Park. The youngster won added money events on three different size ovals, a half, a seven-eight’s, and a full mile track to earn my vote. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

The 2014 Illinois champions will be announced at the USTA District 5 Awards Banquet in Springfield on Saturday, January 15 and since I’m also in the business of making predations I thought I‘d pass along who I think they will crown as the 2014.trotting division winners. I’ll post my picks for the ICF pacing divisions on Saturday along with my choice for 2014 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year. Two-Year-Old Filly Trotter Persuasive Look and Fox Valley Yoko Even though it’s unlikely the USTA District 5 members will have a dead-heat in their balloting for this division, both Persuasive Look and Fox Valley Yoko are very deserving and I simply couldn’t split them. Therefore, I have co-winners in this division. Persuasive Look posted a record of 4 wins, 4 seconds and 4 thirds in 13 starts, while taking the $40,500 Fox Valley Flan and the $57,200 American National, earning $96,186 for Illinois owners and breeders Homer Hochstetler of Crete and Robert Buddig of Hinsdale and trotting a first season mark of 1:58 flat at Balmoral. Casey Leonard drove the Powerful Emotion home bred youngster. Meanwhile, Fox Valley Yoko, a daughter of Pizzazzed out of the successful broodmare Yankee Victory OM, went 5-for-12 in her freshman campaign, captured both the Springfield and Du Quoin State Fair championships and Balmoral’s $40,050 Violet for trainer Curt Grummel and his owner Dr. Patrick Graham of Pittsfield, Illinois. “Yoko” only made $494 less than Persuasive Look and took a mark of 1:58.2 at Balmoral with regular driver John De Long. Two-Year-Old Colt Trotter Fox Valley Qatar While the freshman filly trotting division was too close to call, the colt category certainly wasn’t. Fox Valley Qatar was nearly perfect, This son of Pizzazzed, out of the dam Armbro Bahrian, was sensational for owner and trainer Herman Wheeler who turned the one-time $7,000 yearling purchase into an $84,215 money-maker and a multi-stakes champion. Fox Valley Qatar won his first eight career starts before a second place finish in the $97,000 Lincoln Land Final, his last race of 2014. Along the way he took the $48,000 Plesac Final, the $30,000 Springfield State Fair title and a $17,000 division of the Du Quoin’s Darn Safe. Todd Warren was at the lines of Fox Valley Qatar throughout his first season Three-Year-Old Filly Trotter Bailey’s Wish When the division’s major stakes came around you often found Bailey’s Wish in the winner’s circle along with her trainer Dirk Simpson and Illinois owners Jim Bafia (Minooka) and Gene White (Chicago). In her second season the 2013 Illinois Two-Year-Old Filly Trotter of the Year boasted first place finishes in the $47,000 Violet Final and Super Night’s $100,000 Lady Ann Reed Championship at Balmoral, along with Springfield’s $30,000 Final. The daughter of Southland Breezed also annexed such smaller ICF stakes as Balmoral’s Fox Valley Diva and a Betzotic and Maywood’s Speed N The Tunnel. Three-Year-Old Colt Trotter Fox Valley Veto Curt and Crag Grummel’s star trotter followed a freshman season with only 1 win with 9 triumphs with an outstanding second season that including triumphs in 4 major ICF championships and 3 others against the top open company trotters at Balmoral. The full brother to Fox Valley Yoko started out 2014 second best behind Tour Hall in the Cardinal, a Hanover and a Betzotic before he turned on the jets and powered his way through many of the division major stakes.. Fox Valley Veto won the $41,000 Kadabra, the $25,000 Mike’s A Mystery against older ICF trotters, and the $52,000 Springfield State Fair title in consecutive mid-summer starts. Later in the year he also posted back-to-back-to back victories in “Winner’s Over,” open events, all with driver John De Long. “Veto” finished 2014 with purse earnings of $148,093. Aged Trotters Trot Fudge Sundae and Mack’s Gold Band It was a “down” year for older ICF trotters with few opportunities here in Illinois. The Dirk Simpson Stable’s Trot Fudge Sundae, owned by Simpson, Bafia and White topped the aged mare division with 6 wins and 6 seconds as a 4-year-old. The American Native mare won a pair of Opens at Running Acres in Minnesota, took a new lifetime mark of 1:54 flat the The Red Mile in Lexington and finished her season with a trio of winner circle stops in Open Handicaps at Pompano Park. Mack’s Gold Band, also trained by Simpson, topped the ICF colt and gelding division for older trotters, taking both of the State Fair Aged Trotting stakes for Flacco Family Farms before the trotter was sold to east coast connections. The 4-year-old son of Bands Gold Chip ended last season with 7 wins in 19 starts, a mark of 1:53.3 at Springfield and a $32,528 season bankroll. 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

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