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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

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

The $15,000 Fox Valley Memory stake for ICF fillies and mares makes a belated return on the last night of the year at Balmoral Park Wednesday with seven pacers looking to pad their bankrolls before they turn one year older the next day. All seven raced on the weekend either 3 or 4 nights ago. Wednesday’s early fifth race favoritism is divided between State Street Liz (programmed 5-2, Bobby Smolin, Just By Design (3-1, Dave Magee) and Ryleigh’s Lilly (4-1, Casey Leonard), all December winners in top-level conditioned paces on the big track in Crete, Illinois.   Grandma Ann Super night champ Party Hangover (Todd Warren) is at 5-1. Both Fox Valley Amanda (John De Long) and Feel Like Dancing (Kyle Wilfong) open at 6-1, with Kimberly R (Mike Oosting) the only double digit odds (12-1) mare in the program. The last time these same Illinois bred mares met was in the $13.250 splits of the Sue Fee stake back on November 22. Ryleigh’s Lilly posted an almost two length victory in 1:53 over State Street Liz in one division while Dallas Jones, who came up sick last Saturday and was scratched, took the other division on a rain-soaked track. A winner in the “Winner’s Over” two weeks ago, Ryleigh’s Filly was a disappointing seventh in last week’s event with Casey. “She’s wasn’t herself last week,” said Leonard. “The mare prefers a hard, fast track and we haven’t had that kind of racing surface at Balmoral for a while. She does fit against Wednesday’s field if she comes up with one of her better efforts.” Starting from the two post against mares like State Street Liz, Just By Design and Party Hangover who all do their best racing up-close, could put Casey in a tough spot of either being first-over with Ryleigh’s Lilly or staying inside and maybe risk getting shuffled to the back of the pack. “We’ve just have to see how the race unfolds,” said Casey. Ryleigh’s Lilly is seeking her eighth win of 2014 in her final start of the year for trainer Bill Crone and owner John Bernard of Orland Park, Illinois. Both Chris Choros’ State Street Liz (pp 7) and Ken Rucker’s Party Hangover (pp 4) have chalked up nine season wins. The soon to be four-year-old Fox Valley Amanda (pp 5) boasts the highest season bankroll among the eight ICF fillies with $116,196 in earnings for the Joel Smith Stable with a big hunk of that amount ($44,500) coming from her victory in the $89,000 Maywood Filly Pace in mid-June. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

How competitive has tonight’s weekly “Winner’s Over’ for filly and mare pacers event been at Balmoral Park? Extremely would be the right answer. Over the past two months all six distaff “Winner’s Over” have been won by a different horse. And all of those winners plus two other recent high-level conditioned victors—Dallas Jones (8-1, John De Long) and Wings (8-1, Tim Curtin)—will knock-heads in the Saturday’s seventh race co-feature. The morning line favorite, not surprisingly, is the Roger Welch Stable’s multi-Indiana stakes champion Always About Katey (5-2, Todd Warren), the Dec. 6 “Winner’s Over” victor, the lone time in her six starts the 4-year-old mare wasn’t sent off as the public’s choice. She's closing in on career earnings of $800,000. Last week’s conqueror Ryleigh’s Lilly (pp 2, Casey Leonard) is the 7-2 second choice. She’s a seven-time season winner for trainer Bill Crone and owner John Bernard and four of those victories came with Casey at her lines. Alex Adams’ DP Angel p.p. 1, Mike Oosting), who took the Nov. 9 distaff headliner, is the 4-1 third program choice. Then comes Ken Rucker’s Party Hangover (pp 8, Ridge Warren), the Nov. 29 winner and 2014 Lorna Propes Super Night champion. Joining Dallas Jones and Wings at opening odds of 8-1 are the Mike Brink Stable’s Just By Design (pp 3, Dave Magee), the “Winner’s Over” titleholder two weeks ago and Bernie and Deb Paul’s very consistent mare Seeyouatthefinish (pp 6, Bobby Smolin). The latter picked up season win No. 8 at tonight’s level on Nov. 22. The third race co-feature “Winner’s Over” trot has gone in opposition direction than the filly and mare events. Its last five $11,000 Opens have been won by either Fox Valley Veto or Justice Jet, with the score 3-2 in the former’s favorite. However after dropping three straight decision to Fox Valley Veto, Justice Jet picked-up a head decision last week with a 1:55.2 clocking over his rival. The 3-year-old who was Indiana champion as a freshman for the Welch Stable, captured the Nov. 22 “Winner’s Over,” earlier. Curt Grummel’s Fox Valley Veto, (John De Long) opens at 5-2 from the outside eight-slot, while Justice Jet is at first flash odds of 3-1 to his left with the seven-post. Looking to put an end to the to the recent Fox Valley Veto-Justice Jet dominance are Surclasser (6-1, Bobby Smolin), Master of Excuses (9-2, Mike Oosting), Repeat Your ABC’s (12-1, Kyle Wilfong), Clever Upstart (8-1, Dave Magee), Time Outa Jail (6-1, Casey Leonard) and Big Boy Lloyd (8-1, Todd Warren). by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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

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

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

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

The Mike Brink Stable’s Just By Design, sent off at 28-1, the longest priced horse in Saturday night’s third race co-headliner at Balmoral Park, lit up the tote board at a $59.40 winning mutuel in the $11,000 “Winner’s Over” filly and mare harness racing pace. Skillfully driven by National Hall of Famer Dave Magee, the 5-year-old daughter of Sportsmaster used a ground saving inside up-close trip and then proceeded to win the last quarter of a mile dash to the wire, posting a neck victory over 12-1 longshot Ryleigh’s Lilly in 1:52.4. Party Hangover was a close-up third in the tightly bunched field. Magee hustled Just By Design away from the five-slot and had the front before the first turn. The 61-year-old Green Bay native then took the two-hole behind Party Hangover who got to the first quarter pole in 27 flat. The 3-5 favorite Always About Katey took over command by the :55.2 half-mile marker as Just By Design moved back a slot to third. The winner got off the inside near the 3/4 mile pole, found a clear path in the lane and motored home for her fifth win of the year for Williamsville, Illinois owner Joshua David Carter.   “I was thrilled with her trip,” said Magee. “My mare was a facing a tough field. It turned out Always About Katey (fourth, beaten 1 length) didn’t race up to par tonight although by mare came up with a big finish.   “Under the right circumstances just about any of those mares could have won the race.” Dave was spot-on with that statement. The entire seven-horse field ended up being separated at the finish by only two lengths. The winning 5-2 third race Exacta paid a tidy $690.40 while a 5-2-7 Trifecta ticket for $2 was worth $4,090.60. Curl and Craig Grummel’s Fox Valley Veto ($5.00) rattled off his third consecutive “Winner’s Over” trot division victory with John De Long, wearing down the 7-5 co-favorite Justice Jet a second straight Saturday, this time in 1:55 flat. Master Of Excuses was the early leader in the sixth race co-feature but Ryan Welch put Justice Jet out and rolling on the backside, using a powerful three-deep move to clear and wrestle command while leaving the 8-5 choice Fox Valley Veto some seven lengths behind going into the turn. However “Veto” had plenty left in the tank. The son of Pizzazzed surged three wide through the last turn and gobbled up ground. He then was ducked to the inside in the lane by De Long where he swept past for a 1 and 1/2 length decision over Justice Jet. Was De Long worried when Justice Jet made his big move and opened up a substantial lead? “Not at all,” he replied. “My horse was really strong. “This was one of his best races of the year. To be that wide in the last turn and to still race that strong all the way down to the wire was an awesome effort for the trotter. I thought his win last week was impressive but this one was even more so.” The triumph was Fox Valley Veto’s ninth in his 3-year-old season and his fourth against the top older company trotters on the Balmoral Park grounds. Quick first half fractions, first by Fort Silky (:27.1) and then by Kanarsis (:54.2) set things up for the late rushers in the $10,500 top-level conditioned pace with Best Man Hanover ($9.00), driven by Todd Warren, delivering a neck victory over the 16-1 longshot Mosee Terror (John De Long) at the end of a 1:50.3. Fort Silky held on for third in the eleventh race event. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

One of this season’s surprises at Balmoral Park has been the 3-year-old trotter Fox Valley Veto. Despite less than three dozen lifetime starts the ICF gelding has more than held his own in the top level trots against older and more seasoned open company horses. The son of Pizzazzed out of the Valley Victory broodmare Yankee Victory goes after his third consecutive victory in Saturday’s $11,000 “Winner’s Over” trot in race six with regular driver John De Long. “He’s super sharp right now,” said De Long. “I think he’s better now than he has been all year.” “The horse is really good now,” added trainer Curt Grummel. “I don’t know if it’s the colder weather or what but he is at the top of his game. He’s sounder now than he has been all year. He’s unbelievably sound “I’ll keep racing him at Balmoral through the end of the year and then decide if I want to take him out east to see what he can do there.” Fox Valley Veto put on an electrifying stretch move last week, trotting a 27 flat last quarter to overtake the even-money favorite Justice Jet in the late going to post a career fastest 1:54.3 mile for Curt who shares ownership of the gelding with his father Craig of Carrollton, Illinois,. The win was Fox Valley Veto’s eighth of the season and a trio of them have come against top-level open company trotters. Fox Valley Veto (pp 6) is the 3-1 second program choice in tonight’s sixth race co-headliner behind Justice Jet (pp 5, Ryan Welch) at 2-1. They’ll take on Salutation Hanover (12-1, Pat Curtin), Surclasser (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Repeat Your ABC’s (10-1, Kyle Wilfong), Master Of Excuses (5-1, Todd Warren) and Celebrity Hercules (7-2, Casey Leonard). De Long also has “live” drives in Saturday’s other headliners. He’s back behind Dallas Jones in, the third race $11,000 “Winner’s Over” for fillies and mares and Mosee Terror in the $10.500 eleventh race conditioned pace loaded with past Invitational pacers. Dallas Jones comes off  a two-length win in 1:53.1 with De Long in a non-winners of $8,000 conditioned pace. John was very pleased with his first drive behind the 4-year-old Illinois bred mare. “I told Joel (trainer Smith) I wanted to race her with a trip and that’s what she got. When I asked her in the lane, she was gone. She really raced well. “Dallas Jones is probably one of the biggest mares I have ever driven. She’s enormous and she covers a lot of ground. She came home in 27.1 last week with pretty much minimal urging and she can be right there Saturday with the right trip” Dallas Jones opens at 5-1 behind the 8-5 favorite Always About Katey (Todd Warren), DP Angel (Mike Ooosting) at 7-2, and Party Hangover (Ridge Warren) at 4-1. Ryleigh’s Lilly (6-1, Casey Leonard), Four Hour Nap (15-1, Ross Leonard) and Just By Design (10-1) Dave Magee complete the third race field. Mosee Terror is saddled with the outside 10-hole in the 11th race conditioned pace with the early favoritism going to Time To Roll (7-2, Dave Magee), Kanarsis (4-1, Ridge Warren), Fort Silky (9-2, Casey Leonard) and Best Man Hanover (5-1, Todd Warren), all recent starters in Balmoral Invites. De Long was in the bike behind Mosee Hanover for the first time. The 6-year-old Jim Eaton trainee had been campaigning all year at Pocono Downs. “I was very impressed with Mosee Terror,” said John. “He had been off a few weeks. Last Saturday he had nowhere to go. He was boxed-in and I never even got the earplugs out. “With a second or third over trip I think he can collar most of the horses around here. He’s that kind of a horse.” The solid field of pacers is rounded out with Major Monet (8-1, Dean Magee), Old Man River (10-1, Ross Leonard), Lennox Blue Chip (10-1, Brian Carpenter), Lieutenant Steve (15-1, Ryan Anderson) and Island Jet (10-1, Island Jet). by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

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