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The third time was the charm to kick off the start of this season’s harness racing ICF 3-year-old colt stakes program. The initial stake was to be raced a month ago but that Taurus Bomber event and Maywood’s scheduled Sportsmaster two weeks ago both had to be scrapped because of insufficient entries. Not so with tonight’s Betzotic for state-bred pacing colts and geldings. The fourth race co-feature lured a field of seven including last season division champ Earndawg, winner of just about every major ICF freshman stake and a couple of open added money events as well—Maywood’s Abe Lincoln and a division Hoosier’s Madison. Tonight’s start will be the 2014 Orange and Blue Colt champion’s first in five months for the Roger Welch Stable. The son of Sportsmaster had a pair second place finishes in April qualifiers paced in 56 and change and will be the 2-1 first flash favorite. Another Welch trainee, Rockin Cassinova (9-2, Mike Oosting) also makes his 3-year-old debut and so does Fox Valley Elijah (8-1, Tim Curtin), and M A Bay (10-1, Ridge Warren). The Betzotic will be No. 7 Dinky Dune’s (8-1, Kyle Wifong) second season start. No. 2 Dixie’s Boy (6-1, Casey Leonard) and No. 4 Dakota Roadster (7-2, Bobby Smolin) already have 19 season starts between them and a pair of victories each. The Joel Smith Sale’s Dixie Boy has looked very good at times and not-so-good in others. I asked Casey for his thoughts on the Duneside Perch gelding. “When I drove him towards the end of last year I really liked him,” said Casey. “I thought the horse had a big motor. When he came back earlier this year I didn’t get the call. Dale (Hiteman) did. The horse really struggled and when I got to drive him again when Dale left (for Indiana) he was horrendous that night. “He dropped the lines on me when the field got to the paddock. That was it. I knew something was wrong and I asked his caretaker to have the horse scoped. When they did and found out he bled and they put the horse on Lasix. “He then raced great and won in 53.3. Last week I thought he was the best horse in the race. We got the trip I wanted and he cleared the horse he was following but then he turned loose on me. They scoped him and sure enough he bled again. “If he’s right Saturday, I think he’s one of the better horses in the race. I hope they can get his bleeding situation taken care of. He can go with those horses if they do.” The Betzotic will share Balmoral’s Saturday spotlight with the $14,000 Rambling Willie the first ICF stake race of the year for older pacers. Two-time Super Night champion Iam Bonasera (Travis Seekman) has been installed as the 9-5 program favorite. Taking on in race nine Iam Bonasera is Whirlwindiplomacy (10-1, Dean Magee), Big Brad (6-1, Bobby Smolin), Fort Silky (3-1, Casey Leonard), Ice Scraper (2-1, Brian Carpenter) and Ricky Bobbie (8-1, Mike Oosting). Saturday’s second race for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies will be the season debut of last year’s division champion Mr Leland’s Filly (5-2 Casey Leonard). The Erv Miller trainee put over $177,000 on her card in her freshman campaign and came away with the $162,000 Filly Orange and Blue crown on Super Night. (Of the 12 races contesed on Maywood’s Friday card 8 winners were  Mike Paradise top selections, 2 were listed second and another was a third choice.) Mike Paradise

However, it appears those days are behind us. Many of the Illinois bred sophomore pacers and trotters are now ready to race and those who aren’t, look to be only a week or two away. All three of this weekend’s state-bred stake races are a “go,” including the $14,000 Rambling Willie for older ICF pacers. Three weeks ago the Song Cycle, the first 3-year-old and up ICF stake, didn’t fill. Nevertheless, Saturday’s ninth race Rambling Willie saw six pacers pass the entry box, including the current big three of the ICF heavyweight division—Iam Bonasera, Fort Silky and Ice Scraper. The 9-5 morning line favorite Iam Bonasersa made a break near the top of the lane last week, costing him any chance to pick-up his third “Winner’s Over,” in a row. The 8-year-old Nelson Willis trainee did regain his stride quickly and rattled off a 26.1 last panel finishing third behind Best Man Hanover and Fort Silky. “It was just a speed break and nothing to be that concerned about”, said Iam Bonasera’s regular driver Travis Seekman. “Every once in a while he out-paces himself before he gets completely straighten out coming out of that last turn. “I kind of rushed him trying to keep up with the field because I didn’t want to have them get to too far ahead. He can come off a break quick, like he did, and always make up some ground.” Iam Bonasera drew the two-slot Saturday with the speedball Ice Scraper, programmed at 2-1, Brian Carpenter) landing the five and Fort Silky (3-1, Casey Leonard) getting the four. Ice Scraper hasn’t started at Balmoral since April 7 when he was third in a “Winner’s Over.” In fact 6 of his 9 season outings have been in Ohio at Miami Valley Raceway where he’s posted 2 of his 3 season wins. Fort Silky’s stable-mate Whirtlwindiplomacy has the pole position in the Rambling Willie with driver Dean Magee. Bob Phillips Big Brad (6-1, Bobby Smolin) leaves from the three, while Dave Brook’s Rickie Bobbie (8-1, Mike Oosting) has the outside six-slot. Last season’s 2-year-old ICF colt division champion Earndawg makes his sophomore debut in Saturday’s fourth race $8,000 Betzotic stake. He’ll open as the 2-1 public’s choice with regular driver Todd Warren. I’ll have more on this 3-year-old colt stake in Saturday’s column. Sunday’s $8,000 Koochie for 3-year-old ICF trotting fillies lured a field of eight and was carded as race two. Mike Paradise

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

What a difference a week makes.  Last Saturday’s Direct Balance stake for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies wasn’t raced when only four distaffers were entered. The Balmoral Park Race Office smartly wrote the stake back for tonight and was rewarded when twice as many horses were dropped into the harness racing entry box. If you want to watch eight-horse field of state-bred sophomores’ slug it out you’ll have to stick around close to the midnight hour because the $8,000 stake was placed as the 12th and final race of the program. The first step to Super Night’s Grandma Ann stake should be worth the wait. Making her second season debut is Kay Willis’ Lex, last year’s Filly Orange and Blue bridesmaid who made nearly $65,000 in her freshman season. Lex finished worse than third only once in 9 tries, winning 4 of those races. This will be the homebred first start since last Super Night. The daughter of Lexington Legend out of the Willis’ Artsplace broodmare I Bet U, had an impressive 1:58.2 winning qualifier on Wednesday morning, drawing off by seven lengths with Brian Carpenter had driving her to the wire. Brian liked what he saw from the Nelson Willis Stable’s filly. “Lex qualified super,” said Carpenter. “She was on idle in her qualifier. The filly is like a Cadillac to drive. “I never drove her in her 2-year-old season. Kyle Wilfong drove her and the filly had a very good year. This was the first time I was ever sat behind her. “At first Nelson wanted to leave out of there with her but when we had a bunch of trotters leaving inside of her who might go out and scatter the field he told me to go easy taking her out. It turned out that nobody left and we ended up on top pretty easily. She was just pacing through the bridle at the finish. She looks like she’s just a push-button filly.” Among the 3-1 morning line favorite seven rivals in the Direct Balance is the fast-improving Southern Girl (Casey Leonard), trained by Bob Rittof, the 7-2 programmed choice, and the Roger Welch Stable’s Galley Wench, a 1:56 flat victor in her initial career start on March 22 at Balmoral. Southern Girl was taken back in her March 22 debut and was tenth and last, some 10 lengths behind at the three-quarters, but when she was asked for pace she delivered a wicked :26.1 last quarter in her fifth place finish. The Sportsmaster filly then served up back-to-back first-over triumphs, the last a 1:56.1 clocking. Galley Wench, a $30,000 yearling purchase by Bo and Pat De Long, went to Hoosier after her strong winning local bow. The filly finished a solid third in her first leg of a Series but was saddled with the 10-hole in the Final, raced on a sloppy track, and was a non-factor. The 4-1 early third choice, Galley Wench, will also take on her Welch-trained stable-mate Sporty Project (6-1, Pat Curtin). She’s also owned by Bo De Long but will race uncoupled on the wagering. Gracie On My Mind (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Duneside Perttie (6-1, Mike Oosting) and The Doe (5-1, John De Long) leave from posts 1, 2 and 3, in that order while Simply Burbon (15-1, Richard Finn)with the outside 8-slot complete the Saturday finale field. Mike Paradise

Illinois kingpins Iam Bonasera and Fort Silky will square off again Saturday night at Balmoral Park but it won’t be the $14,000 Song Cycle ICF stake as expected. For the second consecutive Saturday that initial stake for older state-bred male harness racing pacers didn’t fill. Instead the two stalwarts of the older Illinois pace division will tangle in the track’s $9,400 Winner’s Over, an event won by one or the other the 3 three times it’s been raced. The Leonard Stable’s Fort Silky held off the wo-time Super Night champion Iam Bonasera in the first two contests in March before the Nelson Willis trainee turned the tables in the March 21 feature with a come-from-behind 1:50.4 clocking. Iam Bonasera started off his 6-year-old campaign with four unsuccessful starts at The Meadowlands where he didn’t earn a dollar for his owners Erv Miller and Bert Hochsprung who sent him to his home state where he’s nailed down 26 of his 34 lifetime victories. Since joining the Nelson Willis Stable Iam Bonasera hasn’t missed a check, posted 4 wins, and is back to the top of his game. “Nelson (trainer Willis) has really done a good job of getting the horse back in top form,” said his driver Travis Seekman. “Right now he’s as good as he was when I drove him last fall when he was here (Seekman then guided the horse to his Maurello elimination victory but didn’t get the call on him for the Super Night Final). “Iam Bonasera likes Balmoral. I didn’t know why he didn’t do well out east. Maybe they just go too fast. Or maybe he doesn’t like the racing surfaces as much as he likes this one. “Right now all I really have to do is be patient with him. Wait unto they straighten out and race for home and then let him go. Usually if I can keep him 3 or 4 lengths off the leader, he’ll do just fine. He can close better than most horses at Balmoral.” Despite the recent supremacy of Balmoral’s “Winner’s Over” event, neither Iam Bonasera (9-5) nor Fort Silky (5-2, Casey Leonard) will open as the morning line favorite. That honor goes to Cam B Zipper who has been dominating for trainer Jim Ellison and driver John De Long since the 7-year-old gelding came in from Ohio at the beginning of March. He’ll be at 7-5 first flash odds. Cam B Zipper rattled of Balmoral wins in 1:51.3, 1:51.2 and 1:50.4 and likely could have gone faster in all three races for owners Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois; Pennsylvania Howard Taylor and trainer Ellison. The first three slots in Saturday’s seventh race will be manned by Flying Rocket (12-1, Ridge Warren), Preemptive Bid (12-1, Mike Oosting) and Best Man Hanover (6-1, Todd Warren). Sharing the Saturday spotlight will be $8,000 Direct Balance stake for ICF 3-year-old pacing fillies, the 12th and last race on the card, along with the sixth race $9,400 “Winner’s Over” for pacing fillies and mares. Not Worth the Wait: Maywood’s shift to a later 7:30 pm first post became a 7:41 pm first post last night. By 8:30 the third race just got over. All the maneuvering of post times in the end saw a not-so-hot Thursday night handle of less than $420,000. By Mike Paradise

Maywood Park’s initial harness racing ICF stake race of the year met the same fate as Balmoral Park’s 12 nights earlier. It was a no-go. Only a pair of 3-year-old state bred male pacers—Dakota Roadster and Dixie Boy—entered the $8,000 Sportsmaster, scheduled for Friday night. The same two sophomores were the only entrants for the $8,000 Taurus Bomber slated for March 28 at Balmoral. Neither ICF 3-year-old colt stake will likely be rescheduled. Still Growing: No one hit last week’s 20 cent Jackpot Pick 6 at Maywood and carryover for the wager is now at $10,807 for Thursday night’s opener. The 20 cent wager covers the first six races on the card. Better Than Anticipated: Friday’s seventh race conditioned pace feature came up stronger than expected when Kanaris and Firstclassallthway (pictured, courtesy of R.E.B. Photos) were among the seven horses entered. Both pacers come out of a high-level $15,000 conditioned pace at Hoosier. Kanaris (programmed 5-2,Travis Seekman), the 1:48.3 track record-holder at Scioto Downs for a 4-year-old gelding, is making his fourth season start for trainer Joe Seekman and Tripoli Stables of Norridge, Illinois. The now 5-year-old homebred picked up a check in the 2013 Windy City Pace and comes off a 4-year-old campaign where he earned over $124,000. Firstclassallthway (2-1, John De Long) earlier this year rattled off three consecutive victories in Bamoral’s “Winner’s Over” events for Dandy Farms of Glenview, Illinois. The Jim Ellison trainee has won at least 3 races at Maywood the previous three seasons. Among his 39 career victories are a half-dozen triumphs in Balmoral Invites. Galactic Star, winner of 7 of his last 11 outings at Maywood Park, landed the one-slot in the $7,100 conditioned pace for non-winners of $8,000 in their last 5 starts with regular driver Todd Warren. The Perry Smith trained gelding will open at 4-1 odds Fox Valley Norman (8-1, Ridge Warren), Ready (6-1, Mike Oosting), Gypsy Leather (12-1, Ryan Anderson) and Montero Blue Chip (12-1, Casey Leonard) complete the seventh race field. Qualifier News: Lady Lincoln Land champion Bi Polar Rose won her qualifier yesterday morning with Travis Seekman at Balmoral with a 1:59.4 clocking on a track listed as “good.” The Ronnie Roberts trainee is being pointed for the $40,000 (est.) Violet Trot in May. Roberts also had one of the two fastest qualifying winners Wednesday morning when the 3-year-old Indiana bred colt Sir Mammo proved best in 1:55.3 with Todd Warren. Sir Mammo was the third place finisher in last year’s American National 2-Year-Old Trot. Also finishing first in 1:55.3 in another qualifier was the Jim Eaton Stable’s Painkiller (Casey Leonard). The 4-year-old Always A Virgin gelding ended up almost 3 lengths ahead of last year’s Orange and Blue Super Night champion Earndawg. That Roger Welch trainee was timed in 1:56.2 getting ready for his sophomore debut. 1,000th in Sight: Bobby Smolin i(pictured) s grinding is way towards the coveted 1,000 plateau in dash winners. The Oaklawn, Illinois native who turned 29 a few weeks ago (March 23) enters Thursday’s Maywood Park 10-race program with 974 wins as a driver. Coming into 2015 Smolin has posted six consecutive years of 100-plus winning seasons. By Mike Paradise

Taking advantage of some sizzling fractions by others, the 23-1 longshot Flying Rocket flew past in deep stretch to pull off a huge harness racing upset in Saturday night’s featured fourth race at Balmoral Park. Smartly driven by Ridge Warren, who turned 26 last Christmas Day, Flying Rocket took a full three seconds off his previous lifetime mark when he hit the finish wire in a quick time for the mile of 1:50.4 for trainer and owner Art Gregory Jr. of Lowell, Indiana. At the start Warren took the son of Sand Shooter back from the four-slot and dropped into eighth in the 10-hole field while Major Monet, Big Brad, Ricky Bobbie and Preemptive Bid all battled each other in the early going, taking turns at gaining the top with very rapid fractions of 27.1 and 53 flat to the half-mile pole. Ridge had Flying Rocket on the move on the backside and the Indiana bred quickly ate up the ground and was put into striking position turning for home, some 5-plus lengths behind the leader Big Brad who had command at the half-mile marker and again at the three-quarters, reached in 1:21 flat. John De Long took the favorite Ricky Bobbie out of the pocket in the lane and had the front with an eighth of a mile to go but couldn’t hold off the late rushing Flying Rocket who came down the middle of the track to pick-up his first victory for his current barn. Gregory plucked Flying Rocket out of an $8,000 claimer in mid-March and three starts later the 4-year-old gelding visited the Balmoral Park’s winner’s circle much to the delight of those longshot players who were rewarded with a $49.20 payoff for  a $2 wager Ricky Bobbie, beaten a half-length, got his nose in front of the 28-1 longshot Life Is Good Today for second in the conditioned pace for non-winners if $8,000 in their last 5 starts.. A fourth race $2 Trifecta ticket of 4-3-5 paid off handsomely at $3,787 while the 10 cent Superfecta of 4-3-5-9 put $589 in your pocket for just a thin dime. The ICF pacer Ice Scraper became the fastest horse in the two year history of Miami Valley Raceway with a 1:50.2 victory in last night’s Open Pace on the Ohio five-eighths mile track. In observance of Easter Sunday there is no live racing at Balmoral Park today. Happy Easter everybody. By Mike Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve all read stories many times about a harness racing horse having a winning attitude, or a will to win. Just as some horses race with confidence and frequently come away with a victory, there are many others for one reason or another can’t get the job done. It could be they just aren’t fast enough or have some health issues that limit their ability. Maybe they would just rather be doing something else or just have gotten used to losing. Extended losing streaks far out-number extended winning streaks. There are some horses who never do make a visit to a winner’s circle. We have a couple of horses competing Friday night at Maywood Park that are still looking for their first victory, of any kind, at the age of five. In race six Friday the homebred Buttered Noodles is 0 for his first 61 starts. The ICF pacer does have a trio of second place finishes in his first 4 starts of this season including a head decision in his first start of the year with Casey Leonard, who will be at the gelding’s lines tonight. Maybe, just maybe Buttered Noodles will make that slippery first stop in a winner’s circle Friday night. While Buttered Noodles’ 0 for 61 may be an disheartening record it isn’t the worse in Friday’s sixth race. That less-than-distinguished honor goes to Bakesidebar Nlounge who is making his 80th career start and failed to get his maiden win in his first 79 tries for a trio of different trainers. The black ICF pacer does have 12 second place finishes and a dozen more thirds in his career. Baksidebar Lounge has been close at times (not this year), but still hasn’t enjoyed the “taste of victory” only the “agony of defeat.” The 40-plus Club: There are a number of horses racing Friday night that have won dozens of races in their career. In fact several of them have 40 or more with Blazing Fury (race 2) topping the list with 46. Just The Way Itis (race 11) has 44, one more than Speakin Creek’s (race 9) 43) victories Tamarac Sassy (race 5) has 42 and I Don’t Rember (race 7) comes in with an even 40. And the next win for Equinox Seelster will be his 40th. Downsizing: Thursday’s Maywood Park card has been reduced from 10 races to 9. Friday’s programs also have been scaled back by a race to 11. Horse for Course: Muy Caliente (Travis Seekman), who is 3-for-3 this season at Maywood and 8-for-8 elsewhere, is the 7-5 programmed favorite in Friday’s fourth race co-feature for fillies and mates. The 6-year-old Gary Fatland trained mare will take on Sealark Hanover (12-1, Casey Leonard), The Right Move (4-1, Todd Warren), Gimmeazzmooch (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Incredible Filly (7-2, Tim Curtin), Molly Go Lightly (8-1, Mike Oosting) and ER Monica (12-1, Dean Magee). Sizeable Carryover: There’s a $6,551 carryover on Maywood Park’s 20 cent Pick Six that begins race with its first race Thursday and concludes with race six. By Mike Paradise

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

The now 10-year-old ICF mare Tamarac Sassy is in the homestretch of her harness racing career and it’s only fitting she begins her final season at Maywood Park, a track where she has flourished. Tamarac Sassy makes her 2015 debut Friday night in the eighth race, a low-level conditioned pace where the Terry Leonard trainee will open as the 3-1 programmed second choice with regular pilot Casey Leonard at her lines for owner Neva Jane Keeler of Paw Paw, Illinois. The daughter of Us And Them was bred by Neva’s late husband Jerald Grevengoed and raced for Grevengoed until his untimely death in 2012. Tamarac Sassy was sent to the Leonard family in December of that year where she got better with age, earning $105,732 in 2013. Among her 13 wins that year was the $47,868 Aged Violet stake at Maywood Park with Casey. Tamarac Sassy’s has racked up 42 lifetime victories and made over $320,000 as she heads into her 10-year-old campaign. All but five of the mare’s triumphs have come on the circuit’s half-miler. Becoming a mother could be right around the corner for the mare. “This year will probably be it for Tamarac Sassy,” said Casey “She’s 10 now. I don’t know if she’ll make it through the whole year but we’ll just see how it goes. “We talked to Neva and told her that we would be interested in breeding her and she seemed to like that idea” Tamarac Sassy earned $31,426 last year but only about $1,500 of that amount came in the last three months of the year. “The mare didn’t regain her form after Super Night last year,” added Casey. “But we were happy with her (1:58.3) qualifier a week ago. We’ll just see how it plays out as the year goes on.” Friday’s eighth race 5-2 morning line favorite Sister’s Keeper (p.p., Mike Oosting) who takes a class drop in search of her initial season win for the Merv Chupp Stable. Tamarac Sassy’s stable-mate MJ’s Last Dance will also make her initial season start Friday in race 11. The 7-year-old has been off since mid-December. She finished second in last week’s Maywood qualifier when she was timed in 1:56.4. “MJ’s Last Dance is another mare who prefers Maywood,” said Casey. “She usually does well there in the low and middle conditioned races but when we have to take her to Balmoral to fit a condition, it’s a different story, After a typical good first start there she usually tails off. The mare doesn’t like their long stretch.” MJ’S Dance is listed as the 7-2 second favorite in the co-featured 11th race for fillies and mares without earnings of $8,000 in their last five starts. Gary Fatland’s Muy Caliente (Travis Seekman) is the 2-1 programmed choice. Muy Caliente comes off s pair of strong finished where she was third best at higher levels at Balmoral. The 6-year-old mare proved best in last two starts at Maywood Park at Friday’s same level. They’ll be challenged by ER Monica (programmed 8-1, Dean Magee), Misspanderpsajones (12-1, Ridge Warren), Financial Effort (12-1, Kyle Wilfong), Gentle Janet (15-1, Todd Warren), Molly Go Lightly (9-2, Mike Oosting), and Melodie Hotspur (6-1, John De Long). By Mike Paradise

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

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