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STICKNEY, IL - On Friday evening at Hawthorne Racetrack over a fast harness racing track, Illinois-bred three-year-old pacing fillies were on display in leg two of the Plum Peachy stakes. Two divisions were set to compete. In the first division, Ashlee's Fine Lady was sent off as the favorite. Leaving quickly was Bucklegirl Bobetter as she cleared the lead through a quarter in :28.4 and half in :59.1. Favored Ashlee's Fine Lady moved to challenge on the turn as Bucklegirl Bobette battled through three quarters in 1:27.2. All out late, Bucklegirl Bobette dug in gamely for Kyle Wilfong to hold on for the victory in 1:54.4. Dandy's Diva finished second while LK's Nancy Lee was third. Trained by Robert Walker, Bucklegirl Bobette returned $8.60, $8.80 and $5.40. Dandy's Diva paid $9.80 and $7.40 while LK's Nancy Lee returned $3.40 to show. In the second division, Dakota Sleek was scratched leaving a field of seven as Char N Marg was the favorite. Art Angel Baby made the lead through the quarter in :28.1. At the half, favorite Char N Marg took over for Casey Leonard in :57. After three quarters in 1:25.3, Char N Marg led the field into the lane and opened up. Drawing clear late, Char N Marg won easily in 1:53.1. Likeafireballshot rallied for second while Whiskersonkittens finished third. Owned by Quaid Racing LLC and trained by Nelson Willis, Char N Marg returned $3.60, $2.80, and $2.20. Likeafireballshot came back $5.80 and $3.80 while Whiskersonkittens paid $3.40 to show. Jim Miller  

Almost three-years to the day after notching his 1,000th career driving victory, Hawthorne's defending winter-meet harness racing driving champion and current summer-meet leading reinsman Casey Leonard had cause to celebrate another milestone as he posted his 2,000th career victory with the Nelson Willis trained Uncle Bud in Saturday's fourth race. A third generation horseman, who sports a business management degree from Western Illinois University, Leonard has been dominating the driving ranks in the Chicagoland area over the past few seasons winning titles at Hawthorne and the now shuttered Balmoral & Maywood Park racetracks. Despite growing up in and around the sport becoming a driver or trainer in the game was never number one at the top of the charts for the 38-year-old Leonard. "I worked in warehouse and supply chain management before my uncle (Gary) passed away in 2000," said Leonard. "That's when dad (Terry) asked me if I would come back home and help with the farm so I did. Initially I had just planned on training some horses to help out but then I received the opportunity to drive some very nice horses and wound up making some good money with them. That's when the driving end of the business really started to get into my blood." Having come a long way from his first career victory at the Woodstock County Fair back in 1996, the quiet but confident Leonard has been like a fine wine, continuing to get better and better with age. Casey has posted more than 1,600 of his 2,000 career wins since 2010 while more than $8.2 million of his $11.8 million in career driving earnings have come in the past 7 seasons. "I don't regret for one minute starting my career a little later than most guys do," said a joyful Leonard in the winner's circle. "Things have really taken off for me over the past few years so maybe it was some master plan that it's all worked out the way it has." When asked if the grind of commuting nearly 80 miles each way from his home ever seemed like it was just a little too much Leonard answered with a resounding no. "It does make for some long days and nights training horses in the mornings and then coming into drive at night but this is my job and how many people get the chance to say they can have this kind of fun at their job," said Leonard. "I also get the honor to drive for most of the top trainers here on the Chicago circuit so I darn well better get them some winners." Leonard also wasted no time starting on the path to 3,000 career victories by guiding Summer Shandy, who is trained by his dad Terry, in the next race of the night. Tom Kelley  

STICKNEY, IL - Thursday night at Hawthorne kicked off the opening legs of the Beulah Dygert Memorial Trot and Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Trot. The Beulah Dygert is for Illinois-bred harness racing three-year-old fillies while the Erwin F. Dygert is for Illinois-bred three-year-old colts and geldings. The Thursday opener was the first division of leg one of the Beulah Dygert as Powerful Princess was sent off as the 4-5 favorite. Breaking at the start was Powerful Princess, leaving Vengeful to lead the field around through fractions of :29.0, :58.2, and 1:28.1 for three quarters. Tracking the entire way was 24-1 shot Roma Falls for driver Matt Krueger. Moving late, Roma Falls took over and drew clear by four lengths, stopping the clock in 1:58.3. Trained by Ray Hanna for owners Mary Jeffers and Adele Everett, Roma Falls returned $51.80, $9.00, and $4.80. Vengeful held place, coming back $3.20 and $2.10 while More Than Likely finished third and returned $3.00 to show. The second division of leg one of the Beulah Dygert went as race three on Thursday night with Rocknprincessabbie as the even money favorite. At the start, second-choice Awfully Emotional left for the lead through the opening quarter in :29.2. Moving quickly on the backstretch to the lead was the favorite Rocknprincessabbie and driver Todd Warren. Following a half in 1:00.1 and three quarters in 1:29.4, Rocknprincessabbie and Surviver Di battled the length of the stretch. Prevailing in the end was the favorite Rocknprincessabbie over Surviver Di with Fox Valley Bugatti a late closing third. Owned by Danny Graham and trained by Nelson Willis, Rocknprincessabbie returned $4.00, $2.60, and $3.00. Surviver Di came back $7.20 and $4.80 while Fox Valley Bugatti returned $9.80 to show. The boys were the focus later in the evening as two divisions of leg one of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Trot took place. In the first division, Mr Strata was the 4-5 favorite, coming off a victory in the recent late closer series final. Driver Casey Leonard wasted no time getting early position with Mr Strata, leading the field through the opening quarter in :29.3. On the backstretch, second-choice Fox Valley Diamo took over through a half in 1:00.1. Into the lane, longshot Storm Winds led briefly before breaking stride while Mr Strata took over a two-length lead late. All out to the wire, Mr Strata held on by a nose over Wrightwood in 1:59.1. Psychic Survior finished third. Owned by Cynthia Willis and trained by Nelson Willis, Mr Strata returned $3.80, $2.60, and $2.60. Wrightwood returned $4.60 and $4.40 while Psychic Survior came back $7.80 to show. The second division of the Erwin F. Dygert, Primed N Powerful was the even money choice. Immediately from the start though it was Casey Leonard and Fear setting the early fractions through :29.1 and :59.1. Primed N Powerful made a move to contend through three quarters in 1:28.4 but Fear responded and opened up, winning by nine lengths at the wire in 1:57.2. Owned by Providence West Inc. and trained by Kenny Collier, Fear returned $6.20, $5.20, and $4.20 as the 2-1 second choice. Bands Ariston got up for second, coming back $8.00 and $6.20 while Dr Venkman was third, paying $14.80 to show. Jim Miller

Freshmen pacing fillies were front and center on Thursday, July 9th at Maywood Park as a total of 12 state-bred harness racing youngsters squared off in a pair of $6,000 divisions of the My Metallica Stake. In the first division, the Nelson Willis trained Aunt Ethel took full advantage of the inside starting spot as she grabbed command right from the word go and made every call a winning one with a three-length victory in 1:57.3.   Confidently handled by driver Mike Oosting, the homebred daughter of Sportsmaster--Miller Creek Ethel shot to the top where she put up splits of 29.0, 57.4 & 1:28.0. When called upon on the final turn by Maywood's leading reinsman the bay filly responded with a nice 29.3 final panel while drawing away from her rivals. Burry Me Inthesand (Gary Rath) turned a nice inside trip into a second place check while Thetis (Ridge Warren) rallied to finish third, 5¼ lengths behind the winner.   The win was the first in two lifetime starts for Aunt Ethel who is owned by Rick, Erwin and Vernon Barbre.   In the second division the Hosea Williams owned and trained Lexington Lady continued to impress as she cruised to an easy 4¼ length front stepping score in 1:55.4 for driver Brian Carpenter.   Flashing her high octane gate speed the daughter of Lexington Legend--Stephie Kay zipped right to lead effortlessly posting fractions of 28.0, 58.0 & 1:27.1 while rolling along unchallenged on the "engine".   With plenty still in reserve Lexington Lady left her rivals in her wake on the final bend pacing home in a snappy 28.3 for her third straight ICF stake score. Fox Valley Addison (Todd Warren) finished in the runner-up spot while longshot Our Miss Cami (Mike Oosting) nabbed the show dough.   The 1-5 favorite who was a $2,500 bargain buy as a yearling now boasts three wins and a second in four lifetime starts with earnings of $9,000.   Live racing continues on Friday, July 10th at Maywood Park with two divisions of the Fox Valley Barzgar Stake for ICF two-year-old pacing colts sharing top billing on the card. Those battles will go as races four and six on the 12-race program which also features a $10,000 guaranteed pool in the Pick 4 (races 9-12) and a new $15,000 guaranteed pool on the 10 cent Hi-Five wager (race 12). Post time for the first race is 7:30 p.m. (central).   Tom Kelley

After opening their harness racing careers on the mile oval at Balmoral, this season's two-year-old pacing crop had their first tests on the tight turns of a half-mile oval as Maywood Park played host to a pair of Illinois conceived and foaled stake events on Friday night. With a total of 12 freshmen pacing colts dropped in the box, the Enzo The Baker Stake was split into a pair of $4,000 divisions. The girls were also in action on the sloppy track Friday night as a field of seven was sent postward in the $5,000 Juxtaposition Stake.   In the opening division of the Enzo The Baker, the Kay Willis owned Dan D Dune rolled to an impressive 6¼ length victory in 1:59.0 for driver Mike Oosting.   Content to save ground in third while Sagebrush Sid (Pat Curtin) led the field through splits of 30.2 & 1:00 Oosting pounced on the pace-setter as the pair raced head and head by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:29.4.   Quickly opening up an insurmountable edge around the final turn the gelded son of Duneside Perch--Witch Hanover continued to widen his margin through the lane in route to his first career win. Eddie Eddie Eddie (Clifton Bell) who was forced wide by a breaking horse on the final bend still managed to rally in time for the place money while Dakota Road (Robert Smolin), salvaged the show dough despite a miscue in that last turn.   Hammered at the betting windows the Nelson Willis trained Dan D Dune, who was a $9,500 Classic Yearling purchase, returned $3.20, $2.10 & $2.10. The second division produced a wire to wire performance as Stephen Mc MacKin, Marilyn Kelly and Lorna Roush's Wondrous Sport used the inside starting spot to perfection leading every step of the way as he reported home with a 1½ length victory in 1:59.0. Given a confident steer by driver Casey Leonard the gelded son of Sportsmaster--Wondrous Grace shot right to the front from the pole position, putting up splits of 29.3, 1:00.3 & 1:30.2 while relatively unchallenged on the front end. With plenty still in reserve, the Gary Rath trainee kept his rivals at bay through the lane with a 28.3 final quarter to notch his maiden breaking victory. Sagebrush Sam (Kyle Husted) enjoyed a perfect two-hole trip but was no match for the winner while Fox Valley Aramon (Todd Warren) saved ground throughout the mile to finish third. The second choice in the wagering Wondrous Sport returned $5.20, $4.00 & $3.20 while opening his account.   The Juxtaposition Stake figured to be a showdown between Lexington Lady and Fox Valleytiramisu who had traded first and second place finishes in their first two meetings and it proved to be just that with Lexington Lady getting the better of her main rival on this night as she cruised to a four-length victory in 1:57.2 for driver Brian Carpenter. Gunned right to the top from post five the Hosea Williams owned and trained miss rattled off splits of 27.3, 57.0 & 1:27.3 while Fox Valleytiramisu sat right on her back. These two were some 10 to 12 lengths in front of the rest of the fillies for most of the mile and things were no different in the late going as the daughter of Lexington Legend--Stephie Kay drew off in the lane for her second straight stakes win. Fox Valleytiramisu (Robert Smolin) was a clear cut second while Burry Me Inthesand (Gary Rath) was a distant third, 11½ lengths behind the winner. Looking like quite the bargain buy for her proud owner-trainer the $2,500 Illini Classic Yearling purchase returned $2.60, $2.10 & $2.10 while running her record to 2-1-0 in 3 lifetime starts with earnings of $6,000.   Tom Kelley

One of Maywood Park's signature harness racing events, the $35,600 Filly Maywood Pace will put a field of eight Illinois conceived and foaled three-year-old pacing fillies in the spotlight as they do battle in race eight on Friday, June 12th. Leading the way in here is this year's Violet Stake winner Lex who comes into this tussle off a third place finish while facing the top "older" distaffers on the grounds at Balmoral Park last time out.   The Nelson Willis trained miss earned a bye into tonight's final giving the daughter of Lexington Legend a week off to freshen up for this tussle. Sporting a career record of 7-4-3 in 15 starts with earnings of nearly $85,000 for owner Kay Willis Lex has been installed as the 9-5 favorite as she leaves from post four. Kyle Wilfong is scheduled to handle the driving duties.   Southern Girl (4-1) turned some heads with a big come from behind victory in last week's elimination and the Homer Hochstetler trained miss could make it two in a row if she's able to uncork another closing move like that.   Unraced as a two-year-old the daughter of Sportsmaster began her career this spring by reeling off a couple of sharp wins before running into stakes company. After a couple of "even" efforts the good looking brown filly regained her form last week, exploding through the final sixteenth of a mile to pick up her fourth win in 10 career starts. Southern Girl will start from post two as she teams up with driver Travis Seekman again.   Last week's elimination favorite Sportsmuffler was victimized by a tough trip from post eight and this ultra-consistent filly also figures to make her presence felt as she starts from post six on Friday.   The Jesse De Long owned and trained miss has put up a sparkling record of 8-3-3 in 15 lifetime starts with earnings of just over $75,000. Installed as the 5-2 second choice in the morning line odds, Casey Leonard will handle the driving chores.   The "boys" will also be in Friday evening as a field of eight ICF sophomore pacing colts will battle in an $8,000 elimination for next week's Maywood Pace. The top six finishers will move on to the final where there will be joined by Earndawg and Dixie's Boy in the $36,000 final. Tom Kelley  

Illinois conceived and foaled stakes action was in full swing on Sunday, May 17th, at Balmoral Park as a pair of state-bred events for harness racing three-year-old trotters and pacers shared top billing on the 10-race program.   Leading the way were ICF pacing fillies as a full field of 10 second season ladies met in the $17,800 Violet Stake. As she did in last week's prep for this tussle, Kay Willis's Lex overpowered her rivals in this event, storming up first over to grab command on the far turn and then drawing clear late to win by 2¾ -lengths in a career best of 1:52.3.   Confidently handled by driver Kyle Wilfong, the daughter of Lexington Legend--I Bet U left alertly from post five tucking in third as a hard charging Fox Valley Aubrey (Robert Smolin) sped to the top from post 10, leading the field through splits of 27.2 & 56.4.   After cruising along relatively unchallenged through the opening half, things heated up on the last bend as Lex came rolling up first over to challenge while the field charged by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:25.0.   Quickly overtaking the pace-setter, the Nelson Willis trainee zipped away to a two-length length advantage. The issue was still in doubt though through the final sixteenth of a mile before last season's Filly Orange & Blue runner-up imposed her will on her challengers, drawing clear late to win for the third time in five starts this season. Sportsmuffler (John De Long), who was used hard in the early going from post seven turned in a big effort to finish as the bridesmaid while Fox Valley Aubrey held on for third. A multiple stakes winner during her freshman campaign the homebred bay returned $3.00, $2.20 & $2.10 while upping her record to 7-4-2 in 14 starts with earnings of $83,100. Sophomore trotting colts were also on the docket Sunday night as a field of nine lined up behind the gate for an $8,000 Betzotic Stake.   Once again the Herman Wheeler owned and trained Fox Valley Qatar showed that he's the one to beat among his peers, rolling to a deceptively easy "neck" decision in a career best of 1:56.0 with Todd Warren at the controls.   Using the inside starting spot to his advantage the gelded son of Pizzazzed--Armbro Bahrain grabbed control of the proceedings after eyeballing RT Habenero (Kyle Wilfong) and Tricky Nick (Mike Oosting) battle through an opening panel in 28.4.   After allowing a hard charging Captain Greedy (J.D Finn) to grab a short lived lead, Warren had Fox Valley Qatar back out and rolling to the top as the field moved through middle splits of 57.0 & 1:26.4.   Through the stretch, last year's divisional champion appeared to be well in hand despite a shortening margin, casually shrugging off a late challenge from the pocket sitting Captain Greedy to record his 10th win in 12 career starts. Captain Greedy was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Allpowernoemotion (Ronnie Gillespie) turned in a nice effort to rally for the show dough.   With the win Fox Valley Qatar boasts a record of 10-1-0 in 11 lifetime starts with earnings of $92,215. Bet as though defeat was out of the question, the bargain priced $7,000 yearling returned $2.60, $2.10 & $2.10 to his legion of backers.   Tom Kelley

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

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

State-bred pacing fillies will get the 2015 stake season underway at Balmoral Park on Saturday, April 11th as a field of eight sophomoreâs will line up behind the gate for the $8,000 Direct Balance Stake which goes as race 12 on the harness racing card.   Kay Willis's homebred Lex, a multiple stakes winner during her freshman season, has been accorded the morning line favoritism in this event as she makes her sophomore debut after a resounding seven-length triumph in her qualifier here at Balmoral on April 1st. The daughter of Lexington Legend closed out a very successful two-year-old campaign in which she posted a record of 4-2-2 in nine starts with nearly $65,000 in earnings, with a second place finish in the year's richest event for the ladies the $162,000 Filly Orange & Blue on Super Night. Brian Carpenter is scheduled to handle the driving duties for the Nelson Willis trainee as she starts from post position five.   The Rob Ritoff trained Southern Girl has turned home heads with back to back wins coming into this event and the lightly raced daughter of Sportsmaster figures to garner plenty of attention at the betting windows. A $34,000 purchase at the 2013 Land Of Lincoln sale, the good looking brown filly debuted with a fifth place finish here on March 22nd before posting a pair of impressive come from behind scores for the ownership group of Kristopher Heim, Connie Hochstetler and James Michels. Casey Leonard gets the call on Saturday as Southern Girl leaves from post position six.   Another to keep an eye on is Galley Wench who hails from the red-hot barn of conditioner Roger Welch. This filly also fetched a big price at the 2013 Land Of Lincoln Sale bringing a $30,000 bid from William C and William P Delong who have enjoyed plenty of success here in the Prairie State in the last few seasons. This daughter of Sportsmaster debuted with a last to first victory on March 22nd before shipping to Hoosier Park where she posted a third place finish in the opening leg of the Rosie Harness Series. A sloppy track and the dreaded 10-hole combined to do her in in the final of that event as she wound up a disappointing seventh. Todd Warren will be in the sulky behind Galley Wench as the pair starts from post position four.   Rounding out the field from the pylons out are Gracie On My Mind, Duneside Perttie, The Doe, Sporty Project and Simply Burbon. Tom Kelley

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

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

The veteran harness racing pacer Don’t Worry B Happy looks to get revitalized Friday night with a drop to a mid-level conditioned when he revisits Maywood Park. The 7-year-old Nelson Willis trainee faces an above average field in the eighth race for non-winners of $4,000 last five but if you go by past history Don’t Worry B Happy looms large for his driver Brian Carpenter. Maywood Park is what I like to call a “get-well” track for Don’t Worry B Happy. Every time the son of The Panderosa can’t find a winner’s circle for Barrington Hills, Illinois owner Shirley Le Vin, his trainer ships the horse to Maywood Park where Don’t Worry B Happy usually “gets well.” Don’t Worry N Happy didn’t make his Maywood Park debut until 2013 as a 5-year-old. The horse had won an $18,000 Hoosier Park Open that April and then went into a long slump, dropping 11 straight races in either Indiana or at Balmoral Park. However in October of that year he ended the losing streak in his initial Maywood start. The horse would make 3 more starts in 2013 at Maywood and hit the board each time. After a winter break of 3 and 1 1/2 months off Don’t Worry B Happy started off his 2014 season at Maywood and was a winner, this time with Sam Widger at his lines. The horse then dropped his next 9 decisions but “got well” in a late July starts with driver Todd Warren, when the pacer returned to—you guessed it—Maywood Park. Don’t Worry B Happy then raced at Balmoral in August, September and into October, this time take a licking 8 races in a row. However, the horse as expected “got-well” in a mid-October race at Maywood. The gelding then went back to his home base at Balmoral and dropped 5 uninterrupted decisions before taking the hour-plus long van ride from Balmoral to Maywood where, to no one’s surprise, won two December starts after a second place finish in late November. With three successive losses at Balmoral to start the 2015 season, the horse is back on the circuit’s half-miler where he hopes to “get well” against a nice field comprised of Total Sin (programmed 6-1), Silver Devil (7-2), Cotton Eyed Joe (10-1), So Be It (8-1), Fox Valley Norman (3-1) and Montero Blue Chip (12-1). Silver Devil (John De Long) is making his 2015 debut for trainer Nick Giberson. Last year the son of Duneside Perch captured the $34,380 Aged Cardinal and was second to Fort Silky in the Cook County stake, the opening leg of the Maywood Pacing Series. As a freshman Silver Devil won a Betzotic stake at Maywood and followed that up with victories in the Circuit City and Grey Ghost at Hoosier Park. Cotton Eyed Joe (Bobby Smolin) took the Orange and Blue Colt Championship as a freshman on Super Night 2013 and opened his 2014 season with back-to-back wins in small Maywood Park ICF stakes. The Bob Philips trainee was second-best to Unlocked in last year’s Super Night Langley Final. By Mike Paradise

State-bred filly and mare pacers headlined the final night of the 2014 racing season at Balmoral Park as a field of seven distaffers squared off in the $15,000 Fox Valley Memory Stake. In what has been a very competitive division all season long John Barnard's Ryleigh's Lilly came up with a big effort to close out her four-year-old season as she powered to the top after the quarter and never looked back in route to a 1 ½ -length victory in 1:53.4 for Balmoral's leading driver Casey Leonard. Confidently handled by Chicago's leading reinseman, the daughter of Western Hero--Fox Valley Chosen came away fourth in the field of seven as Party Hangover (Ridge Warren) and State Street Liz (Robert Smolin) battled through an opening quarter in 28.2. Quickly hitting top gear as the field settled on the backstretch the Bill Crone trained miss charged from fourth to first in a flash, leading the field through middle splits of 57.2 & 1:25.2. With plenty in reserve for the stretch drive, Ryleigh's Lilly sealed the deal with a 28.2 final quarter while keeping her rivals at bay for her eighth victory of the season. State Street Liz held on for second while Just By Design (Dave Magee) turned a ground saving trip into a third place finish. With the win Ryleigh's Lilly closed out the 2014 season with a record of 8-4-6 in 35 starts while adding another $59,000 to a career bankroll which now stands at $82,538. Heavily backed at the windows the 4-5 betting favorite returned $3.80, $3.00 & $2.10. Balmoral also honored Leonard as the 2014 driving champion while longtime veteran Nelson Willis took home the 2014 training title at the Crete oval. Leonard, a third generation horseman who did not start driving regularly until 2009 ended the 2014 season with 204 victories at Balmoral Park easily outdistancing second place finisher Todd Warren by more than 60 victories. Leonard put up a U.D.R.S. of .330 at Balmoral while horses driven by him earned more than $1.38 million in purses. Willis, who also captured the training title here in 2012, finished up the 2014 season with 71 victories, 23 win ahead of runner-up Erin Elliott. With more than 500 starts at the meet, Willis put up a U.T.R.S. of .266 while his horses earned more than $563,000 in purses. Live racing resumes on Saturday, Jan 3rd. Post time is 7:10 p.m. (central). Balmoral will also race on Sunday, Jan. 4th before heading to a short break. Live racing will then return on Saturday, Jan 31st. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

Illinois conceived and foaled two-year-olds shared top billing on Friday's Maywood Park card as a pair of elimination tussles for freshmen pacers were contested. Fillies kicked off the action with a field of eight gathering behind the gate for a $10,000 Violet Stake elimination. The top five finishers will get the chance to join Sportsmuffler, Angel Demon and Duneside Perttie in next Friday's $43,600 final. With the defection of division leaders Mr Leland's Filly and Lex, the final should be a wide-open event but the betting public was right on for the elimination as 7-5 favorite Luvniecestopieces posted a two-length wire to wire victory in 1:57.1 for driver Todd Warren. Sent right to the front from post six by Warren the daughter of Yankee Skyscaper--Fox Valley Dujour cruised through splits of 27.4, 58.2 & 1:27.3 while never being challenged. With plenty in reserve and an outer flow that was going nowhere, the Hart Walker trained miss rolled home in 29.3 to notch her third win in 10 starts this season. Fox Valley Charm (Kyle Wilfong) shook loose late to wind up as the bridesmaid while Fox Valley Kit (Brian Carpenter) was third. Also gaining spots in the final were Girls Hunt Too and Lyrics Fall. The public's choice returned $4.80, $3.60 & $2.60 while moving her record to 3-4-1 in 10 starts with earnings of $19,551 for the partnership of Hart & Robert Walker, Robyn Klingler and Homer Henke. The Cardinal elimination also brought out a field of eight youngsters and produced another front stepping winner as Engel Stable of Illinois The Big Sleazy reported home with a half-length win in 1:56.4 with Dave Magee at the controls. After working hard to gain control of the proceedings the gelded son of Sagebrush--Decent Lawyer stepped through splits of 28.3, 58.3 & 1:27.4 for his Hall of Fame reinseman. The Nelson Willis trainee appeared to be well within himself through the lane turning back a brief bid from the pocket sitting Mighty Hot Shot (Todd Warren) as he notched his second win in seven lifetime starts. Mighty Hot Shot was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while C Note (Travis Seekman) took the "overland" route to a deceptively strong third place finish. With the top four in this event moving on the last spot in next week's $43,350 final went to Thisishowweroll. They will be joined by Dupage's Z Tam, Earndawg, King Of The Swamp and Lucpark. Bet to even-money favoritism The Big Sleazy returned $4.00, $2.40 & $2.10 while pushing his lifetime slate to 2-2-1 in 7 starts with earnings of $23,070. by Tom Kelley, for Maywood Park  

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