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Eighteen years have passed since Balmoral Park picked-up the baton and took over as the Chicago circuit’s premier harness racing track, hosting Super Night and most of the other major ICF stake championships. That all came about in 1998 when old Sportsman’s Park a year earlier booted out harness racing and became strictly a thoroughbred/auto racing facility. Just a few years later that coming together of horse and gasoline fumes proved to be a financial calamity and the Cicero, IL track soon went belly-up. Unfortunately live harness racing at Balmoral Park does the same tonight but not before it became a major player in the growth and economy of the racetrack’s surrounding communities. Harness racing thrived at Balmoral for many years. Top-notch horses and a collection of drivers that could hold their own with any track in the country at one time was the norm at the far-south suburban facility. Sadly those days slowly eroded away at Balmoral when the lure of much bigger purses, boded by race-track casino money in other states drained the Illinois horse, driver and trainer colonies. Back-to-back years with “Veto’s” from former Governor Quinn on a Casino expansion bill that would allow slots at our Illinois racetracks sent Balmoral Park and its sister track Maywood Park, into a death-spiral. Nonetheless if we had a Coroner’s report on Balmoral’s demise it would probably read: “Fatal Wound Self-Inflicted.” After tonight we’ll be left with just memories of harness racing at Balmoral and we have plenty of them When Balmoral hosted its first Super Night in 1998 there were plenty of sceptics who were proved wrong. Some 9,200 patrons, at that time the largest crowd in Balmoral Park history, filled the track and its apron and saw Big Tom, one of best ICF pacers of all time, stable-mate Ohyouprettything and the mare Shady Veil all follow their Sportsman’s 1997 Super Night victories with championships that night. One year later over 10,000 fans passed through the turn-styles on Super Night 1999 and a record $2.7 million handle was established. The on-track attendance rose to 10,769 on Super Night 2000, helping set a new Super Night record $2.9 million mutuel handle. That year the Illinois Hall of Fame trotter Plesac won the Su Mac Lad crown by an amazing 19 and 1/2 lengths. A year later Rattle And Rock overcame the outside 10-hole in the Langley Final and won a share of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s $1 million bonus. The same evening Mini Me capped a brilliant freshman season with a romp in the $300,000 Colt Orange and Blue. Later Super Nights gave us some other celebrated ICF horses as Loyal Opposition, Ideal Towne, King Johnny, Parklane Powerful, Home Bed Advantage, Mucho Sleazy, My Boy David, Enzo The Baker, Street Dancer, Sportsfancy, Taser Gun, and Incredible Tillie, just to name a dozen or so. Balmoral Park also gave us “American National Night.” While the American National stakes were born and raised into prominence at Sportsman’s Park they were always spread out through their five-month long meetings. Those American National’s started out that way at Balmoral but later were smartly condensed into one single huge gala evening of racing that year-after-year brought to Illinois some of the very best pacers and trotters in North American along with the crème de la crème of the country’s drivers. I know I’m not alone when I say: “Thanks for the Memories” Balmoral Park. By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

Illinois Hall of Fame driver Walter Paisley had many memorable triumphs among his 5,722 harness racing career victories and one that has always stuck out in my mind was in 1974 with Armbro Nesbit in the Sportsman’s Park leg of the $50,000 U.S. Pacing Championship. It was my first year as the publicity director at the Cicero, Illinois track and the stake lured the absolutely best aged pacers in the country such as 1973 Harness Horse of the Year Sir Dalrae, Otaro Hanover and the Joe O’Brien Stable’s Armbro Nesbit. Sir Dalrae and Armbro Nesbit had already met twice at that 1974 meeting with Sir Dalrae and Jim Dennis prevailing on June 8 in the $50,000 Grand Prix stake on a sloppy track in 2:00 and O’Brien and Armbeo Nesbit getting revenge with a nose decision three weeks later in 1:56.4, the fastest time on the Chicago circuit that year. The two rock stars of the industry were to meet again at Sportsman’s on August 3 in a $50,000 leg of the U.S. Pacing Championship, a new stake series that Sir Dalrae swept in its 1973 inaugural, winning on Sportsman’s five-eighths track, Roosevelt Raceway half-mile oval, and Hollywood Park’s mile track. I’ll let Paisley take over this story: “At Sportsman’s the horsemen use to park their trucks on the back next to the barn area. I got to know all those guys who worked on the track and in the barn area. “One night I came in to drive and as I went through the stable gate one guy after another was saying something like “Hey Paisley you’re getting to drive Armbro Nesbit tonight. Good luck.” I was only 33 at the time and told them: ‘Yea, sure I am.’ I thought they were just having some fun with me. “When I got to the driver’s room I looked at that night’s program and sure enough, I was listed to drive Armbro Nesbit in a big stake. Meanwhile Joe (O’Brien) called me and said: ’I put you down on one of my horses to drive. I hope you don’t mind.’ I told him not at all. “Joe then proceeded to tell me be careful with Armbro Nesbit. And to either race him on the front end or be last so I wouldn’t get into trouble with the horse. Joe told me I could hit the horse once or twice but that’s it. Then just leave him alone. He said the horse didn’t like the whip. “That night in the race I got Armbro Nesbit to the front and Herve (Filion) was following me with Otaro Hanover. Herve pulled his horse at the top of the stretch and Otaro Hanover started going by us. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to get beat with this chalk. This will be the last time I get any drives from O’Brien.’ “Herve did get by me and it was getting late. He was about a half-length ahead of us. Well I thought since Armbro Nesbit was going to get beat anyway why not go ahead and hit him a couple of times and see what happens. “So I did, and he responded. We got past Otaro Hanover near the wire and won the race. It was a thrill for me to get a drive and win with a horse like Armbro Nesbit.” The 4-year-old son of Bye Bye Byrd hit the wire in 1:57, a quick mile back in the mid-1970s, Sir Dalrae came thundering down the stretch to finish third, beaten just 3/4‘s of a length. Paisley, who would win the first of his four Sportsman’s Park driving titles a year later, went on discuss O’Brien, a national Hall of Famer who brought in many of the elite pacers and trotters to Illinois through the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. “Joe was a very nice guy. At first I didn’t know him but later I spent some time with Joe in Europe and got to appreciate him. We talked about a lot of stuff. “In particular Joe didn’t like the way the horse sales were changing. With syndications horses that would be selling for 50 or 60 thousand were bringing $200,000 because there 4, 5 or more guys involved in buying a horse. “Joe thought that was really hurting the trainer who only had one owner. He didn’t think a single owner had much of a shot at buying one of the real good yearlings at a sale. “Joe was a good guy and Armbro Nesbit was a very good horse.” In January of 1990 at Hawthorne Racecourse Paisley became only the fifth driver in harness racing history to crack the 5,000 victory plateau. The Berwyn, IL native was inducted into the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1981. By Mike Paradise

After being banished to the sidelines for a month by the Balmoral Park Racing Office for winning too many races in a row, a well-rested Justice Jet is back in harness racing action Sunday night for the Roger Welch Stable. The 4-year-old Indiana bred trotter will open as the 6-5 programmed favorite with his regular Illinois driver Ryan Welch looking for his sixth consecutive “Winner’s Over” trot victory. The last came exactly a month ago, Feb. 22, an easy two-length win, so for the next few weeks the Race Office discarded the “Winner’s Over” trot on its conditioned sheet with a non-winners of $10,00 last 5 event, making Justice Jet ineligible to race on the circuit. Last week a “Winner’s Over” trot was written by the Race Office and five horses entered but, not surprisingly, the race office chose quantity over quality and didn’t card the Sunday feature race. Instead yet another bigger field of cheap horses filled the card while the best trotters on the circuit horses got another week off. Instead of turning away a good horse, trained locally, and owned by long-time strong supporters of racing in our state because he or she is “too good right now”, why couldn’t the Race Office get creative and get its present top trotter finally raced. Current USTA president Phil Langley showed creativity back in 1990 when the then Sportsman’s Park Racing Secretary at old Sportsman’s Park was faced with a similar situation. Phil had a dominant trotter racing at that time. The horse’s name was Red Rhone. The Michigan invader was winning rather easily week after week so one night Langley “handicapped” the trotter against 5 other horses by assigning him 8-slot that week. Yes, Red Rhome won anyway but Langley got a ton of publicity with his innovative move. I wish I had a picture of that field at the gate. I doubt that I would be the only person who would have loved to see a five-horse trot feature last week at Balmoral with horses in the first four posts, five empty slots, and Justice Jet in the 10-hole. Another possible solution to solve the problem of a trotter being “too good” for the current competition could have seen Justice Jet handicapped like they do “Down Under.” Make the trotter lag the gate by 10 or more yards, giving the other horses, in essence, a head startt. If nothing else, this unusual move would have generated a lot of publicity. It would have had people would be talking about it and perhaps drawing enough interest to come to the racetrack to see and bet on how it would all turn out. While we’re on the subject of “Missing in Action” horses, the reason you haven’t seen the high-flying mare Wings for almost a month now is that she was assigned the same fate as Justice Jet. The MIA mare was found guilty of winning for the fourth consecutive time and the fifth in six season starts at Balmoral on March 7. The punishment by the Race Office was to omit the “Winner’s Over” for mares on the conditioned sheet and replacing it with a NW of 10,000 last 5 event. Thus Wings was excluded from competing on the local circuit. To keep Wings racing they could have her compete one week in a high-conditioned pace against colts and geldings and see what happens. It’s better than jail time . . .  make that more stall time, for the mare, her connections and the circuit’s players. I can recall many-notch mares who raced against “the boys” on our circuit in the past, several successfully. So why punish an owner and his or her trainer for “winning too many races in a row” with their horse? Isn’t that exactly what they should be doing when they send a horse postward:  Their best to win the race? A Winning Combo: Casey Leonard gave Fort Silky another heady drive and the 9-year-old ICF pacer rewarded the circuit’s leading drive with another “Winner’s Over,” victory last night, his second straight at Balmoral Park and the gelding’s 53rd of his brilliant career. As expected Best Man Hanover used the pole position to grab a quick lead and while he was reaching the first quarter pole in 28.2 seconds Casey had Fort Silky on the move out of the third. Fort Silky took command on the backside, and coasted to a 29 second breather from Casey. From there they played: “Try and Catch Me.” They couldn’t. The favorite Iam Bonasera didn’t find his best stride until it was too late and was second best, beaten one length by Fort Silky ($6.00), trained by Terry Leonard for owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Keeler of Paw Paw, Illinois. It was the 53rd time Fort Silky made a stop to a winner’s circle in his splendid career. 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

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

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

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

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