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STICKNEY, IL - Saturday evening will mark the start of harness racing at Hawthorne Race Course, marking 50 years after the first harness meet was conducted at the Stickney oval in 1970. This season the schedule for racing in Illinois takes a slight adjustment as construction of a new racing and casino venue will begin on the grounds of Hawthorne Race Course. With construction ongoing during the day, a one year hiatus from spring thoroughbred racing will take place and be replaced by evening harness racing on weekends. The 92 night expanded harness season kicks off on Saturday, February 15 at Hawthorne as the nearly eight month long season will give Standardbred horsemen in Illinois an opportunity to earn more over a longer racing period. In February, live racing will be conducted every Saturday and Sunday evening. In March, Friday evening cards will be added, with Hawthorne racing three days per week from March through the meet end on Sunday, September 20. The focus at Hawthorne Race Course in 2020 is on Illinois-bred racing as the entire stakes schedule will be comprised of races for Illinois-restricted horses. The stakes schedule culminates on closing weekend as over $1 million in purses will be distributed on Night of Champions weekend. Opportunities for open-company horses will be aplenty though as a strong overnight program will offer up to 12 races per night, with the focus on larger field size and quality racing. Leading driver Casey Leonard returns in 2020 as he comes off a great 2019 campaign that saw him win 188 races at Hawthorne. Kyle Wilfong is back as he compiled a strong 122 win meet in 2019. While Kyle Husted is briefly sidelined, he will return to the driving colony early in the racing season. Travis Seekman returns from a good 2019 season while the father son combo of Todd and Ridge Warren will both be in the bike to open the meet. Trainer Terry Leonard has his stable ready early as he returns off a great 2019 season that saw his horses find the winner's circle 70 times. A couple of Leonard's top trainees have already been back on the track as both Fox Valley Gemini and Fox Valley Triton qualified last week. Nelson Willis is back as well as large contingents from the barns of Mike Brink, Steve Searle, Kyle Husted, and Brett Wilfong. For the bettor, Hawthorne returns the low 15% takeout wagers, offering a $.50 Pick 5 which begins with the night's opening race, and a pair of $.50 Pick 4 wagers, starting in race three and then on the final four races on each night's card. Both the Pick 5 and Pick 4 will have carryovers attached to them if nobody selects five or four winners for the respective wagers. The $.20 Jackpot High 5 returns for each night's final race. This year, a $2 Pick 6 wager has been added to the Hawthorne wagering menu. The Pick 6 is not a Jackpot wager as any carryover and major pool will pay out any time six winners are selected in the sequence. A consolation pool has been attached to the Pick 6 nightly and will also be paid whenever there is a winner of the major pool in the Pick 6. The Pick 6 will have a 20% takeout with 50% of the major pool going to either a winning ticket with six winners or the carryover and the other 50% being paid to that night's minor or consolation pool. Win, Place, and Show wagers will again have just a 17% takeout rate. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returns for live harness racing on Saturday, February 15 and races through Sunday, September 20. Post time nightly is 7:10 PM. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 2 through December 26. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. by Jim Miller, for Hawthorne Race Course  

STICKNEY, IL - Friday night at Hawthorne saw the return of reigning Illinois-bred Horse of the Year as Fox Valley Gemini took to the track in leg three action of the Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial. The Carey is for Illinois-bred, three-year-old colt and gelding pacers as each division went for $15,000. Race eight was the first division of the Carey as Fox Valley Gemini was sent away as the heavy 2-5 favorite with Casey Leonard in the bike. Leaving for the lead between horses was Backstreet Lawyer, but You'remyhearthrob moved up from the far outside to challenge through the quarter in :27.3. After a half in :55.1, You'remyhearthrob led the field into the far turn while Fox Valley Gemini settled in fourth. Through three quarters in 1:24.0, You'remyhearthrob held a length advantage into the lane as both Backstreet Lawyer and Dandy Dude tipped out to challenge. Mid-stretch, Backstreet Lawyer grabbed a brief lead, but Leonard swung Fox Valley Gemini four wide as he rallied to win by a length and a quarter in 1:52.0. Backstreet Lawyer finished second while You'remyhearthrob battled back to finish third. Fox Valley Gemini has now won sixteen straight races to open his career for owner Jim Ballinger and trainer Terry Leonard. Race ten was the second division of the Carey as a full field of ten lined up behind the starting car. Sent away as the even money favorite was Frontier Frank. Clearing the lead early was Frontier Frank as he was chased by Al's Briefs through the opening quarter in :27.4 and the half in :55.4. On the turn, Al's Briefs and Travis Seekman moved quickly to take over through three quarters in 1:24.0. Into the lane, Al's Briefs opened up a three length advantage as the field began to move behind him. All out to the wire, Al's Briefs just held off the late move of Cool Casper and M T Gunslinger. The final time for the mile was 1:52.4. The stewards reviewed the actions of second-place finisher Cool Casper and disqualified him for interference in the stretch, placing him ninth. The disqualification moved M T Gunslinger to second and moved longshot Herecomesmagotta up to third. Al's Briefs is owned by Anthony Somone, David McCaffrey, and trainer Clark Fairley. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, continues the summer harness season through September 24. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 5 through December 29. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. by Jim Miller, for Hawthorne Race Course  

STICKNEY, IL - As leg two action in the Night of Champions races continued on Sunday at Hawthorne, Illinois-bred three-year-old pacers and trotters were the focus in the Robert F. Carey Memorial and the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial trot. Three divisions of the Carey took place Sunday, kicking off in the fourth race. A field of nine lined up as You'remyhearthrob was the 4-5 favorite with Kyle Wilfong driving. Leaving quickly from the gate was the favorite as he opened up a four-length advantage through the opening quarter in :27.3. Maintaining his lead through the half in a snappy :55.4, You'remyhearthrob was well clear into the turn as Frontier Frank chased. Passing three quarters in 1:23.3, the advantage remained four lengths into the stretch. Unchallenged to the wire,You'remyhearthrob won by three and a half lengths in 1:51.4. Frontier Frank held second while M T Gunslinger was third. You'remyhearthrob is trained by Brett Wilfong. Race five was the second division of the Carey as another heavy favorite led the field of ten with Backstreet Lawyer sent away as the 2-5 choice for driver Michael Oosting. Making the lead was longshot Special Sauce as he was chased through the opening quarter by Shark Flipper in :27.4. The top two remained in place through the half in :56.3 as the favorite was on the move from fourth. Pushed along through three quarters in 1:25.4, Special Sauce led the field into the stretch. Mid-stretch, Backstreet Lawyer uncorked a strong rally, rolling past to win by two lengths in 1:53.3. Following the favorite with a late move was Fox Valley Hijinx to finish second while Yougotitfiguredout closed to finish third. Backstreet Lawyer is trained by Tom Simmons. Race six saw the return of the reigning Illinois champion as the undefeated Fox Valley Gemini was in search of his fourteenth straight victory to open his career. Sent away as the 1-9 choice, Fox Valley Gemini got away well for driver Casey Leonard, tucking in behind early leader Dandy Dude through the quarter in :28.1. The favorite wasted little time, moving to the front past the half in :57.2. Chased into the turn by Dandy Dude, Fox Valley Gemini was a length on top after three quarters in 1:26.3. Roused into the lane, Fox Valley Gemini opened up, winning easily by three lengths in 1:53.2. Dandy Dude was a clear second while Song Cycle Senese closed to finish third. Fox Valley Gemini is trained by Terry Leonard. The eighth race on the Sunday card featured trotters, with a field of 11 lining up in the second leg of the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial. Majistic Caprice was the favorite with Tyler Shehan driving for trainer Roshun Trigg. The favorite wasted no time getting to the front as he led the field through the opening quarter in :30.3. On the backstretch, True Detective took over and was followed by Vic's Pizza as True Detective passed the half in :59.3. After three quarters in 1:29.4, True Detective was the leader into the lane as Illinimight and Majistic Caprice started to move. Mid-stretch, Vic's Pizza broke stride and dropped out as Majistic Carpice and Illinimight rallied. At the wire it was Majistic Caprice on top, winning by a length in 1:57.4. Illinimight finished second while True Detective held third. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, continues the summer harness season through September 24. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 5 through December 29. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. by Jim Miller, for Hawthorne Race Course  

STICKNEY, IL - Friday night at Hawthorne featured a pair of divisions of the Cardinal pace for Illinois Conceived and Foaled three-year-old colts and geldings. The first division went with a field of ten while the second had nine, after the scratch of Heza Real Shooter. Leading the way in the first division of the $27,100 Cardinal was undefeated Fox Valley Gemini as he looked to win his thirteenth consecutive race to open his career. Sent off as the 1-5 favorite with Casey Leonard in the bike, Fox Valley Gemini got away in good order as Dandy Dude was sent away to the lead. After the quarter, You'remyhearthrob held the lead in :28.2 and looked to open up on the backside through the half in :56.4. On the turn, Fox Valley Gemini was unleashed and went after the leader, getting within a length through three quarters in 1:24.4. In the lane, Fox Valley Gemini took command and drew off. At the wire, Fox Valley Gemini was three lengths clear of Dandy Dude, while You'remyhearthrob held third. The final time for the mile was 1:52.3. Fox Valley Gemini is owned by Jim Ballinger and trained by Terry Leonard. In the second division of the Cardinal, Backstreet Lawyer was sent away as the favorite with Kyle Wilfong driving. Making the early lead was Molina as Sports Analyst was sent after him before breaking stride through the quarter in :29.0. After a half in :58.1, Molina maintained his lead into the far turn. Through three quarters in 1:26.2, Molina led the field into the lane. Mid-stretch, Al's Briefs and driver Travis Seekman went after the leader and took over. At the wire, Al's Briefs held off the late moves of Backstreet Lawyer and Fox Valley Hijinx, winning by a length in 1:54.1. Al's Briefs is owned by Anthony Somone, David McCaffrey, and Clark Fairley and trained by Clark Fairley. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, continues the summer harness season through September 24. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 5 through December 29. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. by Jim Miller, for Hawthorne Raceway  

Stickney, IL - Leg one action of the Night of Champions series kicked off on Friday night at Hawthorne as three divisions of the Robert F. Carey Memorial pace for Illinois Conceived or Foaled three-year-olds were conducted. The highlight of the evening came in the final division of the Carey as last year's Illinois Champion Fox Valley Gemini took to the track in search of his 12th consecutive victory to open his racing career. He didn't disappoint as Casey Leonard guided him home to a five and a quarter length score in 1:51.4. Trained by Terry Leonard and owned by Jim Ballinger, Fox Valley Gemini was sent off as the 1-9 choice in the field of nine and settled well off the early pace which was set by Heza Real Shooter through the opening quarter in :28.0 and Talk About It after a half in :55.4. On the move in the turn, Fox Valley Gemini was picking off horses, but was still in fourth through three quarters in 1:24.0. In the blink of an eye, Fox Valley Gemini took over in the stretch and won in hand. Sagebrush Shocker closed to finish second while Yougotitfiguredout was third. In the first division of the Carey Memorial, a battle ensued between Fox Valley Hijinx, Molina, and Dandy Dude. Those three battled the pace as Dandy Dude cut the mile through fractions of :29.1, :58.2, and 1:26.4. In the stretch, Molina pushed the leader, but it was Kyle Husted and Fox Valley Hijinx who closed fastest of all to get up by a nose on the wire. Molina was a game second while Dandy Dude was a neck back, finishing third. The final time was 1:53.4. Fox Valley Hijinx is trained by Kyle Husted and owned by David Brigham. The second division of the Carey turned out to be the fastest division of the night. Favored was You'remyhearthrob as he was sent to the lead, covering fractions of :28.2, :55.2 and 1:23.1. Leading the field into the stretch, You'remyhearthrob was headed by Backstreet Lawyer and Kyle Husted as Backstreet Lawyer took command. Stopping the clock in a quick 1:50.4, Backstreet Lawyer was a winner by two and a half lengths at the wire. You'remyhearthrob held on for second while Al's Briefs finished third. Backstreet Lawyer is trained by Tom Simmons and owned by Engel Stable of Illinois LLC, J.D. Graham, and Benita Simmons. Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, continues the summer harness season through September 24. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 5 through December 29. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700. by Jim Miller, for Hawthorne Race Course  

Peter Kouchis, Terry Leonard and Dandy Farms Inc.'s November Rain emerged victorious in Saturday night's $25,000 Tim Wilson Sr. Pace Final at Hawthorne Race Course. The morning line, and post time, favorite took the lead soon after the start and never relinquished it. Trained by Terry Leonard and piloted by Casey Leonard, November Rain settled in behind the early pace of Lacarmeliliana, who cleared from the outside and covered the opening quarter in :29.2. After the field turned onto the backside, November Rain made her move and quickly took command. She passed the half in :58.4 and covered three quarters in 1:27.3 as second-choice Wimple's Dimple gave chase. In the lane, Leonard asked November Rain to go and she responded, extending her lead. November Rain was three lengths clear at the wire, beating her nine rivals easily. C Far, who had won her previous two shots at big prices, raced near the back of the pack early but she started to come on in the stretch. It was, however, too little too late. She did get up for second, three lengths back of the winner. Lacarmeliliana held on for third at 59-1. November Rain returned $4.60, $2.80, and $2.6. C Far came back $4.40 and $3.40 while Lacarmeliliana returned $12.40 to show. The winter harness meet at Hawthorne continues through February 19. Thoroughbred racing resumes at the end of March and continues through April. Summer harness action takes place May through September. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year October through December. For more information, visit www.Hawthorneracecourse.com. Jim Miller  

The definition of a war horse couldn't be more appropriate than for Fort Silky, who continues to impress harness racing fans week after week--despite being a healthy and hardy 9-year-old. What's the secret for his success?   Perhaps the key lies with his home life. The Leonard family--trainer Terry and driver Casey--have a long history of campaigning older horses. Fans will recall the tough Well To Do Guru, among others.   A winner of $781,376 in his career, the gelded son of Ft Apache Hanover has raced consistently since age three. He has been part of the Leonard team since late November 2012, and will be trying for career triumph 57 in Saturday's $92,000 Maurello Memorial for aged pacers at Balmoral Park.   Since joining team Leonard he's amassed slightly more than $500,000 for owners-breeders John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler--both of Paw Paw, IL.   "My father and uncle (Gary "Wiggles" Leonard) bought and paid for our farm by working with old sore claimers week after week--keeping them sound and racing," Casey, 38, explained. "They passed that program down to myself and my brother Ross and we continue with those today. It doesn't hurt that my dad shoes all of our horses himself, either. I think these kinds of horses respond well to our program, which includes a lot of fresh air, swimming and patience."   "Fort Silky has more guts than any other horse I've driven in the past," Casey continued. "He's the type that does the heavy lifting--he goes out week after week and grinds out the miles so other horses can sit in the pocket and benefit from his hard work."   "When I first got him, (Hall of Famer) Dave Magee came up to me and said, 'Fort Silky is one tough horse.' That's saying a lot--those words--coming from someone like Dave Magee, who has seen and driven all kinds of horses over the years."   This season Fort Silky has earned $56,709 from six wins, seven seconds and two thirds in 20 starts. Unfortunately, his last few races have been sub-par.   "I really wish this Super Night was either a month earlier or a month later from now," Casey admitted wistfully. "This horse just isn't himself. He's had a breathing issue and we just can't seem to get it under control right now. He's been on antibiotics and they're not helping him. I believe that it's part chronic allergies and part virus. If he steps up and wins Saturday, I can honestly say I'll be surprised."   Fort Silky was third in this same event in 2014, and second in the 2013 edition.   "The other side of the coin is that Fort Silky is another year older and another year less sound than he has been in the past," Casey assessed. "In addition, this year's race is made up of the toughest field of horses that I've seen in the last ten years. In the past, there were always one or two standouts that were going to be tough to beat, but this year, the whole field is outstanding. In fact, this field is made up of horses that could be an invitational field at any track in North America. That's how impressive it is."   Lifetime, Fort Silky has been behind the starting gate 226 times, with 56 wins, 51 seconds and 33 thirds. He recorded his career mark of 1:49.3 at Balmoral Park on Feb. 23, 2103 at age seven.   "He's gritty and he's tough," Casey said. "And he always gives 200 percent on the track. You can't ask for anything more from a horse so I would not count him out."   Tom Kelley

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

The venerable Fort Silky showed plenty of grit and determination in last night’s feature race at Balmoral Park, taking the “Winner’s Over” event in front-end fashion with a 1:51.2 mile, the harness racing 9-year-old’s 52nd career victory. Regular driver Casey Leonard rated the ICF pacer perfectly and when it counted in the lane, Fort Silky ($10.80) put away a stretch bid first by the pocket horse Best Man Hanover and later by the first-over Iam Bonasera to post a head victory. Sent off as the 4-1 third choice, Fort Silky out-sprinted Best Man Hanover for control. After a :27.4 first quarter Leonard was able to get away with a crucial 29 second breather while Travis Seekman was taking Iam Bonasera out of sixth and was at the winner’s bike at the :56.4 half--mile pole. Fort Silky kept Iam Bonasera out through the three-quarters, reached in 1:24.4. The Terry Leonard trainee looked he was going to get passed but the multi-stake Illinois bred champion came up with one of his “refuse to lose” efforts after a two-week rest and proved best for the second time in four season starts. Iam Bonasera took second while the 8-5 favorite Firstclassallthway, stuck inside in fourth most of the way, was a fast-closing third with his :26.1 final panel. Owned by Paw Paw, Illinois’ John Prentice and Neva Jane Keeler, Fort Silky has now earned $722,237 in his splendid career. Saturday Tidbits: John De Long and Mike Oosting each had a trio of winning drives on Saturday’s program while Casey Leonard had a pair of winners. . . Balmoral tallied its first $1 million-plus handle of the year when $1,019,198 was bet . . . The Saturday $1 Pick Four of 3-5-3-5 on the last four races paid off handsomely at $5,222. Mike Paradise  

With the start of Spring only a week away let’s take a look who has fared well on the local harness racing circuit the first couple of months of the 2015 Winter. The leading stable as we go into Thursday’s action may be a bit of a surprise. It’s Brett Wilfong (pictured) who is off to a hot season start, The Donovan, Illinois horseman has had 21 of his horses finish first as we head into the middle of March Brett’s 13 winners at Maywood Park ties him for the top spot with Perry Smith, who took last year’s training title at the half-mile track. Wilfong’s 8 victors at Balmoral Park has Brett tied for third best at the Crete, IL big track with Jim Ellison. Balmoral’s defending trainer champion Nelson Willis is on top there with 14 winners, followed by Bob Phillips with 9. Perry Smith rounds out the current Balmoral Top Five with 6. At Maywood Wilfong and Smith are followed by trainers Angie Affrunti and Gary Fatland, both with 7. Dave McCaffrey, Terry Leonard and Albert Kopiec each have 6. Wide Open Features: Friday’s co-features at Maywood Park are a pair of medium level conditioned paces, one for colts and geldings and the other for fillies and mares. Both have no-clear cut favorite. The Maywood morning line has two Tom Simmons trainees as the early choices The pair will race uncoupled because of different ownership. Long Term (Date Hiteman), a winner last week stepping up in class, opens at 2-1 while his stable-mate Real Hero (Casey Leonard), a nose short last time,  is at 5-2 first flash odds. Expect Desperado Alibi (Brian Carpenter), coming off a game win last week and with the pole position Friday, to also get plenty of play at the betting windows. The same goes for Don’t Worry B Happy (Mike Oosting) who is listed at generous 10-1 odds in the program. The Willis trainee proved best at Friday’s class two weeks ago. Also going postward in the non-winners of $8,000 in their last 8 starts are Some Heart Throb (8-1, Kyle Wilfong) and Total Sin (12-1, Lavern Hostetler). The 10th race for distaffers is another where 3 or 4 horses could be vying for most of the public’s choice. Last week’s front-stepping winner Incredible Filly (Tim Curtin) is listed at 3-1, Melodie Hotspur, a bridesmaid in her last four outings, is next at 7-2. Financial Effort (Casey Leonard) follows at 9-2 with Molly Go Lightly (Mike Oosting) at 6-1. The latter got bottled up behind a wall of horses and finished full of pace but much too far back to reward her backers. Steph’s Place (Todd Warren) who steps up after popping for her new barn a week ago is at 8-1. The 6-year-old ICF mare was claimed for $4,000 by Smith in her last February start after capturing 5 of her first 6 outings for the Terry Leonard Stable. She’ll start off at liberal 8-1 odds. Completing that field are ER Monica (15-1, Dean Magee), Misspanderosajones (12-1, Ridge Warren), Sealark Hanover (15-1, Sam Widger) and Gimmeazzzmooch (10-1, Dale Hiteman). By Mike Paradise

One of the major threats in Friday night’s third race conditioned pace feature at Maywood Park is the Don Laufenberg home-bred Financial Effort. The 6-year-old ICF mare joined the Terry Leonard Stable last November. The daughter of Yankee Skyscaper, out of Laufenberg’s broodmare Finance The Farm, has picked things up a notch ever since she was put on Lasix in her final start of last season, a winning 1:54.3 mile at Maywood Park. “We’ve had horses for Don Laufenberg off and on ever since I was a little kid,” sad her driver Casey Leonard. “I drove Financial Effort a little bit for Lloyd (trainer Daulton) and with him back in Kentucky Don sent the mare over for us to race through the winter. “The horse has some class to her. She had some lameness issues a couple of years ago and didn’t make a lot of starts (14) as a 4-year-old. I believe it was her knee.” As a 3-year-old Financial Effort captured the Ohyouprettything Stake at Balmoral Park (see picture) and later was second in her Grandma Ann elimination and the Thrifty Way stake and third in a Hanover under the care of trainer Lloyd Daulton. Her mother Finance The Farm was the 2003 Springfield and Du Quoin 3-year-old filly champion and also took her Grandma Ann elimination. “At times Financial Effort struggled a bit in the last sixteenth and maybe that’s because she might bled a little,” continued Casey. “We put her on Lasix in late December and that has seemed to help her. She has picked things up and really raced well last week.” Financial Effort dropped a nose decision to Muy Caliente a week ago in the Maywood Park feature  despite racing first up outside of the winner most of the last half-mile. Financial Effort drew the outside six-slot in tonight’s third race conditioned pace for non-winners of $8,500 in their last five races and will open as the 5-2 second choice in the program after the 8-5 favorite Feel Like Dancing (Kyle Wilfong). They’ll be challenged by Melodie Hotspur (5-1, John De Long), ER Monica (8-1, Bobby Smolin), Gentle Janet (4-1, Mike Oosting) and Triple Lane Melody (20-1, Brian Carpenter). By Mike Paradise The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

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

A very familiar group of older state-bred pacers renewed acquaintances on Friday, August 29th at Maywood Park as a classy field of five local stars knocked heads in the $25,000 Egyptian Stake which was Leg 2 of the Maywood Park Pacing Series. Much like a fine wine, John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler's Fort Silky just continues to get better with age as he rolled to an impressive two-length wire to wire victory in a blistering 1:50.4, which was just 2/5th's of a second off the track record on the half-mile oval. Confidently handled by driver Casey Leonard the eight-year-old son of Ft Apache Hanover was sent right to the front from his outside starting spot. In total control of the proceedings, the Terry Leonard trained gelding reeled off splits of 28.1, 56.1 & 1:23.2 while in hand to Maywood's leading reinsman. After turning aside a first over bid from the always dangerous Al's Hammered (Robert Smolin), Fort Silky paced home in a wicked 27.2 to notch his 21st win in the past two seasons. Al's Hammered was forced to settle for the runner-up role on this night while Mystical Walter (John De Long) finished third, 6 ¾ lengths behind the winner. Sent off as the second choice in the wagering Fort Silky returned $5.60, $2.20 & $2.10 while running his career record to an impressive 47-43-28 in 196 lifetime starts with earnings of $664,350 for his proud connections. Fort Silky has now captured the first two legs of this series as he looks to repeat his 2013 win the series. by Tom Kelley, for Maywood Park  

Friday’s $25,000 Egyptian stake, the second leg of the Maywood Park Pacing Series for ICF colts and geldings ages three and up, came up a little short in number but tall in talent. Most of the top older ICF pacers will square off in the fourth race feature and all know their way around the Maywood Park oval with defending series champion Fort Silky having by far the most success on the half-miler in the six-horse field. The 8-year-old son of Ft. Apache Hanover is looking for his 15th lifetime win at Maywood and he’ll have his work cut out to get it for Paw Paw, Illinois owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Keeler. The current star of the Terry Leonard Stable landed the outside six post with the likes of Fox Valley Norman, Mystical Walter, Al’s Hammered, Fancy Creek Elusiv and Silver Devil inside of him with posts 1 through 5, in that order. Fort Silky (Casey Leonard) and Silver Devil (John De Long) are expected to provide the early speed from the outside while the longshot Fox Valley Norman with the one-slot has shown in the past he can also leave in a hurry. The Perry Smith trainee won the Go Sox at Maywood last season as a 3-year-old in front-end fashion. Silver Devil took this year’s Aged Cardinal Championship at Maywood back in June while his Nick Giberson trained stable-mate Fancy Creek Elusiv came away with the 2013 Maywood Pace Championship. They’ll race up-coupled Friday with different ownership. Sitting on top of the ICF Aged Division is Bob Phillips’ Al’s Hammered who has been close to unstoppable in his 5-year-old season. The 12-time season winner has captured the circuit’s Invite a half-dozen times already, while also coming away with triumphs in Balmoral’s Broadway Preview and Betzotic, the aged ICF title at  Springfield, and the Taser Gun on Mt. Sterling’s half-mile fair track. The Egyptian will be Al’s Hammered first start at Maywood since 2012 when he won the Cole Muffler stake near the end of his 3-year-old season. However, the winner of over $12,000 lifetime, did drop his four other 3-year-old Maywood trips postward, the only year he has raced there. Mystical Walter comes off a resounding 1:52 victory in the ICF Aged Pace Stake at the Du Quoin State Fair. Last season’s Illinois 3-Year-Old Male Pacer of the Year was victorious in the 2013 Langley on Super Night, captured both State Fair titles, and took the Incredible Finale Final and a Hanover at Balmoral. A son of Yankee Skyscraper, Mystical Walter dropped a head decision to Fancy Creek Elusiv in last year’s Maywood Pace Final and still racked up over $195,000 in purse earners for owners Paymaq Racing, D & M Trading and Mystical Marker Farms. With regular driver Casey Leonard at the lines of his family stable’s venerable Fort Silky, Dave Magee will make a rare appearance at Maywood Park Friday to drive the Erv Miller trained 4-year-old. The National Hall of Famer did drive Mystical Walter once early in the horse’s 3-year-old campaign. by Mike Paradise, for IHHA

After a two-week hiatus live racing returned to BalmoralPark with a pair of state-bred stakes for older pacers sharing top billing on the 13-race program. The ladies kicked off the action with a pair of $21,400 divisions of the Parklane Powerful Stake. In the first division Kenneth Rucker's Party Hangover continued her dominance of this division as she cruised to a 3 ¼ length victory in a career best of 1:51.1 for driver Todd Warren. After leaving alertly from the outside starting spot, Warren sent the five-year-old daughter of Party At Artsplace on her way from fourth after an opening quarter of 27.0. Quickly moving to the front, the Catrina Rucker trained miss proceeded to lead the field through middle splits of 54.1 & 1:22.2. Through the lane the only thing in doubt was who would pick up the minor spoils as Party Hangover effortlessly reported home with her sixth straight victory. Just By Design (Dave Magee) rallied from last to finish second while Fox Valley Touche (Dale Hiteman) was third. With the win Party Hangover boasts a record of 7-3-2 in 21 starts this season. The overwhelming favorite returned just $3.20, $2.60 & $2.10 while upping her career earnings to $292,511. The second division provided an upset as Mark Winship's No Respect took advantage of a miscue in the lane by favorite Dallas Jones in route to a 2 ¾ length victory in a lifetime best of 1:51.4 for driver John De Long. Settling near the back as the action up front was hot and heavy De Long was happy to watch Incredible Filly (Ronnie Gillespie), The Bruzilian Blur (Todd Warren) and then Dallas Jones (Kyle Wilfong) all trade blows through red-hot splits of 27.3, 54.1 & 1:23.1. In the lane, State Fair Stake winner Dallas Jones made a very uncharacteristic break jamming up several rivals while leaving a fit and fresh No Respect with clear sailing to the wire. The Nick Giberson trained daughter of Sportsmaster then proceeded to uncork a 28.0 final quarter to notch her seventh victory of the season. Dune In Red (Dave Magee) who inherited the lead after the miscue by the favorite held on for second while Kimberly R (Dale Hiteman) finished third. Sent off at 9-1 the brown five-year-old returned $22.80, $4.00 & $3.20 while pushing her career earnings up to $314,428. A full field of 10 pacers went postward in the $35,200 Big Tom Stake and when the smoke cleared in this wild and wooly affair it was John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler's FortSilky who emerged with an impressive 6 ¾ length victory in 1:49.3 for driver Casey Leonard. With even money favorite Al's Hammered saddled with a starting spot in the second tier Leonard left quickly with Fort Silky sitting right on the back of the hard leaving Ice Scraper (Ross Leonard) through splits of 27.2 & 55.0. Deftly averting disaster when the pace setter made a break approaching the top of the stretch, Fort Silky was in full in stride as he sailed by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:22.3. Leaving his rivals in his wake the eight-year-old Ft. ApacheHanover gelding sealed the deal in grand fashion, pacing home in 27.0 to post his 20th win over the past two seasons. Iam Bonasera (Kyle Wilfong) turned a nice ground saving trip into a second place check while Al's Hammered was forced to settle for third on this night. The Terry Leonard trainee returned $9.20, $5.60 & $3.20 while upping his career bankroll to an eye popping $650,650. by Tom Kelley, for Balmoral Park

The 2014 Maywood Park Pacing Series kicked off on Friday, July 4th with the first of the three leg series, the $30,000 Cook County Stake attracting a field of seven ICF pacers. After taking this series last year, John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler's Fort Silky showed that taking "champs" belt will be no easy task as he cruised to a two-length victory in a snappy 1:51.2 for driver Casey Leonard. Taking advantage of the defection of morning line favorite Al's Hammered who was scratched sick, Leonard charged away from post position four with the eight-year-old son of Ft Apache Hanover easily made the top as the field rolled through an opening quarter in 27.2. Keeping a first over Fancy Creek Elusiv (Ryan Anderson) at bay Fort Silky continued to pace along steadily on top through middle splits of 56.0 & 1:23.2. With plenty in reserve the Terry Leonard trainee found another gear heading around the final turn, quickly widening his advantage as he cruised home with his second win in 11 starts this season. Silver Devil (John De Long) rallied late to finish second while Fancy Creek Elusiv held on for third. A 17-time winner in 2013 Fort Silky continues to put up big numbers now boasting $628,850 in earnings for his proud connections. Bet to the near exclusion of his rivals Fort Silky returned $3.00, $2.10 & $2.10. The Maywood Pacing Series awards a $25,000 bonus to the higher point earner of its three-race series. The bonus has gone to a Terry Leonard trainee the past four seasons with Fort Silky taking last year's championship after the great Well To Do Guru had taken home top honors in 2010, 2011 & 2012. Fort Silky took the first step towards defending his Maywood Park Pacing Series with an easy win in Friday's $30,000 Cook County Stake. by Tom Kelley, for Maywood Park

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