Day At The Track

Robbins wins after 20 year break

04:52 AM 11 Jun 2020 NZST
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He'zzz a Wise Sky, harness racing
Last summer's two-year-old Night of Champions winner He'zzz a Wise Sky
Four Footed Photo

STICKNEY, IL - After a nearly three month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, live harness racing returned to Hawthorne Race Course last weekend. With safety protocols in place for horsemen and staff, spectators not allowed on-site to watch races, and with the time away from the track for many horses, there was some uncertainty as to how entries and handle would be as racing returned.

Those questions were answered quickly and emphatically by the Illinois horsemen as two packed days of qualifiers were followed by an overflowing entry box for racing's return. With two days of qualifiers on June 1 and June 3, 29 qualifying races were contested at Hawthorne leading into the racing weekend. With the two-day racing weekend ahead, over 450 horses were entered, leading to a pair of 13 race cards on June 6 and June 7.

Full fields were the trend the entire weekend as talented Terror of the Nite (1:55.1) was the first to find his way into the winner's circle for driver Robert Smolin and trainer Kyle Husted.

Following an injury last winter, Husted wasted little time making his winning return as a driver, guiding home Adios Amigos (1:55.2) in Saturday's second race.

The meet's leading driver, Casey Leonard, drove home back to back winners as Ricky Bobbie (1:54.0) upset favored Rebel Rouser in the fourth race and favored Rock It Out (1:54.3) was an easy winner of the fifth.

Race eight featured open pacers and the return of last summer's two-year-old Night of Champions winner He'zzz a Wise Sky. Despite facing older, He'zzz a Wise Sky was patiently handled by Robert Smolin, slipping through late on the inside for the victory in 1:53.1. Smolin would go on to complete the night's only driving triple as he lit up the toteboard in race 12 with 55-1 shot Big Bad Mosa drawing clear.

The full fields on Saturday evening also set the tone for a strong night in regards to handle as over $1 million was wagered on the Saturday card.

Sunday night brought about more of the same, as full fields, competitive racing, and solid handle figures were on tap once again.

A trio of drivers were the story on Sunday evening, a pair who have won many a race in recent years while another had quite the gap between victories.

Driver Brandon Bates has made himself known to the Illinois racing fan, coming into town to drive when not racing at Hoosier Park. Bates had himself a nice Sunday night at Hawthorne. He started his evening winning the second race, an open trot, as Pine Dream controlled the pace from start to finish, winning in 1:56.3. Bates was back in the winner's circle in race seven as Skyway Trooper (1:55.0) battled to a victory. Bates closed out his driving triple with a rallying win behind Iceneedswhiskey (1:56.1.) in race 12.

Travis Seekman had a nice season in 2019 at Hawthorne and looked sharp in his return after the three month break from racing. Seekman also had a driving triple on Sunday, taking race three with Americanboy (1:54.2). He followed that win up with a score behind Tempus Seelster (1:52.4) in the filly and mare open pace. He capped off the night the right way, winning the finale behind Rollinwithdesire (1:58.0), a homebred for owner/trainer wife Desirae Seekman.

The third driving story of the night came in race five. Race five was won by the talented trotter Lous Paisano in 2:00.0. Guiding Lous Paisano to the win was driver Scott Robbins. With over 1,000 lifetime victories and nearly $4 million in earnings, the name Scott Robbins was only familiar to those who followed Illinois harness racing in the 80's and 90's. Prior to Sunday's win, Robbins last pari-mutuel victory had come on September 18, 1998 at Maywood Park. Robbins will be seen much more in the coming weeks as he continues to pick up drives.

It was 31 years ago this week (June 14, 1989) that Robbins became the fourth driver to record two dead-heats for win on the same card, at Quad City Downs; J.P. Morel (Saratoga), Harold Stead (Greenwood), and Tom Swift (Batavia) achieved the same feat ("POP" records section of USTA T&P Guide, source).
The last time a driver had two dead-heats to win on one card, at least in the trade press according to my memory, was also at Hawthorne, on January 7, 2018 -- which added a new wrinkle to the category. Casey Leonard guided Mighty Hot Shot to a first-pace tie in the 8th alongside Bestnotlie Hanover, and then in the 10th the camera could not separate the first THREE finishers: Picky Picky Valor (Leonard), Keep The Cash, and Skyway Jaylo -- putting Leonard in the 2 DHs to win on one card category as the sole member of one of those wins including a DH-DH-DH, cross-checking the two known lists.

Handle on Sunday was strong as well, falling only a hair shy of $1.5 million. With the strong handle and overflowing entry box, racing returns this weekend to three days per week, racing Friday through Sunday night.

Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago's Hometown Track, returned for live harness racing on Saturday, February 15 and races through Sunday, September 20. Post time nightly is 7:10 PM. Hawthorne races live during the summer harness meet every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Fall thoroughbreds close out the year, running from October 2 through December 26. For more information, visit or contact Hawthorne at 708-780-3700.

Jim Miller

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