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STICKNEY, IL - The harness racing ladies were the focus on Friday evening at Hawthorne as divisions of the Ohyouprettything and Pretty Direct Pacing Series took place. The Ohyouprettything went in four divisions and was for fillies and mares that had not won two pari-mutuel races or $10,000 lifetime as of December 1, 2015. The Pretty Direct was also for the females, non-winners of five pari-mutuel races or $25,000 lifetime as of December 1, 2015. The opener on Friday was the first division of the Ohyouprettything series as Flight on Time was sent off as the choice. Much like Thursday's card, speed did not hold though as Tamarac Smoochie settled behind the early pace and found room in the stretch to win going away. Driven by Casey Leonard, The Ft Apache Hanover mare was 5-1 and covered the mile in 1:58.3. A Very Nice Dragon was second and Going Shooten finished third. The second division of the Ohyouprettything was a very tight finish and proved to be some tense moments for those playing the favorite. A big late wager pushed Mystical Nectar down to 1-5 favoritism. She tipped out late in the lane and moved late, but just held on to win by a head over Backwoods Barbie. Simon Allard drove the Charley Barley mare for trainer Tyler Nostadt as they covered the mile in 1:56.4. Nashville Nasty rallied late to finish third. The Pretty Direct Pacing Series kicked off in race 3 on the Friday Hawthorne card as a field of seven lined up. Colorful Sky left and set the early fractions as she tried to back down the pace. The field bunched at the top of the stretch as Casey Leonard and favorite Fox Valley Gypsy angled out from sixth and began to rally. The Yankee Skyscraper filly got up in time to win in 1:55.3. Fox Valley Brooke was second while Addie Rose finished third. The third division of the Ohyouprettything Pacing Series proved to be another race where the winner closed from well back. Savoya Cruiser carved out the early fractions but in the lane LK's Nancy Lee angled out and closed strongly to win with Dale Hiteman in the sulky. Burry Me Inthesand rallied late for place as Our Miss Leah finished third. Final time for the mile was 1:58.1 as the Yankee Skyscraper filly was bet down to 2-1 favoritism. The second division of the Pretty Direct followed on the Friday card and featured a heavy favorite in Lovethewayoulook. She was in a tough spot early as she settled at the back of the pack from the start. She was first to move and swept up to the lead into the far turn. She wasn't able to sustain her rally though as Whiskersonkittens and driver Robert Smolin closed for the victory. Pacifire gained late for place while Lovethewayoulook was outfinished for third. The Party At Artsplace filly paced the mile in 1:55.4. The final division of the Ohyouprettything looked to be a wide open race going in and ended up being more than that way in the end. While favorites Gossip Model and Lollipop were contesting things into the lane, 99-1 Luvly Lil Terror found room late and squeezed through for the victory. Driver Pat Curtin won for trainer Loralee Johnson as the Western Terror filly paid $266 for the victory. The final time for the race was 1:55.2. 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

Despite a two-month layoff and a not-so-easy journey the venerable Fort Silky made his initial start as a 9-year-old a winning one in last weekend’s headliner at Balmoral Park. Tonight the pride of the Leonard Stable goes after career victory No. 52 in the ninth race “Winner Over” for older male pacers. Merle Finn Jr’s Wings guns for her fifth triumph in her last six starts in the co-featured third race “Winner’s Over” for fillies and mares. Fort Silky (p.p. 5) will be the 3-1 first-flash favorite on the tote board in the eight-horse field. The homebred son of Ft Apache Hanover has had a superb career for his Paw Paw, Illinois owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Keller, earning $729,931 and making 51 stops at a winner’s circle. Fort Silky’s 1:52.4 triumph on a cold (7 degrees) night with a wind chill factor that hovered at 15 below zero was a more difficult mile that driver Casey Leonard anticipated. “I thought with a five-horse field “Silky” wouldn’t have had to race as hard as he did but things didn’t turn out the way I thought they would,” said the 37-year-old Harvard, Illinois native. “Silky likes to leave and even though it looked like John’s (De Long) horse (Cam B Zipper) had some early speed I decided to take him out of there. Major Monet was also used hard in the (:26.4) first quarter and dropped into third behind us but when Dale (Hiteman) came out and took over the lead it put us in a tough spot. “If I didn’t move ‘Silky’ out of there and race first up we would been third on the inside with a longshot on the front that had already been used twice. I didn’t like our chances that way so I moved ‘Silky”and raced him first up” Fort Silky held off a fast closing Lennox Blue Chip (Ridge Warren) by a neck. Tonight Lennox Blue Chip (pp 6) is the programmed third choice behind Best Man Hanover (pp 4, Todd Warren) who is at 4-1. Rounding out the competitive field are Extravagant Art (8-1, Kyle Wilfong), Major Monet (6-1, Dale Hiteman) and Firstclassallthway (6-1, John De Long) in the first 3 slots and Fashion Delight (6-1, Dave Magee) and newcomer Sammy’s Cool Win (8-1, Ryan Anderson) with posts 7 and 8, respectively. Wings has been nothing short of sensational for the driver-trainer team of Tim Curtin and Merle Finn Jr who also owns the 7-year-old mare. Wings dominated a comparable field last Saturday with a 4 and ½ length triumph and was overlooked in the wagering. Even though she was victorious in 3 of her last 4, all high-level distaffs events, Wings popped at 5-1 odds. Making her first start of the 2015 season is former Indiana champion mare Always About Katey (pp 6, Todd Warren), the early 7-2 second betting choice. The seven horse field also lured Love This Place (8-1, John De Long), Seeyouatthefinish (10-1, Pat Curtin), State Street Liz (6-1, Bobby Smolin), Just By Design (3-1, Dave Magee) and Ryleigh’s Lilly (9-2, Casey Leonard). By Mike Paradise

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

If their elimination heat was an indication of things to come, then Saturday's showdown between Al's Hammered and Forty Silky in the $112,000 Tony Maurello Stake at Balmoral Park should be a real heater. Last week the two Illinois-bred brutes battled it out in a torrid frenzy that saw the Bob Phillips-trained Al's Hammered prevail by 1½ lengths in 1:49.1 over the John Prentice-harnessed Fort Silky. Purchased by Phillips for a mere $2,000 at the 2010 Illini Sale, Al's Hammered has $426,627 in career earnings with a mark of 1:48.4 taken at age 3, en route to winning the $178,000 Langley Memorial on Super Night 2012 by 9½ lengths. He was also a solid third in the $241,000 Orange & Blue on Super Night 2011 as a freshman. Now 5, the gelded son of Droppin'Thehammer had an abbreviated schedule in 2013, after sustaining an injury in a Feb.2 race. Al's Hammered damaged his superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) and annular ligament of his left front leg. This injury is catastrophic to a racehorse, with recovery taking up to 18 months, and the tendons rarely return to their original functional elasticity. "The tendon was devastated; it looked like a shotgun hit it," remarked Dr. Greg Skelton, Bob's veterinarian. "Al's Hammered was a step away from a total breakdown." "We ultra-sounded it, and Greg suggested we cut the annular ligament," Bob, 69, explained. "Al's leg was the same size as his knee all the way to the ankle." "We thought it was best to cut the annular ligament, which alleviates pressure on the tendon sheath," Greg stressed. "If you don't cut that, the horse might get sore because mechanically the tendon can't move through to the ankle. Cutting removes restriction to the leg, allowing for more ease of movement." Greg also suggested injecting the leg with a series of PRP (platelet-rich plasma) treatments. "Time was my first thought for recovery, and I thought using PRP would heal it better," Greg acknowledged. To prepare for a PRP treatment, a veterinarian takes blood plasma, an anti-coagulant, and a bit of white surface from red blood cells known as the 'buffy coat,' (which has DNA and healing proteins, white cells and platelets)--all from the injured horse. Via ultrasound, the vet injects a dose of PRP into the back of the leg, between the ligament and SDFT, inside and outside of the sheath. "I did this twice a month for six months," Greg confirmed. "By concentrating the plasma, the horse's own system heals the leg. I told Bob not to hold his breath; that this was a pretty big injury." "This treatment was amazing," Bob said. "After three months the leg was nearly back to normal. Nobody could believe how much it had sucked down." Nearly ten months later, Al's Hammered scored a winning 1:54.2 qualifier at Balmoral. On Nov. 16 he posted a 1:55.3 victory; followed by a 1:51.2 win on Nov. 23; a Dec. 7 win in a seasonal best 1:50.3; and a Dec. 14 triumph in 1:51.3. In just six starts he earned $31,395, pushing his 2013 earnings to $40,915. "I give a lot of credit to Bob," Greg offered. "There are not many trainers who would walk a horse themselves and take the time with him Bob has. Amazingly, this horse had no other injections--just the PRP treatments. The horse was a model patient and Bob was patient in the recovery process." This year, Al's Hammered has added another $117,400 to his bankroll, with 13 wins in 19 tries. "By far, he's the best horse I've ever had," Bob said. "I think he's better now than before the injury. You can train horses all your life and never get one like him." The indomitable Fort Silky, who has $668,100 in career earnings, with 47 wins, 44 seconds and 28 thirds from 197 lifetime starts for owners John Prentice and Neva Jane Ikeler, will try to stop Al's Hammered from garnering another Super Night triumph. The 8-year-old son of Ft Apache Hanover won the $25,000 Egyptian Stake on Aug. 29 at Maywood, stopping the timer in 1:50.4, just two-fifths of a second off the half-miler's track record, prior to his Maurello elim last week. A starter in the Maurello for the past three years, he'll be looking for his first Super Night Crown tonight. by Kimberly Rinker, for Balmoral Park  

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  

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

Illinois’ two-year-old crop of pacers were in action on Friday, Sept. 27th at Maywood Park as freshmen fillies battled in two Violet Stake eliminations while their male counterparts slugged it out in a pair of Cardinal Stake eliminations.     With a total of 12 fillies dropped into the box for the Violet eight spots were available for the $48,000 final.   In the first division Obermeier & Quaid Stables My Little Bit made every call a winning one as she cruised to a one-length victory in 1:55.2 for driver Casey Leonard.   Storming right to the front from post three the Erv Miller trained miss carved out splits of 28.1, 56.4 & 1:26.0 while holding her rivals at bay for her fifth win in 10 career starts. Party Hangover Two (John De Long) parlayed a perfect pocket sitting trip into a second place finish while Filly Orange & Blue winner Thesleazyprincess (Mike Oosting) finished third after being forced to make a three-wide sweep as the field headed to the half-mile mark. Green Valey was a distant fourth.   The favorite prevailed in the second division as well as Sawgrass Farms Molly Go Lightly exploded out of the pocket on the final turn and then rolled to a convincing four-length victory in 1:55.4 for leading driver Mike Oosting.   After sitting right on the back of Fox Valley Shiver (Todd Warren) as that filly showed the way through fractions of 28.2, 58.2 & 1:27.3 Oosting deftly maneuvered the Nelson Willis trainee off the pylons. Quickly swallowing up the pace setter, the daughter of Lexington Legend—Waggle charged home in 28.0 to post her fourth win 10 starts. Fox Valley Amanda (Dale Hiteman) rallied from far back to be the bridesmaid while Fox Valley Shiver held on for third. Fox Valley Flora finished fourth.   A total of 13 colts were entered for the Cardinal with the top four in each of the two $10,000 eliminations moving on to compete in next week’s $48,000 final.   In the first elimination Laura Hendricks and Benita Simmons I Bizel The Shizel led from pillar to post as he reported home with a hard fought one-length victory in 1:55.3 with John De Long in tow.   Parked through an opening quarter in 28.1 the Tom Simmons trained son of Yankee Skyscaper—Whata Bizy Body then proceeded to put up middle splits of 57.3 & 1:26.1.  After turning aside a challenge from a hard charging Dunside Art (Mike Oosting) I Bizel The Shizel drew away from his rivals in the lane to score for the fourth time in 11 career starts. Traffic Cop (Todd Warren) came on late to be second while Fox Valley Cupid (Ryan Anderson) rallied from last to get the show dough. Manny’s Z Tam was fourth.   In the nightcap Jerry Graham’s One Sure Apache took advantage of his inside starting spot rolling to a three-quarter-length victory in wire to wire fashion.   Hustled away from the gate by Mike Oosting the Nelson Willis trained son of Ft Apache Hanover—One Sure Thing strolled through leisurely splits of 29.2, 59.2 & 1:28.3 while relatively unchallenged for most of the mile. With plenty in reserve the good looking gelding kept a late charging Ringo’s Z Tam (Casey Leonard) at bay to win for the fourth time in 12 starts. Overloaded (Kyle Wilfong) finished third while Fox Valley Deuce was fourth.   Unlocked, the 7-5 morning line favorite was a judge’s scratch from the race.   Kellie Lachata

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