Hawthorne’s Night Of Champions Recap

Eleven championship races and two invitational events comprised a big Saturday evening (Sept. 22) at Hawthorne Race Course, as the track’s Night of Champions paid out over $1.1 million in purses. While some of the favourites didn’t disappoint, there were some upsets that surprised everyone.

A recap of the night’s on-track action appears below.


The Incredible Finale Championship, for Illinois-conceived and foaled three-year-old colt and gelding pacers, carried a purse of $136,142. A field of nine lined up to meet the starter after a single scratch of Fox Valley Julius. The Bucket took the lead soon after the start, but Maximus took over early on the backstretch and led almost all the way. Favoured Engel Stable of IL LLC’s Meyer On Fire ($3.20), driven masterfully by Michael Oosting, just got up and won by a nose. Meyer On Fire is trained by Erv Miller. Maximus held on for second while The Bucket got up for third.

Owner Marty Engel: “Beautiful weather. I don’t know how you guys did this but the weather is perfect. Nice crowd. I couldn’t be happier. Meyer On Fire was a little green to start his career and it took a number of races to get straightened out, but Erv Miller did a super job with him. He’s named after my grandson, Meyer. When you win with a homebred, it’s especially exciting. I didn’t think he got up in time. Mike (Oosting) did a great job. He’s not an easy horse to drive. He’s on the lazy side. But, Mike gets along super with this horse. I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Meyer On Fire travelled the mile in 1:55.2 after fractions of :29, :58.2, and 1:27.


The Plesac Championship, for trotters aged three years old and up, Illinois-conceived and foaled, offered a purse of $45,000. Favoured Picky Picky Valor appeared to be home free late in the stretch, but longshot Spirit Omar ($108.80) had other ideas. He continued to grind and wound up getting the victory. Owned by Jeanne Marquis, while trained and driven by Steven Searle, Spirit Omar finished a length and a quarter ahead of Annas Lucky Star. Picky Picky Valor held on for third.

Steven Searle: “He is what he is. We put him in there because we knew we would get our money back and maybe a little more. Plus, he’s fun to race. He got good at the right time and everything worked out. We were actually shooting for fifth and anything above that was a bonus. Around the half, I was thinking, ‘maybe we’re going to get our fifth.’ Then, halfway around the turn, I was thinking, ‘ya know, fourth is looking better.’ Then at the top of the stretch, I was thinking that this couldn’t be real. But, he kept trotting. That one thing he does, he does trot.”

They got the mile in 1:56.2 after fractions of :28, :57.2 and 1:27.1.


Ten trotters lined up to contest The Incredible Tillie Championship. The race, for two-year-old Illinois-conceived and foaled pacing fillies, offered a purse of $122,504.

Fox Valley Torrid ($4.40), the 6-5 favourite, had a great trip and got up late for the score. Owned by Fox Valley Standardbreds, trained by Rodney Freese and driven by Casey Leonard, Fox Valley Torrid set a new lifetime mark of 1:54.3, as she won by a length and a quarter after fractions of :29, :56.4 and 1:26.1.

Fox Valley Halsey took the lead quickly, but Valar Morghulis soon took over and led until about the eighth pole when Fox Valley Torrid took over. Valar Morghulis held second while Perch finished third.

Casey Leonard: “The track is a little tiring, a little loose. I knew Kyle had to get Perch out of there and then when the horse broke there was a little confusion. But there was enough early speed to set up for ‘Torrid.’ When Kyle got in front of me I knew he had to come with me so it worked out the way I hoped it would. We had to steady a bit on the turn but she gave her all in the lane like she always does.”


The $132,874 Kadabra Championship, for Illinois-conceived and foaled two-year-old colt and gelding trotters, featured a well-matched field of eight.

Driver J D Finn took advantage when a couple of rivals broke early and he was able to guide eventual winner Trixies Turbo right to the front end. They were able to stay there throughout and went on to win for the seventh time in 10 races.

Fox Valley Cruise tracked Trixies Turbo pretty much the entire way and held on to finish second, a length and three-quarters back. One of the more impressive trips of the night, however, was that of third-place finisher, Louscardamon. He broke on the backstretch and was nearly last when they turned for home, but he simply flew late to get up for third and he finished only a couple lengths back.

Trixies Turbo is owned by Charles Doehring and trained by Jared Finn

“I raised him and his brothers out of a really good mare that really produces good colts. I’ve been blessed.”

He generated fractions of :29.2, :59.3, and 1:29.3 on his way to a mile in 2:00.1


The $45,000 Tony Maurello Championship, for Illinois-conceived and foaled pacing fillies and mares was captured by the favoured Fox Valley Charm. Driver Mike Oosting had the mare tracking the pace set by Bucklegirl Bobette, but moved about a sixteenth out and got up to win a popular victory by two and three-quarter lengths.

Trained by Dirk Simpson and owned by Peter J. Karras, Fox Valley Charm covered the mile in 1:52.0 following fractions of :28.3, :56.3 and 1:24.2

Dirk Simpson: “I left her here at the farm so she didn’t have to ship. She does really well off the farm. That was what made the difference over last week. Plus, she had a trip over the track. We shipped from a smaller track and the long stretch takes some getting used to.”


The $122,504 Fox Valley Flan Championship featured a romp by favoured Louzotic. Winning for the seventh time in 11 starts, Louzotic, driven by Kyle Husted, drew off to a five and a half-length victory. Louzotic is owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC and trained by Steven Searle. Those are also the connections of third-place finisher Lous Paramour (Searle drove).

Doc Flacco: “We have a wonderful team and God was very kind by sending us Lous Legacy. We bred this horse, raised it, broke it. It gives you a special feeling. We own the mare and the sire. Steve also finished third with our other little girl. He had better go to church tomorrow.

Rick (farm manager): “We broke her at the farm. She was kind of small. She had a nice way of going but, just like Steve said, she was a small baby with a big heart.”

Steve Searle earlier: “Louzotic is probably the barn favourite. She’s the little horse that nobody wanted. She was a June foal. But she has the heart of a champion.”

Fractions for the mile were :29.2, :58.3. 1:29.2 with a final time of 1:59.


Favoured Stonedust made a valiant effort to get past Unlocked in the waning yards of the $45,000 Robert S. Molaro Championship for Illinois-conceived and foaled pacers. Unlocked had taken the lead midway through the backstretch and was able to repel the belated challenge of Stonedust and hold on for a neck victory. Unlocked, owned by Megan Rogers Racing Stables and trained by Norm Parker, was driven by regular pilot Jim Pantaleano.

Fractions of :27.3, :55.3, 1:24 were set prior to the final time of 1:51.1


The $99,032 Beulah Dygert Memorial Championship for three-year-old Illinois-conceived and foaled trotting fillies was captured by the favoured Trotting Grace. Trotting Grace was piloted by Kyle Husted and trained by Steven Searle. Owned by H W Wright, Mystical Marker Farms LLC, and Steven Searle, Trotting Grace won for the fifth straight time.

Kyle Husted: “I wanted to follow Juan (New Queen) as long as I could late. Juan’s horse looked like she was drifting out so I made the decision to go inside and she exploded. She’s especially good on clay tracks and she went downstate and got her confidence down there. Steve Searle can do it all. He’s a very sharp horseman and it shows.”

New Queen held for second, a length and a half back, while Maui Mama came along late to finish third.

They covered the mile in 1:57 following fractions of :28.4, :58, and 1:27.1


As expected, Jim Ballinger’s Fox Valley Gemini, trained by Terry Leonard and driven by Casey Leonard, won the $160,080 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Championship. It might not have been expected, however, that he had to work as hard as he did to get the victory. The Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial Championship was for three-year-old colt and gelding pacers that were Illinois-conceived and foaled.

Youremyhearthrob wrestled the lead on the backstretch after the first quarter in :27.2, and proceeded to lead most of the way, tripping the timer in subsequent quarters at :55.3 and 1:24.3. He begrudgingly ceded the lead to Fox Valley Gemini late in the stretch. He never gave up, but neither did Fox Valley Gemini.

Fox Valley Gemini did have the perfect trip. He raced with cover throughout and had plenty of pace when he finally tipped out. He did get the victory, winning by a length in 1:53. Youremyhearthrob held on to finish second while Backstreet Lawyer finished third.

Jim Ballinger: “It’s very special having a horse like Fox Valley Gemini, especially tonight. He’s as game as they come. If it hadn’t been for the sickness, I don’t think he would have gotten beaten in Springfield. But that’s part of racing. I’m sure glad that he raced good tonight. The Leonards (Terry and Casey) are great people. They did a terrific job with the horse and Casey did a great job driving tonight.”


The New Americana emerged victorious in Saturday’s Plum Peachy Championship. The Plum Peachy Championship was for three-year-old filly pacers that were Illinois-conceived and foaled. The New Americana, owned by David F Falzone, James J Molitor, and Steven J Leita, trained by Harold Herrera and driven by Kyle Husted, hadn’t been in great form for much of the summer but woke up in a big way last week, when she wired the field in the final leg of the Plum Peachy.

Kyle Husted: “I tried to race her on the front in Du Quoin and she got kind of trapped but I’ve been racing her from off the pace ever since. Last year, she was a little bit of a front end horse, so the last two weeks we had to try something different so we gave it a shot that way. I got a little worried late since we had pressure early and I hoped we didn’t run out of gas but I didn’t want to go slow enough to let Mike (Allbeastnobeauty) and Ridge (Fox Valley Jazzy) into the race. I wanted their horses to go a big mile to catch me.”

They paced the mile in 1:54 after fractions of :27.2, :55.2 and 1:24.1


Saturday’s nitecap, the Erwin F. Dygert for Illinois-conceived and foaled three-year-old colts and geldings, was won by Dr. Patrick Graham’s Big Lou. Trained by Curt Grummel and driven by Kyle Wilfong, Big Lou covered the mile in 1:59.1 after fractions of :30.4, :59.2 and 1:29.4.

There was considerable traffic trouble in the race, but Wilfong managed to keep Big Lou clear of it all. Big Lou was two and a quarter lengths clear at the wire. Longshot Cruzen Cassi got up for second while Illinimight overcame considerable early trouble to finish third.

Hawthorne Race Course, ‘Chicago’s hometown track,’ will continue it summer harness season through September 24.

(Hawthorne Race Course)