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Balmoral Hosts Southland Festival

Published: July 29, 2012 9:35 pm ET

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The action on and off the track was fast and furious on Saturday, July 28, as a big crowd flocked to Balmoral Park for the Chicago Southland Festival of Racing.

Along with a taco eating contest, salsa tasting contest, live music and plenty of other giveaways and food and drink specials, there was also plenty of action on the track as some of Illinois best pacers and trotters battled for more than $300,000 in purse money in five stake finals.

Freshman pacing fillies kicked off the night’s action with a field of 10 going postward in the $64,000 Loyal Opposition Stake. Despite leaving from the outside post, the Stanley Miller-owned and trained Special Rose managed to work out a perfect trip and the daughter of Duneside Perch-Orgami Rose turned that into an impressive two and a quarter length victory in 1:55.

Hustled away from the far outside post by driver John Roberts, the good looking chestnut landed in third through the early going as Dune In Red (Mike Oosting) led the field through splits of :28, :57.1 and 1:25.3.

“Being able to find a good early spot was the entire key to this filly’s chances,” explained Roberts. “Once we were lucky enough to land where we did I figured we’d just sit in and save ground the rest of the way and see what happened.”

With some expert reinsemanship from Roberts, Special Rose was able to maneuver her way through traffic, swinging to the outside or horses in the late going, and then rallying sharply to post her first career victory. Thank You Doc (Dean Magee) was second after a tough first over journey while Incredible Filly (Dave Magee) was third.

The win was the first in a six-race career for Special Rose, who returned $17.60, $7.20 and $4.60.

Trotters were next on the docket as a field of seven Illinois conceived and foaled three-year-old colts were sent postward in the $49,000 Kadabra Stake.

Showing once again that they should never be overlooked in these state-bred trotting events, trainer Joel Smith and driver Dale Hiteman teamed up with Fox Valley Steffen to pull off the upset, scoring by one and a half lengths in a lifetime-best of 1:57 at odds of 18-1.

After getting away in the middle of the pack as heavy favourite Vaporstar (Dave Magee) led the field through splits of :28.3 and :58.1, Hiteman confidently moved the gelded son of International Chip-Super Renee to the outside nearing the half-mile mark where he began a steady and confident grind to the front.

“My horse is a grinder and he’s always going to give you everything he’s got," said Hiteman. “I wasn’t worried about finding cover to bring us up because we were going so slow through the middle part of the race and with nobody in front of us I knew I would just have to wear down Dave’s horse."

Drawing to within a length of the leader as the field reached the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:28, Hiteman and Fox Valley Steffen set sail for home. Patiently cutting into his deficit, Fox Valley Steffen finally trotted by the heavy chalk with a sixteenth of a mile to go and then proceeded to draw away for his fourth win in 22 career starts. Vaporstar held on for second while Blown Away (Marcus Miller) was third.

Dismissed at that 18-1 price, Fox Valley Steffen returned a healthy $39.80, $7.40 and $4.00 while upping his career bankroll to $77,852 for owners Paula Smith, James Runyan and Gary Engel.

Sophomore pacing fillies were the next group to hit the track as a very evenly matched group of 10 distaffers hit the track for the $56,000 Ann Vonian Stake.

Taking advantage of the inside starting spot and a perfect steer by driver Mike Oosting, Jodi Siamis’s MJs Bid picked a great time to regain the form that netted her more than $121,000 in earnings during her two-year-old season as she cruised to a one length victory in a lifetime best of 1:52.1.

Urged away from the gate as soon as the wings folded, Oosting was able to maintain his good early position as No Respect (Todd Warren) came flying up from the outside to grab command of the proceedings.

“I didn’t think my horse could win if she had to cut the mile, but I knew I wanted her right up the thick of things,” explained Oosting. “She can get out of there pretty well, which she did tonight and that really helped to put us in a perfect spot.”

Sitting right on the back of No Respect as that filly rolled through splits of :27, :56.3 and 1:24.4, Oosting was just itching to find some racing room as the field turned for the money.

Securing room along the inside as the field fanned out for the stretch drive the Rick Schrock-trained daughter of Cole Muffler-Rons Girl unleashed a :27.1 final quarter to scoot right by her rivals for her first win of the year. Party Hangover (John De Long) shook loose late to finish second while Sleazy Does It (Marcus Miller) finished third after a grueling first over trip from her outside starting spot.

Bet down to 2-1 after showing signs of readiness with her second place finish in last week’s elimination, MJs Bid returned $6.80, $4.40 and $2.80. The win was the fifth in 20 career starts for MJs Bid, who now boasts career earnings of almost $175,000.

The richest event of the night was the $74,500 Mini Me Stake for two-year-old pacing colts and the race also provided the most excitement as Obermeier and Quaid Stables' Darth Quaider held on gamely after a thrilling stretch duel to win by a head in 1:53.3. The gelding then had to survive a steward’s inquiry before being declared the “official” winner of the event.

After getting away sixth in the field of nine, driver Marcus Miller sent his charge on a mission for the lead after watching JPS Mini Me (Ronnie Gillespie) and Fox Valley Action battle through opening splits of :29.0 and :57.4.

“They slowed the pace down pretty good so I figured we could sweep to the front from where we were,” said Miller. “I wanted to try and time it so I could catch them right as they were putting on the brakes and that’s exactly what happened so it worked out great for us.”

After the power sweep to the lead, Darth Quaider was the one to catch as he led the field by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:25.4.

Gamely digging in as Fox Valley Action pulled alongside in the stretch, the Erv Miller-trained son of Sportsmaster-Fox Valley Redhot, who was a $30,000 yearling purchase, showed a great deal of grit and determination as he continued keep Fox Valley Action at bay through the final sixteenth of a mile to win by a head. Fox Valley Action was a hard fought second despite making a bobble that was also reviewed by the judges in the far turn, while Fox Valley Norman (Casey Leonard) was third.

After the thrilling finish and the inquiry, Miller was quick to sing the praises of his charge who returned $3.40, $2.40 and $2.10 while running his record to 2-2-0 in four starts with earnings of $54,325.

“While it was a tight finish my horse felt strong the entire way,” said a smiling Miller. “He let that other horse get right up to his neck, but I could tell he wasn’t going to let him get by. That was the first time I’ve put him on the front other than in one of his qualifiers and he showed me he’s got plenty of heart and courage with that win tonight.”

The final event of the night provided another mild upset as the Robert Phillips-owned and trained Als Hammered exploded by his rivals in the lane to score by a length in a lifetime best of 1:51 in the $59,000 Incredible Finale Stake with Robert Smolin, who had five wins on the night, at the controls.

Getting away in mid-pack as NJs Big Deal (Dave Magee), Urawomanizer (John Roberts) and a first over Crime Of Passion (Marcus Miller) slugged it out through splits of :27.2, :55.3 and 1:23.4 Smolin was able to position his charge in a second over position right behind the favored Crime Of Passion.

“Things worked out perfectly for us tonight” said the red-hot Smolin. “I was able to follow live cover from Crime Of Passion, which was big for us.

“With NJs Big Deal being such a front end type of horse, it’s awfully tough to take a big run at him in the middle of a race because you wind up killing your own chances while trying to get by him.”

Swinging three-wide as the field turned for the money. Als Hammered quickly gobbled up the tiring leaders, sealing the deal with a wicked :26.3 final quarter to post his fifth win in 18 starts this year. Kings Legend (Mike Oosting) followed the winner’s every move and rallied nicely to finish second while Urawomanizer was third.

In the winner’s circle an excited Smolin was thrilled by his pacers effort.

“I never even touched him tonight,” said Smolin. “I popped the wheel disk and yelled at him a few times and he just exploded by those other horses. Then once he got by them he never got a bit wobbly like he had in a few of recent starts. Bob [Phillips] made a couple of changes and found a couple of things that had been bothering and him and you saw what he’s really capable of out there tonight.”

Overlooked a bit at the betting windows despite some bad racing luck in many of his recent starts, Als Hammered returned $13.40, $6.40 and $4.20. The gelded son of Droppinthehammer-Alberts Magic now boasts career numbers of 10-7-6 in 31 starts with earnings of $134,454.

(Balmoral Park)

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