Hawthorne Set For Illinois Night Of Champions

Apple Valley winning at Hawthorne Race Course
Published: September 8, 2022 11:37 am EDT

Twelve stakes finals will be taking place on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Hawthorne with more than $1.2 million in purses on the line, all for Illinois-breds, during the Night of Champions.  

With earlier stakes action taking place at Hawthorne this summer along with great racing at the Illinois State Fairs in Springfield and Du Quoin, there are some scores to be settled.  Divisional titles will be on the line as the season wraps up at Hawthorne.

A look at the Saturday stakes action follows.

Race 1 – $85,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial – Three-Year-Old Filly Trot

The night kicks off with a full field of 10 and a terrible post draw for the likely favourite.  Dr. Patrick Graham’s Funky Wiggle drew the far outside for trainer Curt Grummel and driver Kyle Wilfong.  A winner of eight of 10 races on the year, Funky Wiggle has overcome tough spots recently and will have to do so once again.  Less than a month ago, Funky Wiggle was the overwhelming favourite in the championship final at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield.  Breaking stride before the start, Funky Wiggle spotted the field more than 10 lengths before the opening quarter.  Undeterred, Wilfong kept Funky Wiggle in the clear as she rejoined the field on the backstretch and advanced to challenge on the outside.  Grabbing the lead in the turn, Funky Wiggle was all heart in the stretch, holding on to win by a neck. She followed that performance with a track record 1:51.4 mile at DuQuoin before returning to Hawthorne to win the Dygert elimination by over six lengths while having to start in the second tier.  She will prove she is a champion if she can win the Saturday final from the far outside.

Race 2 – $62,000 Tony Maurello – Three-Year-Old & Up Filly & Mare Pace

Despite having only a field of six for the final, the Maurello is one of the more wide-open races on the card.  With more than $100,000 in earnings on the year, Fox Valley Exploit leads the way for trainer Amy Husted.  A seven-time winner this season, Fox Valley Exploit has finished in the top three in 21 of 25 starts in 2022.  The second-place finisher in the $50,000 Maurello earlier in the meet, she was a winner at DuQuoin before being beaten less than a length as the even money favourite in the Maurello prep.  Driver Kyle Husted is part owner with David Brigham.  Scorecard Dany poses the biggest challenge to Fox Valley Exploit as Kyle Wilfong drives for trainer Greg Kain. With nine victories in 28 starts this year, Scorecard Dandy got the best of Fox Valley Exploit in the Maurello in July and then again in last week’s prep.  Owned by Green Acres LLC and Mike Klimas, Scorecard Dandy looks to surpass $200,000 in lifetime earnings in the Maurello.

Race 3 – $62,000 Carl Becker Memorial – Three-Year-Old & Up Filly & Mare Trot

An event owned by champion Annas Lucky Star for owner Danny Graham, this race looks to be a possible repeat in 2022.  With 54 career victories in 121 starts for more than $575,000 in lifetime earnings, Annas Lucky Star has been sharp as ever in 2022.  A winner of three of her last five races, Annas Lucky Star and driver Kyle Wilfong set a track record at Hawthorne winning in 1:53.3 on Aug. 6.  She was solid once again in last week’s prep for trainer Nelson Willis as she took control from the start and defeated this same field by nearly two lengths in 1:55.2. A win in the Carl Becker Memorial would push her earnings over $600,000.

Race 4 – $62,000 Plesac – Three-Year-Old & Up Trot

When Annas Lucky Star broke her track record on Aug. 6 against open company, she defeated a very tough gelding that night as Talk About Valor battled her to the wire.  Owned by Shelley Steele and trained by Gerald Hansen, Talk About Valor has been very good in 2022, posting 11 victories from 17 starts.  While speed is typically the name of the game for Talk About Valor and driver Travis Seekman, he showed he could rate when drawing outside and defeating open company on July 22. Talk About Valor draws post six in the field of seven in the Plesac and may be headed to the top once again from the start.  His toughest challenge could come from Heath Bar for trainer Jamaica Patton.  A 10-time winner on the year, Heath Bar defeated Talk About Valor in winning in Springfield in 1:52.4 on Aug. 13. He was second to the likely race favourite in last week’s prep but can’t be dismissed as driver JD Lewis is back in the bike.

Race 5 – $125,000 Fox Valley Flan – Two-Year-Old Filly Trot

While trainer Curt Grummel didn’t get a great draw for Funky Wiggle in the night’s opener, his very talented youngster Marvelous Mystery got an excellent draw in the Fox Valley Flan, drawing post five in the field of 10.  With Kyle Wilfong in the bike for owners Curt, Craig and Leo Grummel, Marvelous Mystery has been exceptional in 2022, winning nine of 11 starts on the year.  She faced defeat only twice this year, both times to Fox Valley Shania, who is not in this final.  Marvelous Mystery is very versatile, winning from on the lead in the elimination last week and coming from off the pace as she did in the edition of this race at the end of July.

Race 6 – $93,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial – Three-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Pace

A field of six lines up in the Carey Memorial as a trio of geldings have taken turns beating each other throughout the season.  Drawing the outside is Fox Valley Ozzy for owners Stephen Mc MacKin and David Samuelson and trainer Gary Rath.  The 2021 Illinois Horse of the Year has faced his challenges in 2022, winning four of 15 races.  With Casey Leonard in the bike, Fox Valley Ozzy was in fine form winning stakes in both Springfield and DuQuoin.  A heavy favourite in last week’s prep, Fox Valley Ozzy was all heart but came up just short, losing to Fox Valley Crete on the wire.  Trained by Nelson Willis and driven by Kyle Wilfong, Fox Valley Crete has won five times in 2022 but has also been inconsistent.  His form was sharp last week when he pulled off the 11-1 upset in the Carey prep.  Get E Up can’t be discounted for trainer Amy Husted and husband/driver Kyle.  Hitting the board in nine of 11 races on the year, Get E Up won the Carey in July and had near misses to Fox Valley Ozzy in both Springfield and DuQuoin.

Race 7 – $88,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial – Three-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Trot

In the first edition of the Dygert in July, Fox Valley Cairo was winning easily as Lousdobb had encountered issues in back-to-back races.  Since that victory, the Mike Brink trainee has held his own, finishing second in four straight starts between Springfield, DuQuoin and last week’s prep at Hawthorne.  Unfortunately for Fox Valley Cairo, the winner of all four of those races was Lousdobb, from the barn of trainer Steve Searle.  Owned by Flacco Family Farms LLC and All-Wright Racing LLC, Lousdobb has been very good in 2022.  His record shows seven wins from nine starts including four victories in a row.  The only blemishes on his record came over a three-week span at the end of July and early into August.  He encountered a flat tire and was declared a non-starter in the Dygert prep earlier this summer. He followed that race up with a break at the start the next week in the final, resulting in a sixth-place effort.  A trip to the fair at Altamont saw Lousdobb build a 27-length lead before breaking stride, which left him to finish second.  Since that race though, it has been clear sailing as Casey Leonard has handled him perfectly in four straight victories as Lousdobb is the one to beat in the Dygert.

Race 8 – $144,000 Kadabra – Two-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Trot

Post position tells the story once again as the top two contenders in the Kadabra are stuck on the far outside of the full field of 10.  Owned by Bowie Racing LLC and Anthony Lombardi, Niko Man returns off a track record effort in his last, winning his elimination by more than nine lengths in 1:56. Trained by Amy Husted and driven by Kyle Husted, Niko Man has finished first or second in seven of eight starts this year but is saddled with the far outside post in the Kadabra final.  The one who has been the toughest on Niko Man this season is Goomster for owner/trainer Dennis Gardner.  First or second in eight of 11 starts on the year, Goomster stepped up on the big stage with wins in the Kadabra final in July and again in the final at Springfield.  Breaking stride along with Niko Man at the start of his race in DuQuoin was a disappointment but he regained form with an elimination victory at Hawthorne last week.  Kyle Wilfong drives Saturday as Goomster draws post nine.

Race 9 – $62,000 Robert S. Molaro – Three-Year-Old & Up Pace

In what is likely to be the fastest race of the night, the battle between two Illinois champs takes place once again.  With 52 victories in 102 career starts, Jim Ballinger’s Fox Valley Gemini continues to show up with big efforts. With more than $660,000 in career earnings for trainer Terry Leonard, Fox Valley Gemini has seven victories on the year in 22 starts and comes off a 10-length win in last week’s Molaro prep. Casey Leonard is back in the bike as he has been for the majority of Gemini’s races.  What was missing from last week’s prep was Hezzz A Wise Sky as he scratched sick.  Owned by Triple Zzz Stable and trained by John Filomeno, Hezzz A Wise Sky has gotten the best of Fox Valley Gemini this season while posting 12 wins from 21 starts.  A win in the Molaro will push Hezzz A Wise Sky over $500,000 in career earnings as the speedy five-year-old horse draws the inside with Kyle Wilfong in the bike.

Race 10 – $154,000  Incredible Finale – Two-Year-Old Colt & Gelding Pace

Much of the story of this final is who isn’t in the race as much as who is in it. The pair of dominant two-year-olds early in the season, Fox Valley Jasper and Fox Valley Langley are not a part of the Saturday final after coming up short in a loaded elimination last week. With those two out, it leads to a wide-open race which is now led by that elimination winner Ghost Shark, for trainer Tim Roach.  Owned by Kyle Larner and Brian Hochman, Ghost Shark looks to be the late bloomer in the field.  Winless in his first six starts, Ghost Shark and driver Travis Seekman showed he was a contender with back-to-back third-place efforts in Springfield, beaten only a length in each race.  In DuQuoin, he grabbed his first lifetime victory and then repeated that performance in last week’s elimination at Hawthorne, winning in a snappy 1:53.2. He draws post four in the field of 10.  Another that may be stepping up at the right time is Fox Valley McKee for owners Fox Valley Standardbreds and Jim Edgar. Trained by Nelson Willis, Fox Valley McKee has been inconsistent through much of the season but stepped up to upset heavily favoured Illini Jetset in last week’s elimination, winning in 1:53.4.

Race 11 – $185,000 Incredible Tillie – Two-Year-Old Filly Pace

The richest race of the Night of Champions card, the Incredible Tillie will likely determine the divisional champion.  The race may come down to My Daddys Revenge from the barn of Mike Brink and the Scott Nance-trained Fox Valley Kia.  Both with six wins on the season and both with victories against each other when facing off, post may be the key on Saturday.  Drawing favourably in post five, My Daddys Revenge nearly got to Fox Valley Kia in the final in Springfield after having to overcome a tough outside draw.  Driven by Casey Leonard for owners Mike Brink and Lori Searle, My Daddys Revenge went right to the top in her next two starts and never looked back, winning by daylight in DuQuoin and again last week in her elimination at Hawthorne. Fox Valley Kia will have to work a bit harder on Saturday as she draws post eight in the field of 10.  After winning both of her starts in Springfield, including from the second tier in the final, Fox Valley Kia was left with too much to do in her race in DuQuoin, closing from the back of the pack to finish second.  In last week’s elimination, she drew the inside as she showed speed. Her race resulted in a second-place finish to Rona Mae as Kyle Wilfong returns to drive in the final.

Race 12 – $105,000 Plum Peachy – Three-Year-Old Filly Pace

The final race of the Night of Champions card has a talented filly who looks for her second victory on the meet’s biggest night.  A winner last year as a two-year-old, Apple Valley (pictured above) looks to repeat on Night of Champions for owner Michael Perrin and trainer James Molitor.  A winner of seven of 12 starts in 2022, Apple Valley won the July edition of the Plum Peachy in a snappy 1:52.4. She was upset in the final in Springfield by Rollnroz and skipped the stakes in DuQuoin.  That added time off may have paid off for Apple Valley as she was sharp in last week’s prep, winning for driver Travis Seekman.  She draws favourably on Saturday, drawing post four in the stakes final.

Hawthorne Race Course, Chicago’s Hometown Track, races year-round in 2022. The winter harness season concluded on Sunday, March 20. Spring Thoroughbreds kick off Saturday, April 2 and conclude Saturday, June 25. The summer harness season begins on Thursday, June 30 and races through Sunday, Sept. 11. Fall Thoroughbreds return Friday, Sept. 23 and race through Saturday, Dec. 31.

(Hawthorne Race Course)

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