Hinsdale, IL — Hawthorne’s winter harness racing meeting concludes Monday night (Feb. 12) but not before it’s reigning champion in the Open Trot is decided.
The $11,100 feature, at least on paper, looks to be between last week’s winner Double A Goldrush (Casey Leonard) and Bluebird Deacon (Atlee Bender), who prevailed in the previous two local Open Trots.
The five-horse field with posts assigned in groups by the Hawthorne Race Office also lured Loulita (Mike Oosting), Dash Of Luck (Brandon Bates) and two-time Hawthorne Open champion Perlucky (Kyle Wilfong), in that order, each with the credentials to come out on top.
Whichever trotter prevails in the second race headliner will be the titleholder for a long time since Hawthorne, and pari-mutuel racing in Illinois, doesn’t start up again until September.
Harness racing at Springfield is expected to be conducted starting sometime in June, however the specifics have not been announced yet by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and sadly for the second consecutive year it will be non-wagering.
As far as Monday night’s Open Trot is concerned, can the veteran Double A Goldrush get to the front again and not be collared or will Bluebird Deacon, now trained by Bender, who didn’t fire a week ago, power past in time like he did in January with the help of a smaller field.
Double A Goldrush has only made eight career starts at Hawthorne in his nine seasons of racing and boasts a sparkling record of four wins and two seconds and those recent runner-up finishes were by a combined one length losing margin back in January.
I asked Ross Leonard, his longtime trainer, why the Elegant Man gelding has been so successful at Hawthorne.
“I really don’t know,” replied Ross. “I’ve thought about it a lot, but I don’t have a really good answer. I guess he just likes the track.
“Right now, he’s as good as he has been for a long time. That was a strong performance he had last week. Maybe the recent barn change has something to do with him now racing so well.”
Ross was referring to him turning the training over to his father Terry and his older brother Casey who has also taken over the driving chores. “We talked it over and we agreed it might be a good idea to have “fresh eyes” on the horse.”
The trotter was acquired by his current owners Michael and Laura Lee and Terry Leonard for $14,000 at the 2015 Hoosier yearling sale and has been a steady money-maker since coming to the Ross Leonard stable. The consistent trotter has made $461,581 and will be adding to that total in 2024.
“I’m taking him to the Miami Valley meeting. He’ll race there and then I’ll get him ready when Hoosier Park opens,” said Ross, who will race two of his stable’s horses in Ohio on Tuesday.
A Rockin Effort: The 4-5 favorite Play Me Rock put on a powerhouse performance in his last race of the Hawthorne winter meeting, easily winning Sunday’s featured $8,000 conditioned pace with a 1:50.4 mile despite the temperature hovering in the low-40s.
Saddled with the nine-hole in a 10-horse field, driver Mike Oosting sent the 6-year-old Rockin Image gelding out from the starting gate, and so did others. Play Me Rock was parked out through a :27.4 first quarter by the 50-1 pacesetting longshot Yankee Roller A.
It wasn’t until another eighth of a mile later that Play Me Rock cleared to the front and Oosting decided not to slow things up. Instead, he kept the gas pedal down and the winner uncorked a quick :26.3 second panel, opening a sizable lead.
A couple of :28.1 last half quarters was more than enough to see Play Me Rock ($3.80) prevail by four lengths for owner and trainer Perry Smith. Playtorock (Juan Franco) was second best, and it marked the 11th consecutive time the David Brooks trained gelding finished first or second in a race at the meeting. Fox Valley Cayman (Kyle Wilfong) was third.