ICF freshmen exceeding expectations

Hinsdale, IL — As I flipped a page on my calendar to today’s date, I couldn’t help but think “where does the time go.” It’s already September and there’s just two weeks left at Hawthorne’s 2022 harness racing meeting.

While the time is short before we shut down this year’s Illinois racing schedule (we do race several days at Springfield the following two weeks after Hawthorne’s closure), there’s plenty of major races still on the local agenda and this weekend will help clear the pictures in some of the cloudy, but competitive, ICF divisions.

One of the most intriguing groups this year is the Illinois-bred male pacing division. It’s the best crop of state-bred freshmen I’ve seen in a long time and there’s plenty of depth to it.

Going into the Du Quoin State Fair it looked like Erv Miller’s Fox Valley Jasper (Atlee Bender) was going to be unbeaten going into Friday’s Incredible Finale eliminations but the talented 2-year-old got detoured and ended up fourth in the first division of the Director’s Cup. A breaking horse in the two-hole coming out of the last turn scattered a good portion of the field, including Fox Valley Jasper, who was pushed four-wide.

Ghost Shark showed he’s ready for the Night of Champions Incredible Final freshman stake with a come-from-behind victory in Du Quoin’s Director’s Cup. Four Footed Fotos photo.

For that matter, Ghost Shark, driven by Travis Seekman, was also bothered, but the pacer remained inside and put on a furious stretch rush (:26.4) to gain his maiden victory in a snappy 1:51.3 for owners Kyle Larner and Brian Hochman.

As far as my assessment of this year’s 2-year-old state bred division, Travis agreed with it.

“This is the best crop of 2-year-old Illinois breds we’ve had in at least four or five years,” said the 32-year-old Michigan native. “There’s a lot of young talent there.”

The Du Quoin victory for the Tim Roach trained gelding added another youngster who must be respected when the $150,000 (est.) Incredible Finale final comes about a week from Saturday (Sept. 10).

“It all comes down to the trip. With a favorable one he can be right there,” added Travis.

Ghost Shark picked up purse checks early on in a pair of state-bred stakes while racing on the front end. However, he’s been much better lately coming out of it. The Revenge Shark gelding had a wicked :26 quarter in his Illinois State Fair elimination to be third and rallied from tenth and last in :26.2 in the Springfield championship, also for a third-place finish.

“He’s been racing well coming from behind,” said Travis who explained, “I had little choice but to race him on the front early on. He was a hard horse to manage. He was strong-headed. They’ve made some rigging changes with him and he’s more manageable. I can control him much better than I could earlier in the summer.

“The horse can pace a quick quarter and he’s showing it. We’ll just have to see how the trip goes for him this week (in the elimination) and in the final.”

Fox Valley Jasper (Atlee Bender) will come into his Incredible Finale Night of Champions second elimination division (race six) with a sweep of the summer Incredible Finale and the Illinois State Fair on his list of accomplishments. Nevertheless he isn’t the only freshman with a state-bred stakes triumph among his early successes.

Fox Valley Cayman, Illini Jetset and Fox Valley Langley all won a division of the Cardinal earlier, and the latter was just a head short in the summer Incredible Finale championship and again last week at Du Quoin.

And let’s not forget the Tom Simmons trained Fox Valley Steeler who captured last Saturday’s second Director’s Cup division with Casey Leonard or Kyle Husted’s Fox Valley Landen, the summer’s Incredible Finale Consolation winner.

Third or Better: Three divisions of the NOC Incredible Finale eliminations will go Friday night, so a third-place finish or higher is needed to be assured of making the championship.

They’ll be joined by a pair of the Kadabra freshman male trot elims, races five and eight, along a prep race aimed for the 3-year-old Carey final, the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial sophomore trot championship, the Plesac showdown for ICF trotters three and up, and the Robert S. Molaro Memorial finale for older Illinois bred pacers where two-time Illinois Harness Horse of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky heads a compact field.

Gals Go Saturday: The fillies and mares will showcase Saturday evening’s card with eliminations or preps for the Night of Champions Incredible Tillie pace, the Fox Valley Flan trot, the Plum Peachy pace, the Beulah Dygert trot, the Tony Maurello pace and the Carl Becker trot.

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