Hinsdale, IL — In an era where there’s year-long racing elsewhere in the country it’s not that unusual to see a driver reach the four-figure plateau in career dash winners rather quickly.
However, it’s still rare to see a trainer send out 1,000 winners in his or her career, especially in Illinois where the race dates have taken a substantial plunge for more than a decade.
Nevertheless, veteran Illinois circuit trainer Terry Leonard gave himself a belated birthday gift Tuesday — he was 72 last week — at the second Spring Preview at Springfield when his stable’s Illinois bred champion Fox Valley Gemini powered past in the second division of the older male pace.
It was career triumph No. 55 in 108 starts, mostly in Opens, Invites and ICF stakes, for the 8-year-old Fox Valley Gemini, owned by Jim Ballinger.
For trainer Terry Leonard it’s been a lengthy but steady climb for the Harvard, Ill., native to reach 1,000 winners, a plateau that just a handful of current Prairie state conditioners have achieved — Tom Simmons, Nelson Willis, and Perry Smith — are the others.
Terry ventured out on the Illinois circuit as a driver in the mid-1970s, a time when the state had nine racetracks conducting an extended Standardbred pari-mutuel meeting. Nowadays, Hawthorne stands alone in the state with an extended meet where you can place a bet on its races.
The upcoming meeting on the State Fairgrounds at Springfield will again be non-wagering so sadly the first opportunity to make a bet on an Illinois harness race this year is Sept. 9, Hawthorne’s opening night.
The status of horse racing in Illinois has indeed changed since the son of the late Illinois Harness Hall of Fame horseman Bud Leonard began his long road to achieve the milestone of 1,000 winners, and most emphatically not for the better.
One of the strengths of the Leonard stable has been the barn’s consistency. For the last 10 years Terry has established a UTR of over .300, twice going over the .400 mark, in 2018 and 2019.
Terry was the leading trainer at last season’s Hawthorne meeting for the fifth time in the last six years, no small feat. His barn has produced numerous Illinois champions, headed by 2011 Illinois Horse of the Year Well To Do Guru and, of course, the ICF standout Fox Valley Gemini, three times voted the state’s No. 1 Standardbred and who Terry once called “The best horse I’ve ever had; he’s the horse of a lifetime.”
Three divisions for ICF sophomore filly pacers kicked-off Tuesday’s Spring Preview with South Gate Sally (Jamaica Patton) taking the opener for trainer Mark Walker in 1:55.1; My Daddys Revenge (Mike Brink) going wire-to-wire in 1:58 for the Brink stable in the second and Amanda Bombae (Richard S. Finn) winning the third split despite a break in the last turn with a 1:59 mile for owner and conditioner Russell Powell.
A trio of 3-year-old colt paces were won by the late rushing Super Taco (Juan Franco) for trainer Dossie Minor in 1:56.3; Fox Valley Cayman (1:58.3), driven by trainer Tom Simmons, and the Simmons Stable’s front-stepping Fox Valley Steeler (Casey Leonard) in a quick time of 1:52.2, the fastest mile in the history of a Springfield Spring Preview event.
In the first of two sophomore filly trots, Dawn Of Creation (Matt Krueger), trained by Mike Brink, breezed in 1:59.2 when Zena Lou (Casey Leonard) went off stride on the lead. Lou Sangreal (Travis Seekman) coasted to her second straight Preview victory (1:59.2) for conditioner Steve Searle in heat two.
Owned and trained by his driver Dennis Gardner, last season’s freshman champion Goomster again showed his heels to his competitors in the first 3-year-old colt trot, drawing off by a widening dozen lengths in 1:56.4. In the second split Ain’t No Mojo (Wyatt Avenatti) was a repeat winner for trainer Kevin Miller with a career best 1:57.4 mile.
As expected, the Nick Prather trained Skeeter Machine (Travis Seekman) again captured the initial heat for older pacing mares, this time in 1:55. It was back-to-back wins for Seekman when he guided My Uptowne Girl to a 1:58 clocking in the homebred mare’s season debut for trainer Gerald Hansen in the other division.
Arcadia Sportaculr (Casey Leonard), from the barn of conditioner Rick Schrock, came on to take the first older male division while Fox Valley Gemini (1:55) was much the best in the second.
The older mare trot saw Carroll Hays’ Reign And Shine (Jamaica Patton) lead at every pole with a 1:57.4 mile while the older male trot went in easy fashion again to Lousdobb (1:58.1), Casey Leonard’s fourth win on the 16-race card.