Stickney, IL — Kyle Wilfong was “The Man” Saturday night (Sept. 10), driving six winners on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions. The 31-year-old Illinois native also had four of his horses finish second on the 12-race card.
Casey Leonard also had a fruitful evening of driving, bringing home a trio of champions including Fox Valley Gemini’s upset of two-time Illinois Harness Horse of the Year He’zzz A Wise Sky in the $62,000 Robert S. Molaro Memorial for older ICF pacers.
Fox Valley Gemini’s gutsy victory kept him perfect on the Night of Champions, the 7-year-old pacer’s sixth championship victory in as many tries.
Here’s how Hawthorne’s gala evening of racing unfolded.
Simply the Best: Despite the outside 10-post, the betting public hammered Curt Grummel’s Funky Wiggle down to 1-5 odds and the talented filly didn’t disappoint them, coasting to a six-length triumph in the $85,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial for ICF 3-year-old trotting fillies.
The easy win earned the daughter of Lou’s Legacy a legitimate shot at 2022 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year honors. She’s done everything asked of her and more. She’s the fastest Illinois bred of all-time in her class (1:51.2), she’s won from the second tier (post 11) and last night she overcame the outside post in the Night of Champions opener.
“She’s handy but the (starting) gate isn’t her friend,” said driver Kyle Wilfong after the race. “She’s overcome a lot this year. I left with her because I wanted to control the race and we got the lead in pretty good shape.”
Five horses sprinted out at the start, and it wasn’t until after the first quarter pole (:28.4) that Funky Wiggle made the top. From there, Wilfong did his usual superb job of rating the filly who simply pulled away in mid-stretch for owner and breeder Dr. Patrick Graham.
The Dygert victory was Funky Wiggle’s ninth in 11 season’s starts and she’s now earned nearly $250,000 in two years of racing.
The pocket horse Creations Dream MV (Todd Warren) finished second while Lous Xanadu (Casey Leonard) came on for third.
A Nose Better: Next up was the $62,000 Tony Maurello Memorial pace showdown for Illinois bred fillies and mares ages three and up, and it was the even-money choice Fox Valley Exploit regaining her spot as the top ICF older pacing mare, thanks to a two-hole trip from driver Kyle Husted.
The usual late rusher Scorecard Dandy (Kyle Wilfong) went to the front this time with Husted taking the hole behind her. After a couple of :28.2 quarters, the pace slowed down a bit with a :28.4 third quarter. It wasn’t until deep stretch that the 5-year-old Fox Valley Exploit made a late surge to win for the eighth time this year and her fourth Night of Champions victory in as many tries.
“I was worried about Scorecard Dandy going into the race,” said Husted. “She had beat us a couple of times already this year, but my mare came through and got the job done tonight.”
My Uptown Girl took third in the 1:52.4 mile.
The Queen Reigns: The inaugural Carl Becker Memorial for older state-bred trotters went as expected as the prohibitive 1-9 public’s choice Annas Lucky Star ($2.10) was a comfortable front stepping winner for the 55th time in her brilliant career.
Kyle Wilfong took no chances with the 8-year-old trotting queen of Illinois, going right to the front, getting modest fractions of :28.1, :57.1 and 1:26, and then holding off a late bid by runner-up Loulita (Travis Seekman). Louzotic (Casey Leonard) took third.
“She always gives 100 percent,” said her owner Danny Graham. “She’s been good from her very first qualifier. (Trainer) Nelson Willis has done a marvelous job with her and Kyle Wilfong has done a great job of driving her.”
Annas Lucky Star has now banked $607,178 in her seven seasons of racing.
He’s Back: The Gerald Hansen stable’s Talk About Valor ($2.20) successfully defended his Plesac stake crown but it was far from an easy win for the determined 7-year-old.
Talk About Valor had to overtake the pacesetting Primed N Powerful (Kyle Wilfong) who scooted to quick fractions of :27.4, :55.3 and 1:24 before giving way in the final sixteenth of the mile by one length in 1:53.2, a time that equaled the track record for an older trotter.
Patiently handled by his regular driver Travis Seekman, Talk About Valor won for the 12th time this year in Illinois for owner Shelley Steele who said in the winner’s circle, “We’re blessed and proud to have a horse like him.” Shelley also pointed out that Talk About Valor’s win in the Plesac prep was Hansen’s 1,500th as a trainer.
A Marvelous Victory: The fifth race spotlight was on ICF 2-year-old trotting fillies with a $125,000 pot on the line in the Fox Valley Flan final and Kyle Wilfong was back in the winner’s circle, this time with the Grummel family’s Marvelous Mystery.
The 1-5 favorite raced in the pocket through a :59.3 first half behind the 99-1 longshot Lous Lexi Lou (Archie Buford) before Wilfong pulled her out, swept by the leader and then held off stretch challenges from Radiant Diamond (Atlee Bender) and Dawn Of Creation (Casey Leonard), the second and third place finishers, in that order.
“She’s very consistent,” said trainer Curt Grummel who shares ownership with Craig and Leo Grummel. “I was a little worried tonight because she wasn’t as sharp as she was earlier, but this was her 12th start as a 2-year-old and that’s a lot for me. She’s done for the year.”
Another daughter of Lou’s Legacy, Marvelous Mystery ($2.40) was a perfect seven-for-seven at Hawthorne and banked $129,722 for her owners in her freshman season.
Mowing Them Down: Three-year-old colts and geldings slugged it out in the $93,000 Robert F. Carey Jr. Memorial ICF pace and when it was all over it was Fox Valley Crete ($6.20) who greeted the track photographer with driver Kyle Wilfong making his fourth winner’s circle visit and trainer Nelson Willis his second.
Fox Valley Crete came off the pace like he did in the Carey prep win as Fox Valley Ozzy (Casey Leonard) took command with a brisk :27.1 first quarter. Casey slowed it down with a :29.2 second panel. Fox Valley Crete was third turning for home, however the Sportsmaster offspring put on a strong late burst and prevailed by 1-1/2 lengths in 1:52.2, a new mark for Megan Rogers Racing Stables Inc.
That Cinches It: Lousdobb (Casey Leonard) clinched ICF 3-year-old male trotter honors with a narrow victory over his chief rival Fox Valley Cairo (Kyle Wilfong) in the $88,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial.
Owned by All-Wright Racing and his breeder Flacco Family Farms, Lousdobb’s triumph in the Dygert was his fifth in a row and his eighth in 10 season’s tries.
Wilfong took the 6-5 second choice Fox Valley Cairo to the front with a :28 first quarter with Lousdobb ($3.20) in fifth. After the :57.4 half, Casey had the 3-5 public’s choice out and rolling and he took over command before the last turn. However, Fox Valley Cairo came back in deep stretch and was only a head short at the end of the 1:55.1 mile.
The pride of the Steve Searle stable’s $44,000 winner’s share of the purse vaulted the Lousdobb season bank account to $112,080.
It was a Doozie: The $144,000 Kadabra championship for freshman male trotters was expected to be a doozie with the two division leaders Goomster (Kyle Wilfong) and Niko Man (Kyle Husted) landing the outside nine and 10 slots, respectively. And it was just that as both trotters were urged away from the starting gate and were three-wide in the first turn.
Goomster made the front soon after the :28.4 first panel with Niko Man parked out to the half-mile pole (:57.4) and beyond, never clearing the winner.
Goomster ($6.20) gave Wilfong his fifth champion of the night as the Dennis Gardner trainee won by 1-1/4 lengths in 1:56.2. Eyesontheprize Lou (Casey Leonard) was third best,
Goomster’s win was his fifth in 12 starts for his trainer, who also owns the Cassis gelding.
Gem of an Effort: For the sixth time in as many trips to the gate on the Night of Champions, Fox Valley Gemini, nicely driven by Casey Leonard, came away with a championship. Last night it was in the $62,000 Robert S. Molaro Memorial for older state-bred pacers.
The 1-2 favorite He’zzz A Wise Sky (Kyle Wilfong), as expected, shot out from the rail and cut the rapid fractions of :26.4, :55 and 1:22 4.
Fox Valley Gemini was third, four lengths behind, with a quarter of a mile to go when the 7-year-old Terry Leonard star pacer started to get into high gear. A late surge gave Fox Valley Gemini a neck victory in the 1:50.4 mile for owner Jim Ballinger.
Fox Valley Gemini’s 53rd career win boosted his lifetime earnings to $693,017.
Upset in “Finale:” In the $154,000 Incredible Finale freshman male pace, it was Illini Jetset (Todd Warren) who proved fastest in the lane, overtaking the 4-5 favorite Ghost Shark (Travis Seekman) by three-quarters of a length in the 1:52.3 mile.
Sent off at 6-1, Illini Jetset was the first double-digit winner ($15.20) on the championship card. Trained by Erv Miller who shares ownership of the youngster with Bowie Racing and Sara Miller, the Travel Playlist gelding came from eight lengths back at the :27.3 first quarter for his second victory in 10 starts.
Ghost Shark settled for second, almost six lengths ahead of the third-place finisher Mister Sleaze.
From Start to Finish: Kyle Wilfong nailed down his sixth championship drive when he guided Fox Valley Kia ($5.40) to a front-end victory in the $185,000 Incredible Tillie stake for 2-year-old pacing fillies.
Fox Valley Kia led at every pole, going to a :55 first half, holding off runner-up Rona Mae (Todd Warren) at the end of the 1:51.4 mile. My Daddys Revenge finished another length behind for third.
It was win No. 7 in a dozen tries for Fox Valley Kia’s owner Julie Collins.
Smart Move: Casey Leonard carved out a winning trip with Pattycake Mooss to capture the $105,000 Plum Peachy stake for ICF 3-year-old filly pacers, holding off the heavy favorite Apple Valley (Travis Seekman) by a neck.
Pattycake Mooss ($11.20) raced in third throughout the mile and appeared to be stuck inside coming out of the last turn. However, when Apple Valley vacated the two-hole, overtaking the pacesetting Rollnroz (Cordarius Stewart), Casey ducked the Gary Rath trained filly to the inside where she powered her way to the front.
Pattycake Mooss won for the seventh time in 21 outings this season for owner Alan Beals after a winless 12 race campaign as a 2-year-old.