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|Hawthorne Racecourse (7/29/08)
Contact: Mitch Demick (708) 222-4542
BLAST FROM THE PAST AND POSSIBLY THE FUTURE: Walter Paisley’s back for Hawthorne’s Night of Champions
Stickney, IL – A couple of weeks ago the name of iconic driver Walter Paisley appeared on the overnight for a Qualifier. Some of us thought that it was a typo. It wasn’t.
You see, the 67-year-old “Butch” Paisley retired from active driving in 1993 with purses earned in excess of $34,000,000 and over 5,700 victories. He’s a member of the Illinois Harness Racing Hall of Fame. But, his last win in a pari-mutuel race came in 2005.
Paisley was scheduled to drive a 2-year-old filly trotter by the name of Petruccelli in the qualifier. Looking a bit further, Petruccelli, as it turned out, is a Paisley homebred, by International Chip out of the Valley Victor mare Touch of Victory.
We figured that she must be pretty special if she brought Sir Walter back to the bike. It’s starting to look like she might be. She finished fourth in Leg 1 of the Lil Bit Tuff Series for ICF 2-year-old filly trotters but returned a week later in Leg 2 to dominate the field.
The win guaranteed Petruccelli a spot in the $51,000 finals on Saturday, August 1, Hawthorne’s Night of Champions.
I got in touch with Paisley the other day to get the inside “scoop,” both on this filly and on himself.
“A friend sold me the mare, Touch of Victory. I didn’t really want her but the price was right. So I bought her and bred her. I did try to sell Petruccelli but she didn’t bring what I thought she was worth at the sale. In fact, I wouldn’t have broken even on her if I sold her. So, I sent her to my trainer, Jerry Dudzik.
“I thought she had some ability, she always trained well and she never broke, but a lot of times they train well in the morning and show nothing in a race. You never know what you have until they face competition. I did like her but it wasn’t until her qualifier that I thought she might be a good one.
“I’m not sure where we’ll be going from here. She’s eligible for everything. But, I’m not a big fan of Springfield. It gets too hot there. We’ll see how things go on Saturday night and make a determination from there.
“I’ve been involved in Chicago racing since 1949. I grew up in Western Springs, a Chicago suburb, and went to LaGrange High School. But my dad grew up on a farm and he seemed to like things related to that. When I was eight he bought a harness horse. That was how I got started. I probably wouldn’t have gotten involved otherwise.
“It was a struggle early on. I was mostly a catch driver but I couldn’t get many drives. I put a sign up to advertise that I was willing to take catch-drives but it didn’t work. At that time, I probably would have been willing to pay trainers $10 if they let me drive their horse in a race.”
Obviously, that didn’t last too long. Among his other accomplishments, at 18, Paisley became the youngest driver to ever drive in the Hambletonian. It wasn’t instant stardom after that but things were certainly looking up.
“Petruccelli is the only one I have in training right now,” Paisley continued. “But, I bought a small farm out in Stockton, Illinois and have quite a few mares, all of them trotting mares. All of them are currently bred to Northern Kid, a relatively new stallion in Illinois.”
What does he do for fun?
“I’ve been keeping busy. Since we got the farm, I cut a lot of grass and trim lot of trees.”
Hawthorne Race Course’s Summer harness meet paces from Tuesday June 24 and continues through August 7. Live racing will be conducted Tuesday through Sunday, first post 7:20 pm, except Sunday, first post 6:30 pm. Thoroughbreds return on September 26, and race until the end of the year. The track is open year-round for simulcast wagering, day and night. Hawthorne Race Course is located at 3501 Laramie Avenue, Cicero, IL 60804. Call (708) 780-3700 or visit the Web site at www.hawthorneracecourse.com.
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