Balmoral Park (7/31/10)
Contact: Tom Kelley
SOUTHLAND FESTIVAL OF RACING KICKS OFF WITH IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCES
The state's top pacers were highlighted on Saturday night as Balmoral Park presented six stake finals as part of a fun-filled weekend known as the Southland Festival of Racing. With a big crowd lining the apron on a perfect evening there was a buzz in the air as the Illinois conceived and foaled stars battled for more than $378,000 in purse money.
The action kicked off with the aged pacers taking center stage in the $46,500 Big Tom Stake. Proving once again that when the big money is on the line there is nobody better in this division, Michael McNeely and Redbud Stables' Thisbigdogwilfight cruised to a three-length victory in 1:50.4.
Confidently handled by driver Todd Warren the seven-year-old son of The Big Dog was parked through an opening quarter in 27.1.
After clearing Well To Do Guru on the backstretch, Warren was able to tap the brakes a bit giving Thisbigdogwilfight a middle half-breather as he rolled through splits of 55.2 and 1:24.2.
“With it being a short field I was hoping we’d be able to get a bit of breather in the middle half and that’s exactly the way it worked out,” explained Warren. “Once we got that I knew they were not going to be able to catch him tonight. He really felt strong out there.”
The issue was never in doubt from that point on, as the Jim Eaton trainee sped away from his rivals in the lane to post his eighth win in 12 starts this season. Well To Do Guru (Casey Leonard) held on for second in a tight photo over Bonn Scott (Mike Oosting).
The victory was the 43rd in the illustrious career of Thisbigdogwilfight, who now boasts career earnings of $833,844.
Next up were two-year-old pacing fillies as a full field of 10 squared off in the the Loyal Opposition Stake.
Coming off wins in her first four career starts, Richard Balog’s Pardon kept her perfect record intact as the 4-5 favorite, humbling her rivals in an easy 3 ¼ length romp. The final time of 1:52.4 was just 2/5 of a second off the track record.
After getting away fourth driver Dave Magee moved the daughter of Richess Hanover-Rose Dawson first over as the field raced by an opening quarter in 28.4.
Grinding her way to the front, Pardon overtook the pace-setting Mystical MJ (Marcus Miller) as the field reached the halfway point in 56.4.
Pacing effortlessly around the final bend, the Dirk Simpson trainee breezed by the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:25.1.
Quickly leaving her rivals in her dust as she moved through the lane, Pardon was on cruise control as she sped under the wire with her fifth straight victory. Mystical MJ held on gamely to finish second while Little Maeve (Mike Oosting) rallied to finish third.
Sophomore pacing fillies grabbed the spotlight in the next event as a field of 10 three-year-old fillies lined up behind the gate for the $56,000 Ann Vonian Stake.
This race turned into a showcase for a pair of Ervin Miller-trained distaffers as Mystical Victress poked a head in front of entry mate Cotton Candy right at the wire to win in 1:51.4.
Content to let the early leaders battle it out, driver Marcus Miller positioned Mystical Victress in seventh as Fox Valley Oracle (Casey Leonard) and Rolldownthehiway slugged it out through an opening quarter in :27.4.
Getting underway third over as the field headed for the half-mile mark, Mystical Victress was following a live outer flow as they rolled by the half in :55.2.
After watching stable mate Cotton Candy take command as the field headed into the final turn, Miller found himself second over behind a steppy Ellamakailey (John De Long) as the field reached the three-quarter mile mark in 1:23.4. That’s when Milller decided to tip the daughter of Sportsmaster-Sneakheravalentine three wide, avoiding what could have been a disastrous situation when his cover went off stride.
“I didn’t like the way that horse in front of was looking and I knew I couldn’t let Cotton Candy get too far away from us or I’d never get to her,” explained Miller. “My horse can carry her brush a long way so I decided I better go for it when I did.”
Gamely cutting into Cotton Candy’s margin as the two fillies moved away from the rest of the field, Mystical Victress finally managed to poke her head in front at the wire for her fifth win in nine starts this season. Cotton Candy was second while longshot Cole Blue (Robert Smolin) was third.
The first upset of the night came in the $50,000 Parklane Powerful Stake for filly and mare pacers as once again it was “Miller Time,” with Marcus steering the Erv Miller trained Ms Maggie, a 10-1 shot, to a one-and-a-half length victory in a seasonal best of 1:50.4.
Getting away fifth on the outside of horses as Native Hotspur (Todd Warren) and Joinusforsomefun (Leroy Miller) battled through an opening quarter in :26.3, Miller sent Ms Maggie on a mission for the lead as the field raced down the backstretch.
Grabbing command as she wheeled past the half in :54.2, the seven-year-old daughter of Richess Hanover was under siege from a first-over Townes Party Girl (Casey Leonard) as she hit the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:22.
In the stretch a gritty Ms Maggie showed that she still had plenty in reserve, as she fought off the bid of Townes Party Girl while drawing away for her third win of the season. My Heart Was True (Jamaica Patton) came bobbing and weaving through heavy traffic to rally for the place money while Fox Valley Absolut (Robert Smolin) was third.
The win pushed Ms Maggie’s career bankroll up to $478,152 for owners Bert Hochsprung and the Geis Enterprises.
Coming off a dull showing in a conditioned event after shipping in from the Meadowlands, driver Marcus Miller explained the improved effort put fourth by Ms Maggie on Saturday night.
“I just drove like her like Andy (Uncle Andy Miller) always does,” joked Miller. “Actually Andy did call me during the week and told me she’s better when you're aggressive early with her and that was exactly the case tonight. Then she just dug in and showed her class.”
The tote board really lit up in the next event as Donald Laufenberg’s 44-1 longshot, Finance The Master, came flying from the back of pack to win the $57,500 Incredible Finale Stake for three-year-old colt and gelding pacers by a neck in a career best of 1:50.3.
|Finance the Master|
Saving ground while sitting near the back of the back as Power Of A Moment (Marcus Miller) took the field through splits of :27.4, :55.3 and 1:23.2, Finance The Master appeared to be hopelessly stuck to the pylons as the field turned for the money.
With a sharp drive from Robert Smolin, the son of Sportsmaster-Finance The Farm finally secured room as the field straightened for home. Moving the Lloyd Daulton trainee to the far outside with an eighth of a mile to go, Finance The Master began moving like a freight train.
Unleashing a wicked 26 second final quarter, Finance The Farm went from seventh to the first to pull off the shocking upset. Iam Bonasera (Dave Magee) turned in a game performance from the 10-hole to finish second while Power Of A Moment held on for third.
After the race Smolin was almost in disbelief at what Finance The Master had just pulled off.
“Turning for home I thought I was just going to try and sneak through some openings and see what happened,” he said. “Then I got some clearance to the outside, hit him once, popped the wheel disk and he just took off like he was shot out of a cannon. That was one of the biggest final quarters from a horse that I’ve ever sat behind.”
The final event of the night was also the richest as two-year-old colt pacers squared off in the $70,500 Mini Me Stake. After opening his career with three eye-catching victories, William C. De Long, William P. De Long and E.J. Miller’s Hes So Hot remained perfect with a two-length victory in 1:53.
|He's So Hot|
The triumph was not without its anxious moments however as the 2-5 favourite made a brief break after pulling from fourth after an opening quarter in :27.3.
Charging to the top, the Roger Welch-trained son of Sportsmaster-Shes Redhot then proceeded to open up the lead as he cruised through splits of :56.3 and 1:24.1.
After opening up an insurmountable five-and-a-half-length lead at the mid-stretch call, Hes So Hot then coasted home the rest of the way as he kept his perfect record intact. Playin For Keeps (Jamaica Patton) turned in a nice effort to finish second while Little Gus (Dale Hiteman) was third.
After the victory Oosting continued to sing the praises of the undefeated gelding.
“That was a heck of a mile he went tonight,” he said. “He gathered himself up after that miscue and was all business the rest of the way. It was also a tiring track but he was never in any danger of getting caught in the late going.”
The stakes action continues as does the Southland Festival of Racing on Sunday with trotters taking centre stage in a pair of events. Sophomore trotting fillies will battle in race eight which is the $44,000 Fox Valley Evita Stake while a field of 10 three-year-old colts knock heads in race 11, which is the $46,500 Kadabra Stake.
Doors open at 4:30 pm and post time for the opener is 6:30 pm.