Balmoral Park (2/24/11)
Contact: Tom Kelley
“ELMO” LOOKS TO MAKE IT 24 STRAIGHT IN SATURDAY’S FREE FOR ALL
The last time we saw him “live” back on September 4 of 2010, owner John Barnard’s St Elmo Hero had just won his eighth race in as many tries here at Balmoral Park and was starting to garner plenty of “local” attention.
|St Elmo Hero in his second career start back on July 24 of 2010... won by 5 1/2 in 1:52.4 with a final quarter in 25.2...Robert Smolin driving (Courtesy Reb Photo)|
Fast forward ahead to this Saturday, Feb. 26, when the now five-year-old son of Western Hero returns to the Crete oval as a “national” star and the talk of the harness racing world as he looks for his 24th consecutive victory in Saturday’s featured seventh race, a $10,900 Free For All.
Fresh off a stakes-record and career best mile of 1:49.1 in the $65,000 Complex Final at the Meadowlands, the pride of the Orland Park, Illlinois resident has been installed as the even-money favorite as he looks to remain undefeated. The victory in the Complex final helped increase St Elmo Hero’s bankroll to $197,500 for Barnard, who claimed the gelding in his career debut back on July 14 of 2010.
Barnard, who became involved in owning Standardbreds back in 2003, has always been a horse racing fan.
“All through college I was really into the Thoroughbreds,” he explained. “I used to go to Arlington Park all the time. My father had taken me to see harness racing back when I was kid at Washington Park and we owned some Arabians with my brother and sister-in-law. Those were strictly show horses though and eventually I just kind of drifted away from that end of it.
“I started to back into the water with Standardbreds not long after that,” said the 61-year-old Barnard. “Every year we were buying one or two yearlings and we had some success with a few of them which really got me hooked. Then we started claiming a few here and there and now I’m up to 14 horses which is quite a lot for me.”
When Barnard put the claim in on St Elmo Hero back last year he had only modest goals for the then four-year-old who was in the care of trainer Shawn Nessa at the time.
“I was just hoping I had made a good claim and that one day he would turn into a nice conditioned horse that could make us a little money,” he laughed. “Obviously he’s exceeded every dream we ever had when we put the claim in that night. Right from the beginning there were people who kept telling me that this horse had a chance to win a lot of races in a row because of the competition he was up against in those lower-ranked conditioned events but I don’t think anyone ever mentioned 23 which is where he’s at now.”
After winning his first eight career starts at Balmoral, St Elmo Hero was shipped to Indiana Downs where he proceeded to rattle off seven more victories while taking on tougher competition. From there it was out to Pennsylvania where he faced even stronger foes while sweeping through three legs and the final of the Blue Route Series at Harrah’s Chester. Then it was on to the Meadowlands where St Elmo Hero really caught the attention of the harness racing world with his wins in the Complex. His victory in the final on January 29 came with former local star Tim Tetrick at the controls and wound up being extra special since it was Tetrick’s 6,000th career win, making him the youngest driver in harness racing history to accomplish that milestone.
“This horse is a symbol of hope for the little guys in this sport. I’ve been very fortunate to do well in my business so I have no intentions of selling this horse,” said Barnard who operates and services ATM machines in northern Illinois. “I’m also in a great situation where I can just drop everything and travel with him so I’ve really enjoyed this ride we’ve been on. People wait and hope for this kind of experience their entire life and never get a horse like this. I got lucky and I don’t want to miss a single day of it.”
After Saturday’s race at Balmoral St Elmo Hero will be heading north of the border to compete in the Cam Fella Stake at Woodbine. With a victory on Saturday and then wins in the elimination and final of that event the winning streak would sit at 26. In a strange twist of fate, the great pacer that stake is named after wound up winning the final 28 starts of his illustrious career.
The great Bret Hanover holds the record for consecutive wins at the start of a career with 35. He accomplished that feat with 24 straight victories during his two-year-old season in 1964 and then 11 more at the age of three in 1965.
Saturday’s seventh race post time is scheduled for approximately 9:18 pm (Central).
For more information visit www.balmoralpark.com or call (708) 672-1414.