The Illinois Harness Horseman's Association (IHHA) has announced that Mike Paradise will be honored with the national 2012 Clyde Hirt Media Award for his tireless contributions to the publicity of Illinois harness horse racing. The award will be presented by the Harness Horsemen's International at the Dan Patch Awards Banquet, the culminating event at the Harness Congress VI weekend in March.
Paradise began contributing to the IHHA’s website in February 2009 where his nightly line and comments as well as ‘Notes and Quotes’ appear on Chicago race nights. In addition, his historical ‘looking back’ stories about great Chicago racehorses, drivers, trainers and racing events, has garnered many fans.
Mike got his start in the early 1960’s in the sports department of the Chicago American newspaper – later re-named Chicago Today. By early 1973, he had shown his promise as a writer and handicapper and was given the space to author a weekly harness racing column and daily harness handicapping line and comments. That same year, Mike was made the department’s Sports Desk Chief.
“Mike knows harness racing inside and out and offers some of the best insight into the sport that can be found,” said IHHA Executive Director Tony Somone. “He has elevated the awareness of Illinois harness racing onto the national level. We’re incredibly proud of his accomplishments.”
In 1974, the Chicago Today ceased publication and Mike immediately went to work for Sportsman’s Park, where he served as the track’s director of publicity for both thoroughbred and harness racing from 1974 through 1996. Paradise then put his expertise to work as publicity director for Maywood Park from 1997 until 2008.
“There is no question that Mike revolutionized Chicago harness racing for the handicapper,” said Somone. “He led the charge on producing nightly stories and comments on every horse in every race and he was at the forefront of using computer analysis for each race.”
Under Paradise’s direction, Sportsman’s Park became the first press box in the country to use computers to distribute harness entries, charts, results and stories to all of the Chicago newspapers and many of the suburban publications. He also spearheaded the first micro-wave system to instantly transmit nightly races to downtown Chicago where TV stations were allowed to broadcast the events at no charge.
In 1987, Mike created “Chicago Harness Racing,” a cable television show that he co-produced and co-hosted with Eleanor Flavin. The program ran through April of 1995.
Mike Paradise’s enthusiasm and dedication led the Illinois Department of Agriculture in 1990 to honor him on Super Night at Balmoral racetrack for his “enthusiastic promotional efforts on behalf of horse racing in Illinois that have helped make these kinds of programs the best of their kind in America.” And on January 24, 2009, the IHHA presented him with a lifetime of dedication award upon his induction into the Illinois Harness Hall of Fame.
The Illinois harness racing landscape has changed in many ways over the past five decades. New technology on the track has led to faster horses and online wagering now brings the game right into the homes of horseracing fans. One constant, however, has been the unwavering enthusiasm and dedication of one of Chicago’s best known harness racing experts and publicists, Mike Paradise.