With clear skies and temperatures in the upper 60's a large crowd continued to file in as the big 14-race Illinois Super Night card at Balmoral Park kicked off with a pair of trotting events for Illinois conceived and foaled 3 year olds.
Diagonally gaited fillies were first onto the track with a field of 10 squaring off in the $105,000 Lady Ann Reed Championship. In a division that has remained fairly wide-open throughout the season it was last year's 2-year-old champion Trot Fudge Sundae who continued a late season surge as she trotted to a very impressive one-length victory in 1:55.2 with Super Night's all-time leading driver Dave Magee at the controls
Confidently handled by Magee the daughter American Native—What A Joy was sent right to the front from post position four. Turning back an early challenge from Little Ms Chrissy (Robert Taylor) the Dirk Simpson trainee put up splits of :28.3, :56.3 and 1:25.
"My filly was very aggressive tonight,” said Magee. "Once she heard those other horses coming after her near the quarter-pole she grabbed on and there was no way she was going to let them go.”
After putting away a second challenge from a game Sara The Spy (Todd Warren) who was outside every step of the mile, Trot Fudge Sundae dug in determinedly as Just For Fun (Casey Leonard) began to cut into her lead. Showing the grit that earned her divisional honors last season Trot Fudge Sundae held firm to the wire for her 15th career victory. Just For Fun was forced to settle for the bridesmaid role while Sara The Spy turned in a big effort to hang on for third.
In the winner's circle a relieved Simpson talked about the thrilling stretch drive.
"I swear that was the longest stretch drive of my life,” said the Illinois based conditioner. "I just kept looking at her, looking at the horse that was coming on the outside and looking for wire. It seemed like it took forever to get there but she showed once again how tough she is.
Sent off as the 8-5 favorite by the large crowd Trot Fudge Sundae returned $5.20 while running his career bankroll up to $272,370 for proud owners Sam Daddono, James Bafia and Eugene White.
Chalk players were rewarded again in the second race of the night as H. "Bill” Wright and Mystical Marker Farms King Mufasa reigned supreme but not without some anxious moments as he held on to win by a diminishing head in 1:56.2 with Mike Oosting at the controls.
After getting away in third from the inside post Oosting sent the gelded son of Powerful Emotion—Foxy N Diamonds to the top where he proceed to trot through splits of :29.2, :59.2 and 1:27.3.
"I probably could have out-footed them out of there but I figured I would just let them trot out of there," said Oosting. "I let them settle in and then sent my horse to front. With the fractions we were going I really thought we were going to win the race pretty handily."
After drawing away to a three-length advantage midway down the lane it as appeared as though the only thing in doubt would be the final margin of victory. That's when a fit and fresh Fox Valley Camo (Jamaica Patton) pulled from the pocket and began to cut into the "Kings” advantage. That forced Oosting to get after the brown gelding through the final sixteenth of mile and the wire arrived just in time for the 1-5 favorite who notched his 12th win in 13 starts this season. Fox Valley Camo was a hard charging second while Fox Valley Legend (Dale Hiteman) rallied to be third.
"I was chasing after him pretty hard down there at the wire,” said a relieved Oosting. "I don't really think he was quite himself tonight. It's been a long year for him and he may be getting just a little bit tired right now.”
Taking advantage of a perfect two-hole trip Engel Stable's Thesleazyprincess pounced on the heavily favored My Little Bit in the lane zipping right by the pacesetter in the final sixteenth of a mile to record a three-length victory in the $200,000 Filly Orange & Blue. The final time was 1:54.4.
Using the inside starting spot to perfection driver Mike Oosting positioned the daughter of Sagebrush-Da Sleazy One in the pocket as My Little Bit led the field of eight ladies through splits of :28.1, :57.1 and 1:25.3.
"I was more than happy to let Marcus go early on,” said Balmoral's leading reinsman. "I figured those two horse of the De Long's (Party Hangover Two & Kiwi Party) would be coming at some point in the mile so I figured I would let those three battle it out while I stayed covered up with my filly.”
Executing that plan to perfection the Nelson Willis trainee was full of pace while the battle on the far turn began to take a toll on My Little Bit as the field moved through the stretch.
Moving into the passing lane with a sixteenth of a mile to go Thesleazyprincess responded beautifully, blowing right by her rivals and drawing clear in the shadow of the wire for her third win in nine lifetime starts. Fox Valley Amanda (Dale Hiteman) rallied from far back to be the bridesmaid while My Little Bit held on for third.
After the win Oosting was full of praise for the Engle homebred.
"She was really good tonight and that's a tribute to the job Nelson Willis has done with her,” said a beaming Oosting. "She relaxed perfectly when she needed to and then she kicked it into gear again once she secured the room she needed. She was really a professional out there tonight.”
Sent off as the 7-2 second choice in the wagering Thesleazyprincess returned $9.60. The winner's share of $94,000 moves the filly's bankroll to $152,452 on the strength of a 3-3-3 record in nine lifetime starts.
Continuing an amazing comeback that kept him on the shelf for the entire 2012 season, Mystical Marker Farms, Shim Racing, Paymaq Racing and Ken Duffy's A Cool Card captured Saturday's $125,000 Tony Maurello Stake by three-quarters of a length in 1:50.2.
Perfectly handled by driver Marcus Miller the 5-year-old gelding was eased away from the gate by driver Marcus Miller, eventually landing in fifth as Fort Silky (Casey Leonard) rattled off splits of :27, :55.3 and 1:23.
"The fractions figured to be fast and it was working out exactly how I hoped it would,” said Miller. "You go into a race with a plan in mind but it usually doesn't work out that way. Tonight it did.”
Picking up live cover from a first-over NJ's Big Deal (Mike Cox) as the field moved around the far turn Miller tipped his charge three deep as the field straightened for the money. Taking dead aim on a game but leg weary Fort Silky, the Erv Miller-trained son of Cole Muffler flew home in a wicked :27 to win for seventh time in 11 starts this year. Fort Silky was a hard fought second while NJ's Big Deal was third, six lengths behind the winner.
The former Maywood Pace winner returned $3.80 to his legion of backers. Despite missing an entire season A Cool Card now boasts 14 wins, one second and two thirds in 19 lifetime starts with earnings of $195,525.
A Cool Card holds a special place in Miller's heart since he was the horse that Marcus guided to his 1,000th career victory which came in his Maywood Pace elimination.
"If this horse hadn't been hurt he'd really have a lot more money on his card and a lot more people around the country would know about this horse,” said Miller. "He's such a tough animal and he always gives you everything he's got. Tonight he took off so fast on me I had to steady him for a brief second in the stretch. Once he got things back in order he just dug down and found another gear for me.”
Proving once again that he is tops among the Illinois conceived and foaled 3-year-old colt pacing ranks Paymaq Racing, D&M Trading and Mystical Marker Farms Mystical Walter knocked off nine rivals by three-quarters of a length to win the $173,000 Pete Langley Memorial. The final time was 1:52.1.
Using the big quarter move that has become his signature in his second season of action driver Casey Leonard had the gelded son of Yankee Skyscaper-Yankee Blue out and rolling from fifth as Crankin It Up (Kyle Wilfong) led the field through an opening quarter in :27.4.
"I was basically forced to make that move with him tonight”, explained Leonard. "A lot of those horses left out of there pretty hard tonight so I was just happy to land in the spot that we did.”
Charging to the front Mystical Walter was in complete control of the proceedings as he showed the way through middle splits of :56 and 1:24.2.
Through the lane the Ervin Miller trainee was forced to find a little something extra as he gamely dug in through the final 100 yards to hold off one last late surge from Crankin It Up for his eighth win in 16 starts this year. Crankin It Up was a hard knocking second while last year's Orange & Blue winner Dave Magee) turned in a nice effort to rally for third.
"He's been waiting on horses a little bit because of how easy he's been winning some of those races,” said Leonard. "Tonight he felt good all the way but I definitely had to keep after him because I knew some of those good horses in this division were right behind him and they weren't going to be letting up at all.”
Basically putting a lock on divisional honors with his win on Saturday night Mystical Walter now has 11 wins, four seconds and three thirds in 21 lifetime starts with earnings of $212,266.
Division leader Auniqueaquistion had no problem overcoming the dreaded 10 hole thanks in part to another perfect steer from the red-hot Mike Oosting as the filly rolled to a 1 1/2-length triumph in the $174,000 Grandma Ann Stake for 3-year-old pacing fillies. The final time was 1:52.4.
Floating away from the outside post Oosting had the daughter of Cole Muffler-Shessoluvabull in seventh as Dune In Red (Todd Warren) sped through an opening quarter in :27. The action really started to heat up going to the half as Feel Like Dancing (Kyle Wilfong) vacated the pocket and quickly swept into the lead as the fillies reached the halfway point in :56.4.
"I was really happy we were able to get a hole even if was just for a little bit,” said Oosting. "I was prepared to go towards the front the entire way if I had to because this filly felt better tonight than she has been for most of the year.”
A live outer flow continued around the far turn as Dallas Jones (Casey Leonard) moved up to challenge Feel Like Dancing, towing up a fit and fresh Auniqueaquistion who was cruising along in a perfect second position as the field hit the three-quarter-mile mark in 1:24.3. Setting sail for the money Oosting moved the Donna Lee Ozment trained miss to the far outside and she responded beautifully as she rattled off a final quarter to score for the ninth time in 14 starts this season. Schmatie (John De Long) rallied well to finish second while Dune In Red held on for third.
"Considering we had the 10 hole you couldn't have dreamed up a better trip,” explained Oosting. "She was just awesome tonight which is a credit to Donna. She really felt like her old self out there.”
At the top of her division for two straight years now Auniqueaquistion boasts 13 wins and five seconds in 22 starts with career earnings of $330,155 for owner John Carver. Despite being saddled with the outside post Auniqueaquistion was well backed at the windows returning $5.80.
Saving the biggest fireworks of the night for the last race of the night the Robert Phillips owned and trained Cotton Eyed Joe pulled off a 16-1 shocker in the nightcap winning the $200,000 Orange & Blue by a neck in a career best of 1:54.3.
Well handled by driver Robert Smolin the son of Big Green Machine-Secret Dial appeared to getting hopelessly shuffled out of contention as the lead changed hands several times through some brisk splits.
With Fox Valley Cupid (Ryan Anderson), Overloaded (Kyle Wilfong) and 1-5 favorite PQ Three (Mike Oosting) all taking turns on the lead through splits of :27.4, :56.4 and 1:25.1 Cotton Eyed Joe was all the way back to eighth while trying to move up three wide as the field turned for home.
With the heavy favorite and several others near the front end starting to collapse from the fast fractions Smolin continued to pick off one rival after another while racing down the grandstand side. A game Fox Valley Cupid, who was 37-1 was starting to come on again in the passing lane but the hard charging Cotton Eyed Joe managed to blow by them all with a :28 final quarter to post his second lifetime win in start number 13. Fox Valley Cupid turned in a super effort to finish second while Traffic Cop (Todd Warren), who barreled up first over to challenge the pace setting PQ Three on the far turn was third, just 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
"Things set up pretty well for somebody to come from out of in this race,” said Smolin who posted his first two Super Night wins on last year's card. "He likes to run out in the stretch when he hits his top gear so you have to stay after him pretty good. Tonight he went straight enough long enough to go by them.”
Sporting a modest record of 1-1-2 in 12 starts coming into Saturday's Orange & Blue Cotton Eyed Joe now boasts a bankroll of $108,054. While the mutuel of $35.20 indicate that Cotton Eyed Joe's win was quite a surprise his driver did not seem that shocked by his effort.