Night Pro won the first race of his career at Northfield Park, but the stakes will be a little higher when the pacer returns to the Cleveland-area oval for the first time since his March 2013 debut.
The purse for Night Pro's first victory was $2,000. On Saturday night, the 4 year old competes in the $150,000 Battle of Lake Erie at Northfield Park against some of the best older pacers in harness racing. The field also includes Foiled Again, who is a two-time winner of the race and the richest pacer in North American history, plus stakes-winners Apprentice Hanover, Beach Memories, Bolt The Duer, Clear Vision, Fool Me Once, and Twilight Bonfire.
Night Pro, an Indiana Sires Stakes champion and winner of six consecutive starts heading into the Battle of Lake Erie, will start from post one with driver Peter Wrenn and is 4-1 on the morning line. Foiled Again, who will leave from post seven with Yannick Gingras at the lines for trainer Ron Burke, is the 3-1 favorite.
"I'm excited, to say the least,” said Dale Decker, a Michigan resident who owns and trains Night Pro. "It's nice to let the rest of the country see him. I know people will be watching because of Foiled Again and the rest of them.
"I think he can go with them. I just have to make sure he's healthy going in. That's the important part.”
Night Pro has won 21 of 28 lifetime races and $308,929. Decker, who attended the U.S. Trotting Association's Driving School in 2000 and has won 171 races as a driver and 180 as a trainer, purchased the son of Pro Bono Best-Midnight Jewel for $14,000 as a yearling at the Hoosier Sale, although he had no intention of buying the horse when he attended the sale.
Decker, who runs a homebuilding company in addition to training horses, raised Night Pro for breeder Linda Marckel and expected the horse to sell for much more.
"I was in a state of shock, so I started bidding,” Decker said. "I didn't even have a truck or trailer there. But I had high expectations for the colt and thought he would bring more than that, so I ended up buying him.”
For a while, it appeared Decker's expectations would be unfulfilled. Night Pro was unraced at age two because he had a bone chip removed from his left-hind ankle and did little to encourage Decker until the end of February 2013.
"He started back at three and I didn't think he would make it to the races because he just couldn't seem to get over that ailment,” Decker said. "He was just going through the motions. Then it was like the light switch turned on. It was like overnight he turned into a racehorse. Then, I thought I might have something.”
Night Pro won his first eight starts and 10 of his first 12 without ever finishing worse than second. His last victory during that span came in the July $200,000 Indiana Gold Sires Stakes final for 3-year-old male pacers at Hoosier Park. When the fall championship arrived in September, Night Pro was battling illness and finished sixth.
"He was a little sluggish in the last leg (of the sires stakes) and he was just no good in the final,” Decker said. "It just took too much out of him. That was his last race of the year and he's come back strong this year.”
Now Decker will get to see if Night Pro is strong enough to handle the likes of Foiled Again, who has earned $6.31 million in his career, world champion Bolt The Duer, and 2013 Cleveland Classic winner Apprentice Hanover.
Night Pro enters the Battle of Lake Erie off four straight wins in the invitational handicap at Hoosier Park, with the last three coming over 2012 American-National Stakes winner Our Lucky Chip.
"I've been interested in getting outside of Indiana and seeing if he could compete with the rest of them,” Decker said. "This means a lot to me.” (HRC)