For as long as Hawthorne Race Course has conducted a harness meet, the Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Trot has been its featured racing event. And though times have changed and purse structures slightly altered, the race continues to attract some of the best trotters in the land, evidenced by the $3,668,194 earned by this year\'s nine-horse field.
The 2008 edition of the Dygert Memorial, to be contested Saturday night at Hawthorne, will offer a purse of $90,000.
“This is one of the most prestigious races at Hawthorne so naturally you want to win,” said Hall of Fame driver Dave Magee, who is listed to drive one of a trio of Hoosier Park invaders, Hoosier Cadillac. “But the purse does mean a lot. We don’t have a lot of opportunities to race for this kind of money in Illinois so it’s important. The Dygert name attached to it just makes it that much better.”
One of this evening’s Dygert starters is the 9-year-old trotting war-horse Dunkster. Remarkably, this will be Dunkster’s sixth straight appearance in the Hawthorne summer classic. The Kirk Sugg-trained gelding won this event in 2006 and the trainer-driver is happy to be back to try again.
“I love coming to Hawthorne,” said Sugg from his home base in Cleveland. “I’m also proud to have the opportunity to continue to race this horse at such a high level and it would be great to win this race for a second time.”
Perhaps winning the Dygert has the most meaning to the connections of morning line favorite Before He Cheats.
Trained by life-long Illinois resident Dirk Simpson and driven by his son Brandon, the Dygert Memorial Trot evokes fond memories for the younger Simpson.
“I know this race means a lot to my dad because he’s been here his whole life,” said Brandon. “That was one of the big races he always wanted to win. As for me, I remember when Homer (Hochstetler) won it with Primrose Lane (1993). I actually got his whip, but I was just a kid.”
Dirk confirms his son’s remarks. “This has always been a race that’s meant a lot to Illinois,” said the elder Simpson. “To have a chance to get into it and then have one of the favorites also makes it special. This is our first time getting a shot at this race and I’m looking forward to it.”
To add to the local angle, Before He Cheats will be the lone Prairie State representative and will look to add his name to the likes of other great Illinois-bred Dygert winners such as Jubilee Triton (1980), Iggy Magoo (1985), and Gumcorner Lad (1993). His lifetime record (25 wins in 35 starts), and more importantly his current form, lend credence to those who support his chances. The 4-year-old gelded son of Valley Victor has won four times this season, accruing earnings of $153,186. That total includes a win over the track on June 27, in the process beating this evening’s most likely challenger, Hawthorne track record holder Dink Adoo.
As for Dink Adoo, this will be his fourth attempt at Dygert gold. After finishing sixth in 2004, the Paul Stafford conditioned son of Inquirer finished second in both 2005 and 2006.
The Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Trot is named in honor of the man who started and operated the old Aurora Downs and was the founder of Suburban Downs at Hawthorne Race Course. He was an avid breeder and owner and is the primary force responsible for bringing nighttime racing to Chicagoland. (Hawthorne)
The field in post position order with drivers:
1--Hoosier Cadillac (Dave Magee)
2--Make You Mine (Brent Holland)
3--Before He Cheats (Brandon Simpson)
4--Self Righteous (Merv Chupp)
5--LT’S Best (Copeland)
6--Armbro Balance (Del Chupp)
7--Norvelous (Sam Widger)
8--Dink Adoo (Michael Oosting)
9--Dunkster (Kurt Sugg)