STICKNEY, IL – The top Illinois-bred horses will be competing on Saturday for over $1 million in purses as 12 stakes events will be contested during Night of Champions at Hawthorne. While many past Champions return to defend titles, the two-year-olds get their first opportunity for their big stakes score. With a first post of 7:10 PM, here’s a look at the 12 stakes events:
Race 1 – $83,000 Beulah Dygert Memorial Championship
Three-year-old filly trotters kick off the evening as a full field contests the Beulah Dygert Memorial. In one of the most wide-open fields, Trackmaster has installed Bell Boots as the 5-2 morning line favorite as she draws the inside. Owned by Toni Jo Bell, Bell Boots is easily having the best season of her career, winning seven times from 24 starts. She has won the final two legs of the Dygert leading into this final as Matthew Avenatti trains and drives once again. Her top competition could be the horse drawn next to her as Dawn of Creation is the 4-1 second choice for All Wright Racing and trainer Mike Brink. A four-time winner on the year, she was a fast closing second to Bell Boots last out as Casey Leonard drives once again.
Race 2 – $45,000 Tony Maurello Championship
Aged filly and mare pacers meet up in the Tony Maurello with a competitive field of eight to line up. Drawing post two is the 2-1 favorite Apple Valley for owner Michael Perrin. A past Night of Champions winner, Apple Valley makes start number 20 on the season as she comes into this race off a victory in the Maurello prep last week for trainer Robert Taylor. Kevin Lambright has driven Apple Valley in her last two victories and will drive once again on Saturday. The top challenge to Apple Valley will come from another past Illinois champ as Fox Valley Exploit draws post seven for owners David Brigham and Kyle Husted. With 34 career victories and over $450,000 lifetime earnings, Fox Valley Exploit is trained by Amy Husted.
Race 3 – $45,000 Carl Becker Memorial Championship
Five Aged filly and mare trotters contest the Carl Becker Memorial which looks to be a matchup between past title holders Funky Wiggle and Annas Lucky Star. The 9-5 morning line favorite, Funky Wiggle was last year’s three year old champion as she won nine of 16 starts. Owned by Dr. Patrick Graham and trained and driven by Curt Grummel, Funky Wiggle has made just four starts on the season, posting a win and three runner-up efforts. Still going strong at nine-years-old, Annas Lucky Star continues to race well, posting 61 career victories from 144 starts. Owned by Danny Graham for trainer Nelson Willis, Annas Lucky Star defeated Funky Wiggle in last week’s Becker prep as regular driver Kyle Wilfong is back in the bike.
Race 4 – $45,000 Robert S. Molaro Memorial Championship
The fastest Aged male pacers in the state will likely set the evening’s fastest time for the Night of Champions card. 6-5 morning line favorite He’zzz A Wise Sky looks for career win number 43 for owner Triple Zzz Stable and trainer John Filomeno in career start number 94. Driven once again by Kyle Wilfong, He’zzz A Wise Sky has posted six wins from 15 starts this year, including an impressive nine-length score in last week’s Molaro prep. He matches up once again with another past Illinois Champion in Fox Valley Gemini from the barn of Terry Leonard. With 59 wins from 118 career starts, Fox Valley Gemini has finished first or second in 11 of his 12 starts in 2023. Casey Leonard returns in the bike.
Race 5 – $119,000 Fox Valley Flan Championship
Two-year-old filly trotters draw a full field in the Fox Valley Flan as the top contenders lineup next to one another. At 2-1 in the morning line, Whiskey Lou is favored for owner Randy Wilt and trainer Curt Grummel. First or second in all six career starts, Whiskey Lou was narrowly defeated in leg one of the Fox Valley Flan before coming back with an impressive victory last week in leg two. Kyle Wilfong drove on those starts and drives once again. Curt Grummel also has the second choice in the Fox Valley Flan as Calypso Moon races for Dr. Patrick Graham. A four-time winner this season, Calypso Moon took both of his divisions of the Fox Valley Flan with Casey Leonard driving.
Race 6 – $105,000 Robert F. Carey, Jr. Memorial
Three-year-old male pacers meet in the Carey as the talented Fox Valley Landen races for trainer Amy Husted. A winner of nine of eleven on the season, Fox Valley Landen was upset in leg one of the Carey but came back for a game victory in the second leg of the event. Owned by David Brigham, John Schwarz, Jr. and driver Kyle Husted, Fox Valley Landen is the 8-5 morning line favorite. The 7-2 second choice is Fox Valley Patriot as he is one of a trio in this final for trainer Erv Miller. Owned by Anthony Lombardi, Fox Valley Patriot has a pair of wins on the year but has found the board in 12 of 13 starts. He won his division of leg one of the Carey before closing quickly to finish second to Fox Valley Landen in leg two. Casey Leonard returns in the bike.
Race 7 – $90,000 Erwin F. Dygert Memorial Championship
Three-year-old male trotters contest the Dygert as a pair of horses look to stand out in this event. The even money favorite in the morning line is Niko Man for owner Anthony Lombardi and trainer Erv Miller. A winner of seven on ten starts on the year, Niko Man was impressive in victory in leg one of the Dygert but faced defeat in the second leg. Atlee Bender comes to town to drive Niko Man. The horse who defeated Niko Man in leg two is Goomster from the barn of Desirae Seekman. A two-year-old champion, Goomster has won 10 of 13 starts on the year, splitting the legs of the Dygert with Niko Man. He is the 6-5 second choice in the race with Travis Seekman in the bike.
Race 8 – $45,000 Plesac Championship
A field of six aged trotters contest the Plesac in what looks to be another two horse affair. Returning to Hawthorne to win last week’s prep was On Higher Ground for owners Robert Weinstein and JB Racing and trainer Jennifer Bongiorno. Spending much of the year on the East coast, On Higher Ground has won nine times on the year while hitting the board in 19 of 26 starts. Kyle Husted drove On Higher Ground last week and drives once again. Talk About Valor makes career start number 100 in the Plesac as he looks for his 36th career win. A six time winner in 2023, Talk About Valor had rattled off a string of victories before facing defeat in his last two starts. Regular driver Travis Seekman teams up with Talk About Valor once again.
Race 9 – $121,000 Kadabra Championship
Two-year-old male trotters compete in the Kadabra with no real standout in the field. The morning line favorite at 5-2 is El Champee’onn for owner Robert Beachy and trainer Russell Powell. Lightly raced, making just five career starts, El Champee’onn was victorious in DuQuoin before finishing third in the first leg of the Kadabra. He earned his favoritism off the leg two victory last week as he took a front-end score for driver Robert Smolin. Tru Cash is 7-2 from post nine as he has rounded nicely into form for trainer Erv Miller. After a bit of a slow start to his career, Tru Cash broke his maiden at Hawthorne and followed that win with a victory in leg one of the Kadabra. He finished second in leg two and picks up Atlee Bender in the bike.
Race 10 – $174,000 Incredible Finale Championship
Juvenile male pacers line up as a full field is set to contest the Incredible Finale. Trainer Erv Miller has the top two contenders in the race in 2-1 morning line favorite Fox Valley Durham and 5-2 second choice Gorgeous Big Guy. Fox Valley Durham is owned in partnership by Miller along with Douglas Overhiser and comes into the Incredible Finale a winner of three straight. He took both divisions of the Incredible Finale legs leading up to this final and showed some versatility in rating from an outside draw in his last and rallying in the lane. Gorgeous Big Guy started his career for owner/trainer Tim Roach before being sold following his win on opening weekend. He enters this race a winner of four straight and has never been worse than second in nine career starts. Todd Warren drives for the third straight race.
Race 11 – $187,000 Incredible Tillie Championship
The night’s richest race is for two-year-old filly pacers with a full field to contest the Incredible Tillie. Trainer Amy Husted sends out the top two choices in Chickabell and Fox Valley Sadie. Chickabell enters the race a winner of five of seven career starts, taking both divisions of her legs of the Incredible Tillie. Although driven by Kyle Husted in all of her prior starts, Todd Warren picks up the drive as Husted drives Fox Valley Sadie. Although slightly lighter raced, Fox Valley Sadie has won three of her first five starts, including a win in leg one of the Incredible Tillie. She rallied late in the second leg, only to miss by a neck at the wire.
Race 12 – $116,000 Plum Peachy Championship
Three-year-old filly pacers round out the evening as two of the more dominant youngsters meet up. Favored at 3-2, Fox Valley Leah races for trainer Erv Miller. After making only two starts at two, she has won nine of her 10 races this season. Atlee Bender picks up the drive on Saturday night. My Daddys Revenge is the 2-1 second choice as she has been sharp this season as well. She has won seven of 12 starts on the year, including a solid score in her division of leg two of the Plum Peachy. Mike Brink trains as Casey Leonard drives.