The curtain came down on at Balmoral Park last night (Saturday, Dec. 26) with $1,347,100 bet on the last program of 2015 and likely the final live racing card in the long history of the racetrack.
It was the third highest mutuel handle of the year. Only Super Night and American National Night were higher.
The large crowd watched Bobby Smolin give the 4-1 shot Fiveknuckleshuffle ($11.60) a winning pocket trip in the $5,700 eighth race conditioned pace feature, overtaking the 3-5 heavy favourite Ice Scraper in the late going of the 1:51.1 mile.
The soon-to-be eight-year-old ICF pacer’s win was his eighth of the year for owners John Cross of Onley, Illinois, Bonnie Harlow and Robert Moser, both of Hannibal, Missouri, and trainer Mike Brink of Springfield, Illinois.
Fiveknuckleshuffle proved to be fastest from the gate and parked Ice Scraper (Brian Carpenter) through a quick :26.2 first quarter on a sloppy track before taking the two-hole. The public’s choice got a :28.4 breather to the :55.2 half and reached the three-quarters in 1:23.1, but couldn’t hold off the late-charming Illinois-bred pacer.
In the only trot race of the night, John Barnard’s Hudson Jesse ($3.80) easily won for the third time in her last four starts in the sixth race for Casey Leonard and trainer Bill Crone. The six-year-old mare was almost two lengths the best over 3-1 shot Changed It All in the 1:56.1 mile. The $2,850 winner’s share of the $5,750 purse left Hudson Jesse just $161 short of $300,000 in career earnings.
"There's so much history," Barnard was quoted as saying in a Chicago Tribune/Daily Southtown article on the track's final race card. "I'd hate to see the place torn down." The local horseman and businessman, who had submitted a bid earlier this month on the track, described the mood of the night by saying that "most people thought we were at a wake or a funeral."
The final race went to Windy City Farm's six-year-old Sportsmaster gelding Docs Deal ($25.60), who was a five and a half length winner in 1:53.1 for driver Ridge Warren and trainer Rick Schulze.
Driver Casey Leonard and trainer Nelson Willis were honoured in Balmoral’s winner’s circle for capturing their respective titles a second consecutive year.
During the Balmoral Park finale, Matt Krueger had the hottest hand among the drivers, chalking up three winners. Leonard, Smolin and Carpenter each had two.
(With files from IHHA and the Chicago Tribune)