by Kurt Becker
The winningest two-year-old in North America and a recent Illinois State Fair champion will be the headliners this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 5 and 6, as harness racing returns to the Pana Tri-County Fair.
Despite a revised schedule and ongoing challenges stemming from the state’s prolonged budget battle, the stage is set for the annual visit by the Illinois Big Ten Colt Stakes, which traditionally concludes its season on the local, half-mile oval.
Harness racing has been a fixture at the fair since the inaugural exposition in 1949, while the Big Ten has been coming to the fair every year since the circuit’s first season, in 1953. Pana has often been called the “cradle” of the Big Ten, given that local attorney and legislator Carl Preihs was one of its founders and hosted many of the group’s earliest meetings at his law office.
Longtime superintendent of speed Tom Latonis, assisted by veteran racing officials and Pana natives Kairn Amling and Tim Schmitz, recently announced a revised racing schedule which reflects the reality of a lack of state funding that has been affecting fairs statewide. Gone for 2015 are the traditional Friday and Monday racing cards, while the Thoroughbred events also have been scuttled.
Despite those changes, the fair will offer a streamlined harness program on both Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m., giving racing fans who visit either the front-stretch grandstand or the backstretch pavilion a chance to see the trotters and pacers in action for the 67th consecutive year.
Saturday’s card will open with the Big Ten two-year-old filly trot, featuring the winningest juvenile in North America. “Surviver Di,” owned and driven by retired veterinarian Steven Renard of Hamilton, has won 16 of 22 starts and has earned $20,000 in purses. No other two-year-old in North America has won more than 14 dashes, whether on the trot or pace.
Surviver Di will face four foes, all of whom have been winners on the fair circuit themselves. That includes two fillies whom she has beaten with regularity, while the other two challengers, “H S Karissa” and “Battleshoe Lovie,” come from deep in southern Illinois to meet Surviver Di for the first time.
In the Big Ten colt trot, scheduled for a 1:45 start, another balanced lineup will feature five horses who have all been winners on the county fair tour this season. “Primed N Powerful” will rate as the prohibitive favorite, having won eight times in nine starts including a blistering 1:57 in the Illinois State Fair championship. Coincidentally, his only loss was a half-length defeat at Lewistown to Surviver Di.
Among the challengers for Primed N Powerful will be “P J Boy,” owned by longtime IHSA sports official Don Huddleston of Palmer. P J Boy has won three times this summer but is 0-for-5 against Primed N Powerful.
In the Big Ten three-year-old filly pace, scheduled for a 2:00 p.m. post-time, “Cowgirl Chic” looks to be favored on the strength of three wins at the fairs and one victory at the Chicago pari-mutuels. Tom Simmons trains the filly at the Illinois State Fairgrounds for owner David Clinard of Mt. Sterling.
The Big Ten three-year-old colt pace, at 2:15, will see only three horses answer the starter’s call, but two of them have won four races apiece this summer. “Litening Quick” and “Fourboltmane” have logged a combined eight victories on the campaign but will meet for the first time on Saturday afternoon.
“Kickinitwithkohler,” who boasts six victories, will headline the field for the Big Ten three-year-old trot at 2:30 p.m., but she is the lone filly in a field which includes four colts. “Stylish Big Guy” and “Accokeek Apollo,” who finished 1-2 last weekend in the County Fair Challenge at DuQuoin, look to be her biggest threats in what could prove to be the most competitive race on the day.
Saturday’s program will conclude at 2:45 with a race for two-year-old maiden pacers (horses which have never won a race), with non-winners of $1,500 lifetime also eligible. “Fox Valley Reward” makes a case for favorite’s status, as she exits a $13,000 race at the DuQuoin State Fair where she finished last but had been dispatched by the betting public as the second choice before breaking stride at the start.
Racing will conclude on Sunday at the fair, when the Big Ten Stakes for two-year-old pacers will be the featured event.